An Amazon Veteran Joins Indoor Farming Startup

Bowery Farming Inc., an agriculture startup that’s less than two years old, got a big boost last month when it poached Brian Donato, a veteran of Amazon's automation efforts.

Donato will oversee Bowery's indoor farm in Kearny, New Jersey, a forgotten industrial enclave once famous for building warships. There, Bowery grows leafy greens in a computerized labyrinth of sensor-rich trays that monitor and react to humidity, light and carbon dioxide. Human farmers work alongside the crates, which automatically adjust inputs, like light and temperature. The system, which resembles a giant game of three-dimensional Tetris, is designed to grow lettuce and herbs with limited water and no pesticides.

During his seven years at Amazon, Donato managed Amazon fulfillment centers, the massive distribution hubs where humans and robots pick, pack and assemble hundreds of thousands of orders, each day, for delivery. He most recently ran Amazon Home Services, which provides cleaners, carpenters and more to harried homeowners. Before that he directed operations for the Amazon Fresh and Pantry food delivery services. Bowery's heavily automated process reminds Donato of the fulfillment systems he implemented at Amazon, where he was part of the team that integrated robots into the human workforce. “We had to teach people to care for the automation and to work with it,” he says.

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