I had the chance to chat on March 30 with Paul Lightfoot, chief executive officer of BrightFarms, a hydroponic greenhouse rooftop farm in Brooklyn, N.Y.
2:30 p.m. Tom Karst: I was interested to hear about the April 5 event to announce of the opening of BrightFarms in Brooklyn, which your company has said will be the nation’s first and largest greenhouse rooftop facility. Is there a lot of resonance and support for this concept?
Paul Lightfoot2:31 p.m. Paul Lightfoot: Very much so. People are really clamoring for more food that is local, so they know where it comes from. Me being in this business is not a coincidence; I’m responding to the market demand. And in this case, the city of New York has not produced a whole lot of produce historically, and it’s a big city. So people are really interested and places I don’t always think about, like the people who run New York City, the elected officials, are really excited to see jobs created in New York City that are about creating food, which forever has been brought in from the West Coast or other countries.
2:34 p.m. Karst: Tell me about the actual rooftop facility. What it is like and who is the party that will carry on its operation after it is built?
2:34 p.m. Lightfoot: The building itself is a very very substantial structure, built for the military and originally owned by the Navy. I think the Navy story munitions in it and at some point they realized that Brooklyn wasn’t where they wanted to store tanks and bombs. They gave it to the federal government, who used it in different forms for a long time. The FDA stored stuff there in the warehouse. That also wasn’t the greatest use, and it was given to the city, and the city in turn handed it to a private developer in exchange for a promise to develop it with light industrial and retail use and not residential. So that’s the partnership we stepped into; the borough of Brooklyn and the developer brought us in to develop the roof, essentially. The roof itself has about 100,000 square feet of open space we can use, which is about two and a half acres. (The roof) is very, very strong and thick because it was built for military purposes, and it didn’t require any structural work, which was important for us. And it is in a beautiful place, on the Brooklyn waterfront overlooking the skyline of Manhattan. It is in a part of Brooklyn that is really coming into life again. It had once been sort of a post-industrial area and Brooklyn itself is on fire right now. People are moving to Brooklyn from everywhere in the world right now. Brooklyn’s hot, and this is part of that.