Urban Farms Continue Upward Trajectory; Mass-Market Benefits Unrealized

Jonathan Margolis indicated yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “The basil is ready to harvest. The warm, humid air is sweet with the aroma of herbs ready to give their lives to the glory of pesto, tomato sauces and salads.

“Close your eyes and you could be in Umbria. Open them, and you are in a greenhouse in Brooklyn, New York. Outside it is minus 7 degrees and snowing. The workers tending the hydroponically-fed plants inside are farmers — but of an indoor, urban variety.

This is one of three New York salad vegetable farms run by Gotham Greens, a seven-year-old company (there is another farm in Chicago and four more will open this year). The greenhouses grow pesticide-free produce for hyper-local distribution.”

The FT article noted that, “It sounds like an awful lot of salad. But Viraj Puri, a former environmental engineer and the company founder and chief executive, admits: ‘We are still a relative drop in the bucket.’

“‘Our industry is in its infancy. Our revenues are now above $10m, but the overall produce market in the US is $30bn. But it’s a serious attempt to decentralise and disrupt the supply chain.'”

Mr. Margolis added that, “I asked Paul Wilson, a professor of agricultural economics at the UK’s Nottingham university, about this. He believes urban suppliers such as Gotham Greens ‘could take off in a serious way, even though for now they are niche.’

But for the moment, economies of scale will ensure that shipped-in produce is cheaper, much like New Zealand lamb is cheaper than British lamb for UK consumers.

“Perhaps so. But I hope local, technology-aided, sustainable farming continues on its gentle upwards trajectory.”

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