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Head Grower Sean McBride inside an arugula container farm

Spotlight: Sean McBride

Horticulture is just one piece of the puzzle

Our team is dedicated to the mission of providing global access to safe food, but that’s not the only thing that makes them an asset to our team. It’s their motivation to make a difference in many different areas, breaking barriers, and tapping into hobbies that make them better versions of themselves. We’re all here to learn and to evolve and to help each other get to (wherever it is) we want to go.

  1. Go back to your childhood. What did you want to be when you grew up?
    • I originally wanted to get into Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) to grow pearls. There are so many separate steps that you can control better than in an open water environment. If you could better manage these environments, the idea is you could produce much higher quality pearls (on average), and in a shorter period of time. It’s this that actually led me to falling in love with CEA and ultimately going back to school for a professional science master’s degree at the University of Arizona.
  2. What’s your motivation for being a farmer today?
    • What I like most about CEA is the ability to decide exactly the conditions a crop receives. Ideally you should be able to get the crop to do exactly what you want it to do. The fun part comes in understanding the system you are working with and which environmentals to control in order to get the desired outcome. Every CEA system is different and those differences play a large role in the strategies you can take to achieve your goals.
    • Our setup at vertical roots allows us to have relatively precise control over almost every environmental condition you could want to work with. Our system also automatically records so much data and across a large number of pods. Combine that control, collection, and space to work with and you have a recipe for some pretty rapid testing abilities. I’ve really been enjoying the aspect of being able to test out multiple different control strategies. I wouldn’t have this kind of opportunity at any other company operating today.
  3. What has been your most memorable moment with VR?
    • Most memorable moment was my first hurricane. Everyone came together to harvest an entire week’s worth of pods in like a day or two. It was nice to be able to farm with people who usually only worked in the office. We had so many people working it all went by really quickly and it was nice to kinda all come together in that moment. 
  4. What people, movies, or books inspire you?
    • Science Fiction is usually my go to when it comes to books. I grew up reading Asimov, Dick, Gibson, and Vonnegut. Anything that looks to the future and especially those that take place in a world with technology that we don’t have yet. I guess that’s also what drew me to CEA to begin with. We’re literally living in a sci-fi novel in this industry.
  5. If you could make one change to the food system, what would it be?
    • Educating consumers about what the organic label actually means. A good number of people who buy organic food believe they are purchasing food which has used no pesticides. This isn’t true. Many organic producers actually use more pesticides by volume than traditional agriculture. This is because there are a number of approved pesticides, but they’re typically less effective (so you have to apply more of them to get the same effect). Basically, if a label doesn’t say the product is pesticide free, they probably used pesticides. CEA is one of the best places to get pesticide free products.
  6. Favorite local nonprofit?
    • The Surfrider Foundation.
  7. What would you tell someone who wants to pursue a career in agriculture?
    • I wouldn’t be where I am today without having attended The University of Arizona and the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center. Research has been going on in this industry for decades and CEA programs are a wealth of knowledge. There are a lot of things you can just never learn on your own or without a teacher. Find a university with a number of different programs that are in or around the type of CEA you want to get into. This is a growing industry, and it’ll be hard not to find a job once you have a degree.
  8. Now the hard one: Favorite type of lettuce? 
    • Romaine types. I like our Gem blend (Baby Romaine) the best.
  9. What do you like doing outside of work?
    • More plants. I have been getting really into cactus propagation recently. I still go to Arizona often, and it’s a little way to stay connected with that place.