The first of several supermarket greenhouse projects by BrightFarms LLC is expected to bear fruit later this fall, and the New York-based company has several more in the works.
In early May, BrightFarms, which designs, finances, builds and operates hydroponic greenhouses, announced its second produce purchase agreement with Oklahoma City-based Homeland Stores.
The company’s first supermarket greenhouse, built for Langhorne, Pa.-based McCaffrey’s Markets, is expected to open in October, said Paul Lightfoot, chief executive officer. The Oklahoma City location should be up and running in early 2013, he said.
The mix of produce in each greenhouse depends on a retailer’s needs.
“We grow any variety of salad greens from spring mix to baby arugula to a 50/50 mix, and tomatoes from tomatoes-on-the-vine to cherry to beefsteak and a variety of herbs,” he said. “These are some of the most perishable items, and they travel the farthest to get to us.”
Retailers can have an on-site, or very nearby, greenhouse to cut the distance and offer a fresher product, Lightfoot said. BrightFarms handles all of the growing operations and the retailer maintains its position as a buyer.
“We learned along the way that retailers wanted to be retailers,” he said. “They want to buy at one price and sell with good service at another. They don’t want to raise capital for farms and be farmers.”
BrightFarms also recently announced an agreement to build a greenhouse with St. Paul, Minn.-based J&J Distributing, and Lightfoot said more announcements are expected this spring.
BrightFarms isn’t the only way retailers are going hyper-local.
Thibodaux, La.-based Rouses Enterprises planned to start harvesting from its own Roots on the Rooftop garden at its downtown New Orleans store on May 31.
The company is growing herbs both for its in-house culinary dishes and for retail sale using vertical aeroponic technology called Tower Gardens.
“This is very cutting edge for urban farming,” said Donny Rouse, managing partner, in a news release. “The locavore challenge is to eat food grown within a 200-mile radius. In our case, we’re growing herbs less than 100 feet from our store.”
The company worked with New Orleans-based Aquaponic Modular Production Systems to design and build the farm. The company works with retailers, educational institutions and community groups.
Kevin Morgan-Rothschild, chief operating officer and co-founder, said the company hopes to expand Rouses' garden to include fresh vegetables.
"We plan to work with more supermarkets nationwide that want to go down this route," he said.