BrightFarms wants to disrupt the produce supply chain and eliminate the amount of miles vegetables have to travel before landing on supermarket shelves.
“The produce will be at least a week fresher, taste better and be more nutritious and safer,” said Paul Lightfoot, CEO of BrightFarms. “It also reduces environmental input, uses less land, less fuel and less greenhouse gases.”
The concept? Hydroponic gardens on supermarket rooftops or in greenhouses next door or a few blocks away from grocery stores.
“About 20 percent of produce is lost to spoilage during shipping. This will provide year-round local produce that is higher quality and more nutritious,” said Kate Siskel, marketing and media relations manager with BrightFarms.
While several rooftop gardens are actively operating in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Chicago, the company expects to have seven greenhouses built in 2013 to supply lettuces and tomatoes to local markets in Oklahoma, North Carolina, Missouri, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. Another 50 greenhouses are expected to be constructed by 2015.
Chris Williams is operating one of the latest — a hydroponic greenhouse in Yardley, Pa., that will provide produce to McCaffrey’s Markets, Superfresh and John Vena Inc., in Philadelphia.
“This company is extremely forward-thinking,” said Williams. “This is a groundbreaking opportunity and I wanted to be a part of it.”
BrightFarms contacted Williams while he was managing a hydroponic greenhouse in Vermont. After thinking it over, he moved his family to Pennsylvania to become part of the BrightFarms project.
Still in his 20s, Williams said there was no better time to try something new. “It’s a new challenge for me and a good time to take a chance and better myself, my family and my career.”
Williams is the operator of the hi-tech, sustainable greenhouse that is temperature controlled and recycles rainwater to conserve resources. The greenhouse will produce the equivalent of 100 acres of land, but occupy only one acre.
“I was pleasantly surprised with the business model and the detail they provided,” said Melissa Reidenhour, loan officer with the USDA Farm Service Agency. The agency helped Williams receive an operating loan that he used to purchase seed and fertilizer for the mixed greens, tomatoes and sweet basil he started growing this winter. “It’s our goal to help beginning farmers obtain operating funds. Chris was well prepared and I’m anxious to see him succeed.”
Jim McCaffrey, owner of McCaffrey markets that will receive the produce from Williams, expects this to be exactly what his customers have been looking for.
“I’m excited to be able to offer our customers locally grown food,” said McCaffrey. “To have produce that’s picked in the morning and delivered that afternoon is a win-win situation.”
Four of McCaffrey’s stores are within a 30-minute drive from the greenhouse. The store in Yardley, Pa., is a half block away. McCaffery said he is the first in the county to enter into an agreement with Brightfarms and the customers are looking forward to it.
“Our customers are excited about it. People are looking for all natural, organic products that are grown in a natural environment and this gives us a leg up on what we can offer our customers.”