Green Food Solutions Is Revolutionizing Residential Growing

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Agritecture sat down with Green Food Solutions before this year’s GreenTech Conference in Amsterdam. Green Food Solutions is participating at the Vertical Farming pavilion at GreenTech 2019.

Tell us about Green Food Solutions and how the company started?

Green Food Solutions is a company that provides the free planning and design for anyone who wants to start a farm or garden. We sell, install and maintain, via our farm service, vertical hydroponic farms and gardens. We provide training and workshops in workforce development and support our clients with resources like crop schedules and business planning for their success.  

The idea to begin Green Food Solutions was first inspired by Mary and Electra’s first visit to Green Tech in Amsterdam in 2016. When they returned home, Mary immediately contacted different hydroponic vendors to create sales relationships with systems that specifically reduces barriers to entry in order to provide resources to an emerging industry. “It’s like the Gold Rush”, Mary says, “during the gold rush many people went to pan for gold and created business around this movement. Many failed because they didn’t have the correct resources available to them.” We have built ourselves to be a company that people can contact to provide all sorts of resources to grow food in urban environments. Shortly afterward they started representing and partnering with the Tower Farm system.

When Henry Gordon-Smith of Agritecture asked Electra if she would like to be a part of the initial launch of a business accelerator program being promoted by Kimball Musk called Square Roots, we thought it would be a perfect platform to develop our business.

While obtaining her Masters degree in Sustainable Environmental Systems from the City and Regional Planning program at Pratt Institute and working for several Ag-Tech startups, Electra focused on the question of can vertical farms be a means for food justice? Green Food Solutions was born from this inquiry and given Electra’s experience growing in every type hydroponic system, the Tower Farms were the growing system they felt confident they could get behind.

What is unique about the Tower Farm technology that makes it a good solution for residential growing?

There are several features that make the Tower Farm unique and a fantastic solution for all sorts of growing - including on top of and inside of residential, commercial, and educational buildings. It is modular, sleek, low weight, and low maintenance.

Tower Farms systems can go anywhere and can fit any space. Each unit is only 2.5 ft in diameter. Their heights range from 5’ to over 8’ft and above. On a rooftop, indoor or greenhouse space you can buy as many will fit in the space, and go as high or as low as you like. Single units can be placed in your living room or backyard like many of our clients, who have 1-6 units in and around their home. Or dozens can be placed on a rooftop like the rooftop farm at the Denizen in Bushwick, Brooklyn, a farm operated by Green Food Solutions year round. We believe they are the most versatile system on the market today. Each tower has its own reservoir, ensuring crop security on farms between 10-300 Towers. If one tower catches a water-bourne illness, the rest of the towers are safe from contamination. For farms larger than 300 Towers, we also offer single reservoir systems to save time and labor at scale.

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Unlike other vertical farming systems, which after a certain height you can no longer monitor the crops at the top without using a lift or a ladder, the Tower Garden allows you to see all plants from the ground - making it easier to spot disease or pests at the top. By default, it is a more efficient ergonomic design that prevents the grower from having to bend into tight stack spaces and from banging their heads on overhead lamps. The Tower Farm maximizes the growing space while keeping the grower managing the system in mind.

We also think the Tower Farm system just looks better in an urban setting. It’s circular sleek design was specifically chosen by the architects that designed the Denizen rooftop farm, to fit in with the aesthetics of a new luxury development. Restaurants, like Bell Book & Candle use the Tower Farm system to grow food in the chic neighborhood of the West Village, located in Manhattan. It is used by the likes of companies like Google, WeWork, and Microsoft as a way to provide a green and productive amenity in the office environment. There are indoor Tower Farms in places like O-Hare airport in Chicago, and the Orange County Convention Center in California. Towers can be found in over 6,000 schools across the U.S., so as you can imagine, it is one of the best selling growing systems for personal use, schools, and urban farms on the market today.

