Construction of that vision began in February 2019 after the purchase of a used 40ft shipping container. Joe handpicked the first container from a port in Newark, NJ. Shortly after, the container was delivered to the vacant lot in Ridgefield, CT, where it was framed, insulated, and retrofitted with the basic necessities of an indoor farm. After a slight setback with the not-so-friendly neighbors, Joe began growing again in the Summer of 2019. At first, the farm experimented with growing a wide variety of crops like herbs, leafy greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, edible flowers, and most importantly, microgreens. "Microgreens" are the first leaves that emerge from the seed after germination, providing concentrated nutrition and intense flavors. All of the crops that were trialed in the initial experiments grew successfully, but some better than others. After preliminary testing, it was determined that microgreens were the easiest crop to grow in this particular system. We grew, packaged, and distributed the greens to high-end restaurants in the area that prioritize local, high-quality, fresh produce. We also offered a weekly home delivery service and supplied our greens as an add-in for a nearby CSA. We ran into a handful of challenges in our first year of farming, but that's the exact reason for making a prototype model, to test the waters and see what works!
The farm grew in popularity as the greens began to hit the streets. At the peak, before the government-mandated shutdown of restaurants for 2 months, our products were in over 15 of the best restaurants in the area. Chefs highlighted us on their menus as their local farm, made Weekly Specials based around our products, and really loved the quality and freshness. One of our favorite chefs even opened another restaurant in town, an American Bar/Bistro, and added "The Local" salad to his menu which turned out to be the best-selling salad! Overall, we got very positive feedback on our products grown in the prototype farm, but that was only part of the reason for prototyping. Most importantly, the prototype farm allowed us to develop "Growth Recipes" and a blueprint for our next facility.
Additionally, during our first year of farming, we connected with our Non-Profit Partner in Bridgeport, the East End NRZ Market & Café. We are partnering with the East End Market on a project we designed, which was awarded the 2020 Viability Grant from the CT Department of Agriculture. This project is designed to establish the first container farm in Connecticut's largest city, which has struggled with food security for decades. The goal of our effort is to provide Bridgeport residents, especially those living in the East End community with healthier food options while improving local fresh food availability, providing workforce development opportunities, and creating viable business models.
Looking back on the last three years, they were vital to building a strong foundation of the business. We were able to take an idea and turn it into a reality with great potential to replicate this sustainable model of urban farming. Now that our operation in South Norwalk is up and running, we are looking to reach 100% growing capacity and then build more shipping container farms when the demand is high enough. We are using this time to perfect our growing methods even further in the new facility, get our environmental conditions dialed in precisely and break down every aspect of the procedures to standardize them as much as possible. We hope to break ground on the project in Bridgeport soon! The pandemic has delayed the start of the venture but we are very excited to bring another urban farm to Bridgeport's East End community! The farm will be owned and operated in partnership with the East End Market and the City of Bridgeport. As we prepare to continue our journey in urban farming, we feel extremely confident in our new design, methods, and business model. Our new facilities are designed in accordance with CGAP standards (Connecticut Good Agricultural Practices) which will allow us to work with regional distributors, grocers, and resellers. We plan to continue supplying local restaurants, our home delivery service, adding a more farmers' markets, and working with wholesale partners to help us distribute our product to a greater population. We hope you join us on the journey to change the food system and make it more local and real.
For More Info on the Bridgeport Project, Click Below for our article in the CT Post