"It was framed as a temporary thing, but the layoffs didn't feel temporary."
A hydroponic "smart farm" startup co-founded by Elon Musk's cowboy hat-wearing younger brother Kimbal is shuttering most of its locations and has laid off the majority of its staff.
According to two now-former employees who spoke to Insider, the Square Roots "vertical farming" startup that the younger Musk co-founded with Welsh entrepreneur Tobias Peggs back in 2016 abruptly let most of its employees go on a Zoom call last week — a move that seemed to come out of nowhere, the ex-staffers said.
"It was just a normal day," one of the former employees at the startup's Grand Rapids, Michigan location told Insider. "We were in the middle of production and everyone received an email and Slack saying essentially 'Drop everything and attend this Zoom call.'' There was really no context as to why this was happening so suddenly and everybody was kind of shocked."
As the report notes, the company that offered high-tech indoor vertical farming modules had, until last week, locations in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Kentucky — and earlier this year shuttered its Brooklyn, New York flagship as well.
Do No Farm
The closure of many of these farms, which were operated in partnership with Gordon Food Service, was particularly surprising given that multiple of its locations had just opened within the last year.
It's currently unclear exactly how many people were laid off, though the company had nearly 200 employees as of June per the PitchBook venture capital database.
In a statement given to the local broadcaster WDRB in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a company spokesperson said that the closures were due to a shift in its business model to "farming as a service."
"We're now operating our controlled climate farms exclusively for our strategic partners," the company told the local broadcaster. "As we've made this move, we have had to pause commercial production in some of our facilities while we reconfigure them to be more suitable for servicing customers under the Farming as a Service model, and we look forward to bringing these facilities back on line in the future."
Whether that future includes the now-laid-off employees, however, remains to be seen.
"It was framed as a temporary thing, but the layoffs didn't feel temporary," one of the former employees told Insider. "It wasn't like they were saying 'You guys will be offered your jobs back' at any point."
That same ex-employee described the layoffs as "devastating."
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