It is one of the only systems that meets the low load rooftop capacity of older buildings, with each tower only weighing 150 lbs or less with a full reservoir and fully mature plants. This allows us access to almost any rooftop, a space that many building owners make no revenue on. Through our farming service we are able to implement a true movement in urban farming that benefits farmers, building owners, local residents, and the planet.

Electra has worked with almost every type of hydroponic system out there and has found that no other system requires as little maintenance at the Tower Farm. The system was designed to support those who are just getting their start in urban farming. The irrigation and nutrient dosing is often automated without the use of electricity, and you receive a year’s subscription to Agrylist (a farm management platform) when you buy 40 Towers or more from us. Not to mention, they are resilient to climate and water quality fluctuations.

Can you talk about what the residential farms and gardens typically contain?

Our farming service comes with all the supplies, tools, and people needed to grow your urban farm amenity from seed to table. Farms we service include a variety of leafy greens like bok choy, gourmet lettuces, kale, herbs and spinach - to fruits like strawberries and melons - and vegetables including cucumbers, tomatoes, okra, and peppers. We also grow a variety of edible flowers, keeping the pollinators and beneficial bugs happy.

After growing and maintaining the farm, we deliver the food directly to people in the building with our modern CSA program called Farm to Locavore. Building tenants receive a weekly delivery of freshly harvested food directly to their home or office. They can pause or cancel at anytime, and they have a say in what is being grown.

Additionally, as part of our All Inclusive Farm Service, we run community events centered around the farm, like pickling classes or DIY: Cosmetics. This way we are actively engaging local residents to create community and familiarity.

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What are some of the benefits for residents and what are the benefits for developers?

There are a tremendous amount of benefits to both the developers and the residents. For example, our flagship farm in Brooklyn is situated in a completely new development. We got to see the real impact that an urban farm amenity had on the ability for brokers to rent out apartments. When the building first opened, only 15 out of 400 units were rented before opening, In less than a year, all units are now occupied. We discovered that most people found the farm the most impressive asset of the building and it was the determining factor for why most people decided to move in. There are now reports that show that urban farm amenities not only attract tenants, but they also raise the value of the surrounding property (Urban Land Institute, 2018).

The value for the developers is that they get to have a building amenity that keeps them cutting in a competitive market. Urban farm amenities fulfills the increasing desire for local, transparent, fresh and organic food. We work with building owners and management to create revenue generating models that benefit them. By incorporating farms and gardens into urban developments, developers and building owners can get points towards LEED certification, WELL and WELFIT certification. There are many zoning and tax incentives that cities also offer developers who incorporate active, healthy, and sustainable lifestyles into their building use.

Contrary to popular belief, rooftops with green space actually increase the lifetime of the roof. Instead of the intense sun beading down on a black roof year after year, plants absorb the energy of the sun and transform it into edible energy for building residents. This is turn keeps the building cooler in the summer, and insulated in the winter, reducing the cost for HVAC.

For environmentally and socially conscious developers, they get to feel good about incorporating a truly sustainable technology into their space that also increases the well being of their tenants and supports public health. We also request that 5-10% of the produce we grow is donated to local food shelters and pantries in our commitment to food justice, especially in neighborhoods that are often taken by gentrification. This is an additional benefit to developers as they get to engage with the local surrounding community.

The benefit to residents and office tenants is getting to enjoy fresh, healthy, local, and sustainable food. In the GFS model, they can be as involved or uninvolved as they like. They are engaged through volunteer days and Farm Craft classes. Or, for tenants with busy lives, they can just receive a weekly delivery from their rooftop farm knowing that they are eating the freshest food with the greatest convenience.

We are excited to share how others can do the same from high rise multi-use buildings to suburban housing complexes, to malls, co-working space, resorts, schools and office buildings. Urban farms using the Tower Farm technology and employing the Green Food Solutions Farm service will revolutionize the way we live locally.

Agritecture