Urban Pastoral Brings Commercial Rooftop Farming to Baltimore
August 2, 2015 | seedstock
by Rose Egelhoff
Urban Pastoral, a new rooftop farming company spearheaded by entrepreneur J.J. Reidy, is starting operations in Baltimore. The “first commercial scale hydroponic farm” in Baltimore will use media-based vertical growing systems to provide greens and culinary herbs to food service contractor Bon Appétit, as well as to participate in the Baltimore Food Hub.
After college, Reidy found his way into the world of Internet startups at LivingSocial. There, he says, “I began to think about building my dream.”
Reading about the emerging urban agriculture movement and thinking about his life-long passion for food and gardening, Reidy realized “that this was exactly what I wanted to do… instead of building Twitter and Facebook apps, solving problems that actually matter for our society.”
To learn more about farming he worked at Earth Sky Time Community Farm in Vermont before going to John Hopkins University’s Carey Business School.
The company will use recycled rainwater in a closed-loop hydroponic system with plants grown in 10-foot vertical towers and Arduino technological systems to monitor water and nutrient flows.
Urban Pastoral has completed the first step: raising capital to build a shipping container greenhouse—which they call “BoxUP”—as a proof of concept. Now the team is waiting for “the funds to hit the bank,” according to Reidy. Then they can start buying equipment for the greenhouse, which will eventually be located at the Baltimore Food Hub campus near John Hopkins University. “We want it to be completed by the end of the summer,” says Reidy.
After BoxUP is complete, Urban Pastoral can move toward the long-term goal: raising $2 to 3 million for a Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) facility with the capacity to produce more than 300,000 pounds of greens and culinary herbs every year.
Reidy has seen other companies struggle at this phase. “When you have so much pressure on you, with so much money, there’s a lot that can go wrong,” he says. But with scalable technologies and strong community partnerships, the partners are hopeful about their chances.
Besides their deal with Bon Appétit and the Baltimore Food Hub, Urban Pastoral has established partnerships with the nonprofit organizations Humanin and the Abell Foundation, which have pledged real estate and workforce development assistance to the startup, with the aim of setting up vocational development programs for high school graduates or incarcerated people.
Reidy looks forward to moving beyond the construction phase. “For us, what’s interesting is not building the facility and constructing greenhouses. There’re plenty of companies that do that… and that’s not really what’s going to enact change,” he says. “It’s more of going an inch wide and a mile deep in Baltimore, so not only having the greenhouses but also integrating into the ecosystem around the greenhouses.” Inspired by models like The Plant in Chicago, Urban Pastoral plans to build relationships with local markets, breweries, and restaurants. On their website, Urban Pastoral commits to a 10-mile distribution radius.
To Reidy, the dream is to help feed Baltimore with an urban farm that creates jobs, furthers education and stimulates the economy. If all goes well, he hopes Urban Pastoral can a model for other struggling cities by creating “an immense impact in one location, to show how it can be done.”