Take a look inside a greenhouse on the rooftop of a Whole Foods in Brooklyn — reducing emissions and food waste
Gotham Greens operates commercial-scale sustainable greenhouses in urban areas all over the US.
Its second hydroponic greenhouse is located on top of Whole Foods Market in Gowanus, Brooklyn.
The company is expecting to own and operate 13 of its greenhouses across nine states in 2023.
Gotham Greens owns and operates sustainable hydroponic greenhouses throughout the US that harvest greens year-round.
When Gotham Greens was founded in 2009, its CEO Viraj Puri said there were no commercial-scale sustainable greenhouses, like urban hydroponic and vertical farms, in the US yet. These types of greenhouses are more recent than traditional greenhouses, and are experiencing significant growth, he said.
Hydroponic greenhouses grow plants without soil.
At a dinner with his eventual cofounder of Gotham Greens, Eric Haley, and Jenn Frymark, now the chief greenhouse officer, Puri said they learned the basil on their pasta had been flown in from Israel.
"At that moment, we knew that there was a clear need and purpose for our proposed business model of building farms closer to population centers," Puri said.
After doing more research, they learned that most leafy greens grown in the US come from California and Arizona.
"After traveling thousands of miles east, it's at least a week old and leaves a significant mark on the environment through carbon emissions and food waste along the supply chain," Puri said.
The first Gotham Greens rooftop greenhouse opened in Greenpoint, Brooklyn in 2011. Now, it's one of the largest greenhouse lettuce producers in North America, Puri said.
The hydroponic greenhouse in Greenpoint, Brooklyn was the first-ever commercial facility of its kind, and is over 15,000 square feet, Viraj said.
Gotham Greens recently raised more than $310 million in capital for its expansion. In 2023, Gotham Greens expects to own and operate 13 high-tech, climate-controlled hydroponic greenhouses equaling over 40 acres across nine states. Gotham Greens has new greenhouse projects underway in Texas, Georgia, and Colorado, and is expanding existing greenhouses in Illinois and Rhode Island.
After the initial inspiration to build an urban hydroponic greenhouse, the team had to figure out where to put it.
"We felt that it was important to prove the concept in New York City, the nation's largest and arguably the most influential market, before we could replicate it elsewhere," Puri said.
But the team found themselves priced out of the NYC real estate market — "at least until we looked up," Puri said. Landlords who owned commercial and industrial buildings had unused rooftop space, and the team decided to look for a rooftop for the greenhouse.
Building the first commercial-scale rooftop greenhouse in the country meant there were no precedents for proper zoning, permits, and approvals, Puri said, so it took two years to open the first greenhouse.
The second Gotham Greens hydroponic greenhouse was built in 2013 on top of Whole Foods Market's first store in Brooklyn in Gowanus. The greenhouse is over 20,000 square feet, and supplies the store and surrounding restaurants with fresh produce throughout the year.
Through its national network of greenhouses in urban cities, Gotham Greens wants to deliver fresh produce within a day's drive to 90% of consumers across the country.
"Opening our greenhouse on the Whole Foods Market rooftop encapsulates our mission of farming with the future in mind and was a significant milestone on our journey to bringing fresh, sustainably grown produce to people in cities across America," Puri said.
Gotham Greens aspires to be part of the agricultural industry's solution to increasingly visible impacts of climate change, Puri said, adding that helping the community around the greenhouses is part of the company's goal.
Because Gotham Greens' greenhouses are located in metropolitan cities like New York City and Chicago, there's no need for long-distance refrigerated transportation, and the produce quality and shelf life is better, Puri said, which helps reduce food waste.
The Colorado River is drying, creating a water crisis in many states, including California and Arizona, where most of the country's leafy greens are grown, Puri said, making it more important to have locally grown, sustainable produce, available to consumers across the country.
"By using hydroponic growing systems in renewable electricity-powered greenhouses, Gotham Greens' farms use up to 95% less water and 97% less land compared to conventional farming," Puri said.
"Our latest greenhouses are advanced, data-driven, climate-controlled facilities — the most efficient production systems available today," Puri said.
Gotham Greens uses direct sunlight and renewable electricity to power its greenhouses, while vertical farms can use up to three times more electricity and cost up to 16 times more to build, Puri said. Working indoors means Gotham Greens can grow more produce than conventional farms.
Using machine learning and data analysis, the team can monitor crop health and progress, so produce is at its freshest when it's delivered.
Puri said the greenhouse's irrigation techniques use less than one gallon of water to grow a head of lettuce, where a conventional open-field farm can use up to 10 gallons.
"With our current footprint, Gotham Greens will save 583 million gallons of water annually compared to a conventional farm," Puri said.
Puri said Gotham Greens produces 26 times more lettuce per acre of land than a conventional farm, an equivalent of 716-acres of soil.
With its new greenhouses opening in the next year, Puri said Gotham Greens will create 200 new jobs.
"We will continue to invest in technology that helps us reliably deliver the best quality products to consumers, but ultimately, we cannot do it without the right people," Puri said.
The company is committed to using underutilized real estate, like rooftops, to produce agriculture and provide jobs and economic development for the communities it operates in.
A common misconception about sustainably grown food is that it's organic, and that organic produce is the best option, Puri said. Gotham Greens is not certified organic, but Puri believes its products are just as good if not better than organic produce.
"Organic certification defines how food is produced (specifically related to soil health), but it does not necessarily address quality, safety, nutritional value, water-use, or worker welfare," Puri said. "Gotham Greens addresses these issues through our expert growers, high quality, comprehensive food safety program, freshness, and year-round local production."
Gotham Greens has Certified B Corporation™ status, meaning it's a vetted, environmentally conscious brand.
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