One thing most people can agree on: pale supermarket tomatoes do not taste like the tomatoes grown in the backyard in summer. That’s why Backyard Farms strives to produce fruit so delicious that it tastes like it was just plucked from the backyard garden—even during a long Maine winter.
According to Tim Cunnis, Executive Director of Sales and Marketing at Backyard Farms, the company formed in 2006 to provide a more local alternative to mediocre tomatoes trucked in from thousands of miles away.
When room to farm in a city is scarce, look up.
Montreal-based Lufa Farms built Canada’s first commercial hydroponic urban rooftop greenhouse in 2011. In the late summer of 2013, Lufa opened a second, larger rooftop greenhouse in Laval, Quebec.
Although Lufa always intended to add another greenhouse to its operation once the 2011 site opened, the company wanted to observe how the first project did first, says Lauren Rathmell, greenhouse director and founding member.
“The goal was to have by the end of our first year of production 1,000 subscribers, which is about what our first site can support by itself,” she says. “The trajectory from there was to have a goal of having 3,500 subscribers by the end of 2013.”
On the verge of opening their new Quebec store, Canadian startup Urban Barns looks set to be a leader in the sustainable grocery store industry, both in Canada and the United States.
After careful planning and four years of intense research and development, Urban Barns launched in 2012 with a goal of growing produce as close to customers as possible. Initially, Urban Barns wants to sell sustainable leafy greens to the wholesale market. They believe their patented growing cubes are the perfect way to do that.
Getting through the first season as a new farmer can be daunting, but Perpetual Harvest owner Frazer Love faced the challenge with a commitment to organic growing.
As Love explains: “When we contribute positively to our community, our community sustains us as a naturally created cycle.”
Love took a chance when he left his job in October 2012 to become a micro farmer. A micro farm, according to Love, is an urban plot of land no bigger than 4 acres dedicated to producing fruits, vegetables, and, at times, poultry.
To start his farm, Love built twelve 16-square-foot raised beds on his home property in Athens, GA, and installed a custom irrigation system featuring a feeding barrel for compost tea and ball valves on each bed to control water flow.
After years of research and design, tracking delivery routes, studying the local market and looking for a way to improve on agricultural standards, Oceanside, CA startup Famgro Farms developed an ultra-efficient, stackable “macro farm” system that optimizes space for hydroponic growing.
“I leverage technology, material handling and hydroponics together in a way that has not been done before, to make a meaningful impact on the ability to produce food, anywhere, anytime, pesticide-free and for a lower cost,” says Steve Fambro, who founded Famgro Farms in 2010.
Sometimes what appears to be a detour ends up being the right road all along.
Ryan Oates owns Tyger River Smart Farm, a hydroponic farm in Duncan, South Carolina. He grows a variety of lettuces, chard, kale, and basil in his 28 x 45-foot greenhouse that he sells to farmers markets, restaurants, and retailers. New to the industry and a first-generation farmer, Oates harvested his first crop in 2013.
It is no surprise that Harold Blackwell launched his venture into commercial agriculture with a sound business plan.
An investment banker by day, Blackwell started gardening outside as a hobby, something to do during his off hours to de-stress from the workday. But he could only take that so far in Connecticut, when outdoor gardening pauses during the winter.
To solve this problem, he began with small pots of herbs grown indoors, and then expanded into a small hydroponics set-up. He was pleasantly surprised at the quality of his results, and after a few years had the fortune to meet a commercial hydroponics grower in Bridgeport who showed him the ways of growing hydroponically at a commercial scale for a living.
Inspired to make a sustainable dent in the modern food system, Tony and Lorraine Gibbons drove around their New Jersey neighborhood looking for possible sites for an urban farm.
What they found were empty city lots covered in garbage and old car parts.
“We ended up talking to some of the people that owned some of these empty spaces and they were willing to lend us the space essentially for nothing because for them the value is beautifying some of the neighborhood and for us its free space,” recalls Tony Gibbons.