Rooftop local produce, coming soon to a supermarket near you

A New York start-up wants to partner with supermarket chains to bring year-round locally grown hydroponic crops to people living far away from mega farms.
Written by David Worthington, Contributor
Image courtesy of BrightFarms

Thanks to rising fuel costs and the revival of demand for locally grown foods, rooftop greenhouses may soon be cropping up at your supermarket.

The impetus behind the idea is this: most crops consumer in the United States are grown on the West Coast or overseas, and environmental concerns not withstanding, the cost to continually ship produce across country in refrigerated trucks is rising.

Customers are faced with spoilage and less than peak freshness. A Manhattan based start-up called BrightFarms is hoping to change that with its business solution for locally managed, highly automated hydroponic greenhouses.

The greenhouses should be located on or nearby a supermarket, be grown for taste and nutritional value, and be on the shelf within 24 hours of harvest, said Benjamin Linsley, BrightFarms’ vice president of business development and public affairs.

What the means is that the lettuces that you buy during the winter in New York won't be rotting, and amazingly good summertime Jersey tomatoes will be available all year round. Many vegetables available in stores today are grown to survive the journey cross country - not flavor.

BrightFarms has signed letters of intent with 10 of the top 50 supermarkets in the U.S., and could be announcing its initial partnerships within the next several months; most have been located on the East Coast.

“The way that each product is marketed will depend on conversations with that particular supermarket, “Linsley said. Linsley added that local farmers would likely staff the greenhouses. Supermarkets will initially be growing lettuces and tomatoes. BrightFarms is planning to expand its bounty to include berries, cucumbers, peppers, and squash.

With a hat tip to farmers markets and cooperatives, Linsley noted that BrightFarms is making its model as scalable as possible. “By working with supermarkets we are able to produce a local food system,” he said.

I frequent the Sunday farmers market at my subway stop on Broadway, and would be curious to try "local" produce actually grown in Manhattan. Any new mechanism to make fresh vegetables more plentiful -- and maybe even less expensive -- is a good thing.

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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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