reuters.com; By Nicholas Kusnetz: In June, Lightfoot’s company, BrightFarms, announced a deal with The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Co., or A&P, to provide New York City-grown vegetables to the local chain’s supermarkets year-round. The goods will grow in what the company says will be the country’s largest rooftop greenhouse farm, a high-tech hydroponic operation that will boost yields, allowing the company to face-off with organic vegetables trucked from California, cutting thousands of miles from the supply chain while aiming to provide a fresher product at a competitive price.
With similar deals announced for St. Paul, Minn. and Oklahoma, BrightFarms is looking to tap into the local-food zeitgeist nationwide and create a more efficient produce mass-market. With some notable exceptions, urban farms have largely been non-profit, community-based endeavors, aiming to provide healthier food as a public good. The few for-profit operations have been mostly small and local. Lightfoot has grander ambitions.
“We’re not trying to change the fringes of the supply chain,” he said. “We want to change the supply chain itself.”
The idea to grow more food within city limits has spread in recent years along with increased awareness about the quality of our food and where it comes from. Advocates say urban farms can also provide important green-space and, when built on roofs, help reduce energy use and storm-water runoff. In dense cities like New York, with high real estate prices, rooftops represent enticing, unused space. Several cities, including New York and Seattle have revised zoning and building codes to help encourage the practice.
In New York, two startups have already begun growing vegetables from the city’s large commercial rooftops. One company, Gotham Greens, operates a greenhouse similar to the type BrightFarms is planning. The company grows herbs and leafy greens year round, selling to restaurants and grocery stores, including Whole Foods. Brooklyn Grange, which started operating in 2010, runs a more low-tech, open-aired operation. Both companies report modest profits and are expanding to additional, larger roofs.