28 November 2011 – Buying nutritious produce grown on your supermarket’s roof could be the order soon if Australia adopts similar concepts to New York based companies Bright Farms and Gotham Greens.
Bright Farms which plans to begin planting and building in 2012, hopes to supply supermarket chains with enough roof-grown fruits and vegetables to stock their shelves for at least 10 years.
The concept costs the supermarkets virtually nothing except the contract to buy what’s grown up top.
According to Benjamin Linsley, vice president of business development and public affairs, Bright Farms puts up the $US1.5 to $US2 million to build the greenhouse,
Linsley says: “For a head of lettuce in New York, up to 50 per cent of its value goes to the cost of transportation.”
And according to statistics from Bright Farms, each greenhouse will use up to nine times less water.
Hydroponic greenhouse could change urban farming
Thriving atop a large warehouse Brooklyn also lives a lush hydroponic greenhouse that may reshape the direction of urban farming.
Operated by Gotham Greens, it is supplying its produce to supermarkets and restaurants around New York
While soil-based urban farming is not new, Gotham Greens is one of the leaders of a different breed of urban farming that relies on hydroponics (pictured) – constantly circulating, nutrient-rich water – to grow vegetables in a pristine, climate-controlled environment 365 days per year.
“Our plants are very coddled,” said Viraj Puri, co-founder and chief executive officer of Gotham Greens.
With their proximity to the marketplace, these operations promise same or next-day delivery of high-quality product at competitive prices, catering to the growing enthusiasm for local products.
“What retailers and chefs find compelling is that they are getting really fresh produce every day,” said Puri. “Very often we can harvest in the morning and have food on the retail shelf by lunch time. The shelf life gets passed on to the customer.”
Gotham Greens also touts a variety of environmental benefits. For example, the hydroponic methods use 20 times less land and 10 times less water than conventional agriculture, while eliminating fertilizer runoff and pesticides.
Pests such as aphids are controlled by introducing their adversaries, such as ladybugs.
Alongside the greenhouse are solar panels that deliver 55 kilowatts of energy. “Part of our mission us to be as sustainable and environmentally friendly as possible,” Puri said.
The operation also minimizes exposure to such foodborne pathogens as E. coli and salmonella and offers one-step traceability to the source.
Gotham Greens grows about nine varieties of lettuce and four types of herbs (notably basil), sold in clear plastic clamshell containers to retailers.
“We selected what would grow well in our system as well as crops there is a market for,” said Puri, adding that salad greens, which are extremely perishable, benefit from being grown locally rather than shipped long distances.
Financing for Gotham Greens came from the three founders, private investors and loans from such entities as the Small Business Administration, the New York Business Development Corp. and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. (Puri declined to cite the startup cost.)
Next year Gotham Greens plans to open a second Brooklyn greenhouse where other crops, such as tomatoes, will be grown.