04 Aug 2020
Tel Aviv, Israel
Sustainable Food and Agriculture

The mission of Live Spirulina, an Israeli superfood farm, places an intriguing twist on the concept of “food deserts” — areas that have limited access to nutritious food. Founder and CEO Boris Zlotnikov noticed that the residents of Tel Aviv, a cosmopolitan city, lived far from where healthy food is produced. He reasoned that uncultivated open spaces, like rooftops, were the urban equivalent of deserts. “This was the a-ha moment for me,” said Zlotnikov.

In 2016, Zlotnikov and his colleagues established Live Spirulina, which brings sustainable food production to the doorsteps of Tel Aviv’s residents. The team designed and developed special bioreactors capable of sustaining spirulina and other healthy crops indoors — eliminating the risk of harsh or variable weather. The technique follows strictly eco-friendly principles, “closing the loop” by creating a food product that is both high-value and sustainable.

Zlotnikov’s early career did not suggest a natural transition to growing superfoods. A computer engineer by training, Zlotnikov had long “flirted” with the idea of starting his own eco-farm. Around 2013, he swapped his keyboard for farming tools and — along with several experts — started a sustainable agriculture initiative in Israel’s Negev desert.

Over time, the Negev project began bearing fruit. The team cultivated a growing reputation for producing high-grade spirulina in arid desert surroundings on a small-to-medium scale. Most importantly, they perfected a simplified bioreactor, a system that allows farmers to grow microalgae in challenging natural climates.

To develop the bioreactors, Zlotnikov experimented with aeration and liquid circulation systems, as well as custom-made LED lights — all of which helped to nourish the microalgae produce. But after three years in the Negev, Zlotnikov was ready to take his technology to a new frontier: indoors, and in bustling Tel Aviv.

Since 2016, Live Spirulina has operated as Tel Aviv’s first urban farm for locally produced, sustainable superfoods. The company uses the bioreactors and in-house designed hydroponics to grow spirulina, moringa, and lemna, amongst other aquatic protein and nutrient sources.

The big shift, from desert to city, fulfilled Zlotnikov’s aim of bringing clients and food production into the same location. Live Spirulina delivers its full range of products direct to its Tel Aviv customer base, lowering the cost and environmental impact of freight.

However, the relocation did have some consequences that may seem counterintuitive. The Negev spirulina project had benefited from government financial incentives for businesses based in the relatively undeveloped Negev. Of course, these concessions do not apply to Live Spirulina’s operations in Tel Aviv.

More generally, Live Spirulina is operating in one of the world’s most competitive markets for superfood produce. Israel has pioneered the integration of spirulina and mainstream food consumption and, according to Zlotnikov, the country has “more spirulina farms per square kilometre than any other place on Earth.”

This ample competition also impacts the amount of capital available to Live Spirulina. The crucial bioreactor makes superfood production self-sufficient once operational, but does involve significant start-up costs before reaching this point. Live Spirulina remains open to investment opportunities to help the company grow and expand.

Despite these challenges, Live Spirulina began making profits from its Tel Aviv headquarters within one year. This encouraging progress is partially due to the company’s deft management of links with willing collaborators. “I am able to leverage connections with start-ups to create various automation solutions for the bioreactors,” said Zlotnikov.

Other connections play into the soul of Live Spirulina. Since their days in the Negev, Zlotnikov’s partners have collaborated with another organisation to help set up microfarms in impoverished Rwandan communities. This humanitarian work grounds Live Spirulina in its core mission, away from competitive markets and financial bottom lines: linking people with healthy, sustainably grown food. 

 

Learn more about Live Spirulina through the website, Facebook and Instagram.

Photos courtesy of Live Spirulina and Vita Marija Murenaite (via Unsplash)

Live Spirulina Sustainable Food and Agriculture
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