Hydroponic farms on grocery store roofs: does it get any more local?

The Story Of Lettuce from BrightFarms on Vimeo.

What’s the maximum distance “local” produce can travel? 100 miles? 500 miles? How about 20-30 feet? That’s the kind of “food mileage” startup Brightfarms is shooting for with its concept of onsite hydroponic greenhouses at grocery stores.

Nope, this isn’t your typical rooftop garden… nor is it a traditional local food business model. CEO Paul Lightfoot described the concept to green business journalist Marc Gunther last week, and claimed the Brightfarm model hit on all the right points: healthier, more attractive food, a much smaller environmental footprint, and costs comparable to more conventional (and better traveled) produce. The company won’t try to do everything: no “cash crops” like wheat and rice (because they store and ship cheaply), and no root vegetables… they’ll focus on produce like “lettuces, tomatoes, herbs, cucumbers and peppers,” which often have to travel long distances in refrigerated trucks.

At two million a pop, selling the greenhouses to grocery stores would probably be a tough proposition… but Brightfarms isn’t planning to do that. Rather, they’re working on a model akin to solar leasing: they build and own the production facility, and sell the produce to the store below at a set price over a long term (say, ten years). Given the rising costs of food, this may prove irresistible… and Lightfoot claims the company already has seven retailers that have signed letters of intent to install a greenhouse.

So, what do you think? Obviously, this doesn’t fit the conventional notion of local food that comes from a small farmer… but it does have the potential to eliminate some of the costliest and most environmentally damaging aspects of produce farming and distribution. Take a look at the video above, and let us know what you think about Brightfarms’ claims.

via Sustainable Cities Collective