Meet the Ithaca startup creating a new way to preserve fresh food

By Luke Stangel

Quietly, a small startup in Ithaca is hard at work inventing a new way to preserve fresh-cut produce. If they’re successful, their technology could reshape our grocery stores and pantries, and the lives of billions of the world’s poorest people.

Farther Farms shoots a special carbon dioxide blend into bags of freshly cut fruits and vegetables. Once sealed, the bags can sit on store shelves for months without refrigeration. Open the bag, and the produce inside tastes just as fresh as the day it was processed.

The company will pilot its technology with fresh-cut French fries, processed at their plant in Rochester, bagged using its own technology, and shipped to high-end restaurants across the U.S., Vice President of Business Development Max Richman said.

The idea is to gather data around operating costs, to understand if it makes sense to branch out to other fruits and vegetables next, Richman said.

Farther Farms says shelf-stable bagged produce could save money at every step in the supply chain--processors wouldn’t need to use expensive, energy-intensive flash freezing machines or pay for cold storage delivery trucks, while grocery stores would be able to fit more fresh food on their shelves, freeing up freezer space.

Restaurants could buy fresh, bagged produce in bulk, and store it without refrigeration, saving money. Farmers could export fresh food to new markets, like rural Asia, South America and Africa, where refrigerators and freezers are still rare.

“The way we look at it, agtech is about improving the well-being of the global community,” Richman said. “If we can’t feed people, and ensure people are eating nutritious food, then that’s a foundational challenge.”

Farther Farms launched in early 2017 as an entrepreneurship project at Cornell University. Earlier in his career, cofounder Vipul Saran worked as a food exporter in India, and struggled with the challenges around shipping fresh produce long distances without refrigeration.

Saran studied food science, and decided to develop the idea into a commercial product at Cornell, where he met cofounder Mike Annunziata. The company has raised what it calls “pre-seed” funding, from a mix of science grants, angel investors, friends and family. Last month, it secured a $225,000grant from the National Science Foundation.

See Farther Farm exhibit at the Future of Food, an agriculture- and food technology-focused event Wednesday, September 26 at Hourigan's Dairy Farm in Elbridge, NY.

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