We’ve heard of supermarket hydroponics before: window hanging, wall-mounted, and rooftop farm concepts have been abundant over the last decade. Truthfully, though, how many have you actually seen? Throughout 2011, the New York hydroponics firm Better Food Solutions plans to change that by installing a network of hydroponic greenhouses atop a number of grocery stores across the nation. The group, also behind the New York “Greenhouse Project” and Brightfarms Systems, believes that by working with grocery stores they can provide local food and further prove that hydroponics is the future of agriculture.
Better Foods Solutions finances and supports each mini-farm, including the staff and maintenance crew, contractually binding the grocery store below only to purchase fresh, extremely local products from above. This is a departure from the typical approach to rooftop gardening, which puts all design, construction, and maintenance costs on the building-owner. Since the farms cut transportation or preservation costs, they believe they can offer competitive pricing and make each farm a viable business on its own. Plus, as far as consumer interest goes, you can’t get much fresher than a floor up.
Better Food Solutions has solidified six undisclosed locations throughout the United States as part of their pilot program, but they plan on expanding as soon as possible. They plan on using Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) and Dutch buckets for most of the hydroponic technology, but they say most of the creativity lies in the climate control of the greenhouses. Each building is in a different microclimate and has different HVAC equipment, making temperature control with waste heat and air conditioning a tricky matter. Over time they plan on streamlining the design and build process, but these initial farms will have more of a custom feel than anything else.
They have also explicitly announced they are not trying to undercut local farmers, but work with them. As their network of greenhouses grows, more staff is needed per-system, and they plan on looking straight to the local farming community for help. So look out — food as fresh and local as it can get may be coming to a grocery store near you.
WHY THIS MATTERS
Localizing food production stands to provide consumers with fresher produce with a much lower CO2 footprint than food shipped across states and around the world. Better Food Solutions is poised to roll out a substantial network of rooftop gardens that could take off all across the states if they’re successful.