Most of the organic baby greens sold in Washington DC supermarkets are not “green” at all. They’re grown in the Salinas Valley in California, which has been called the most hydrologically altered landmass on the planet. Then they are shipped in refrigerated trucks roughly 2,800 miles across America.
Paul Lightfoot thinks there’s a better way to get fresh lettuce, tomatoes and herbs into the hands of supermarket shoppers. Lightfoot is chief executive of a startup called BrightFarms, which builds and operates urban, hydroponic greenhouse farms. The company operates a greenhouse farm in Philadelphia, it’s building another on a massive rooftop in Brooklyn, and it is developing farms in St Louis, Kansas City, St Paul and Oklahoma City.
But Lightfoot, 43, is not a farmer. He’s a business guy who used to run a software company that helped retailers manage their supply chains, so he understands the inefficiencies of moving stuff around. Shrinking the distance between farm and fork, he says, is good for the environment, good for supermarkets and their shoppers and good for the bottom line at BrightFarms.
Its products, which include spring mix, Asian greens, baby arugula, baby kale, basil, and several varieties of tomatoes, will cost no more and in some cases will sell for less than competing brands. “We’re just a better supply-chain model,” Lightfoot says.
Last week, Lightfoot travelled to Washington, where he joined with the city’s mayor, Vincent Gray, to unveil plans for the first large-scale hydroponic farm in the nation’s capital. The 100,000sq ft greenhouse will be built in Anacostia, a depressed neighbourhood that few tourists ever see, on city-owned vacant land that has been under-utilised and plagued by illegal dumping.