BrightFarms hits Kansas City produce scene

04/12/2013 09:55:00 AM
Chuck Robinson

Chuck Robinson, Assistant Copy ChiefChuck Robinson, Assistant Copy ChiefThe locally grown movement in Kansas City is on the brink of something amazing.

New York-based BrightFarms in late March announced plans to build a $4 million, 100,000-square-foot (2.3 acres) hydroponic greenhouse near downtown that is expected to supply one or more retailers in the metropolitan area with fresh leaf and lettuce products, herbs and tomatoes. No retailer has yet signed an agreement for the project, according to BrightFarms.

I think about friends in the area who are local produce growers and realize I should apologize.

There really must be some money in the locally grown movement to attract this investment from outside the area.

BrightFarms was created in 2007 as a greenhouse consultancy. It grew out of the nonprofit group New York Sun Works, which created and runs Science Barge, a prototype for a sustainable urban farm and environmental education center on the Hudson River in New York City.

An artistCourtesy BrightFarmsAn artist's rendering shows the greenhouse complex BrightFarms plans to build near downtown Kansas City, Mo.Once my brain settled down after looking over the materials for the BrightFarms plans for K.C., I started thinking about friends and colleagues who had already invested in the area’s locally grown movement. This sort of looks like some big city kid coming in to take the little kids’ candy.

Thanks to my faulty preconceptions, I had sold short the potential, according to a friend, Katherine Kelly, executive director of Cultivate Kansas City, which represents 125 urban growers producing fruits and vegetables on 100 acres of land.

“The real upside to this is we don’t have enough wholesale supply on the local market,” Kelly said. “There is more demand than there is supply.”

She said her board sees BrightFarms filling a need for wholesale supplies of fresh produce, while Cultivate Kansas City’s members serve a more direct-to-the-consumer retail market.

Most producers in the area who have been in the market for quite a while have run into problems with scaling up large enough to supply a retail supermarket chain.

Bret Fahrmeier, produce manager for Fahrmeier Farms, Lexington, Mo., agreed there was demand enough for a lot more suppliers and that the BrightFarms project has great potential.

“They can do things I can’t afford to do, and they can keep fresh, local food in the hands of the consumer all year long,” Fahrmeier said.


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