August 23, 2017 - Comments Off on Catching Up with Vertically Fresh Farms
We caught up with Modular Farmers Jamie and Mike from Vertically Fresh Farms in Calgary to see how their farm has progressed since March. Check out our interview with them below!
What has Vertically Fresh Farms been up to since March?
Mike: A bunch! The start-up phase of setting up the farm and getting everything going has been the story this summer. Our work focused on learning the Modular Farms technology, setting up distribution, and meeting new customers. Since early July we’ve gotten into normal operations so we’re just getting our feet wet now.
What crops are thriving in the farm right now?
Mike: We’ve got kale and basil right now which is growing fantastic and has been really well received by our customers. It takes about 6 weeks for our kale to mature and 6 - 7 weeks for basil.
Jamie: We have 3 types of basil; Genovese basil, which is the most widely-known, Thai and Opal. We received a special request from a local chef for the Thai and Opal basil. That’s what so great about this farm, we are able to take requests and grow-to-order! We’re also planning other types of green leafs and herbs. Currently we’re gearing up to plant our first batch of spinach, chard, and chives.
How do you find customers to buy your produce?
Mike: We reach out to a lot of restaurants and markets. We have quite a few restaurant clients but we’re looking at other venues as well. It’s a constant process and we often walk into restaurants and ask, “Hey – where do you get your kale?” We know people are sold on the idea of our product, we have a great message and chefs are attracted to the local component with stable pricing.
What farming experience did you have before using Modular Farms?
Mike: We didn’t have much experience before starting Vertically Fresh Farms. Vertical farming was new to us, but the technology helped with our inexperience – it’s the main reason we have our business. Modular Farms and BrightAgrotech have been so great because they make it easy to learn new things. We’re not botanists so without the tech we’d have nothing.
Why did you decide to use a Modular Farm over a standard shipping container?
Mike: When we started this business, we took a look at a shipping container farm company out of Boston. We heard that Smart Greens, a company selling produce within 100km of where they are grown, were using a shipping container farm to grow their produce. We gave them a call to ask how it was going, and they let us know some of the issues they were dealing with. After some research, we saw a lot of the limitations of using an upcycled shipping container and decided to look elsewhere.
Modular Farms is a Canadian company who understands the harsh northern winters and built this technology for this type of environment – it was just a better fit for us over an upcycled shipping container.
What issues, in terms of food security, would you’d like to see solved today?
Mike: There are food security issues all over the world, whether it be from political or environmental implications. Here at Vertically Fresh Farms, we’re trying to solve the volatility of the traditional import market for produce, and change the distribution system in a positive way. These days, people ask ‘where is my food coming from?’. We want to provide reliability and quality to customers, ensuring that we’re selling high quality, freshly picked local produce. With the stable and controlled environment in our Modular Farm, we’re able to change the food system for the better.
What’s the best thing about working in a Modular Farm?
Jamie: We like how it’s a controlled environment – it doesn’t matter what the weather is, we never have to worry about our crops getting ruined. Calgary’s weather is all over the place and it’s nice to not have to worry about the rain and hail. It’s a lot of fun working in there too. The lights totally contribute to your mood – they bring a new energy to you and seeing the crops thriving in the farm puts a smile on my face. I also bring our kids with me, and they can see what mom does every day which is nice!
Mike: You can go in and plant something on a Sunday and see the growth on Thursday. It’s mind blowing how quickly some of the crops grow!