Gotham Greens – Fresh from your rooftop

Gotham Greens rooftop gardenAt a recent business lunch everyone was talking about their food, but it had little to do with what was on their plate.

It was the fresh food experience some Australian retailers are delivering that led the discussion on price, quality, convenience and the elusive quest for value.

The accelerating pace of urban sprawl across our major cities is seeing previously high-yielding market garden acreage being transformed into even higher yielding master-planned residential and commercial estates.

New York City is home to an agricultural innovation which may resolve one of the issues traditionally associated with urban living – limited space for food production. Rooftop gardeners Gotham Greens use hydroponic techniques to deliver year-round fresh produce to local grocers, restaurants and institutions.

While rooftop gardens are nothing new, Gotham Greens are the first year-round commercial rooftop grower.

The operation was founded in 2011 and last year it opened a second greenhouse facility on the roof of the new Whole Food Markets store in Brooklyn, NYC. The facility means that greens harvested in the morning can be on the shelf by lunchtime and on your plate for dinner, with minimal fuss.

Two more Gotham Greens facilities are scheduled to open in in the next 12 months, in Queens, New York and Chicago. The Chicago plant will be five times the size of the original greenhouse and located on the production facility roof of sustainable cleaning product manufacturer Method.

For suppliers and consumers Gotham Greens sets a new benchmark in fresh food delivery and moves the logistical ‘last mile’ problem down to ‘last steps’ through the creation of a direct-to-consumer path to market. The innovative use of solar power and water recycling in a pesticide free production environment also provides a blueprint for what can be achieved in agricultural terms in dense urban areas.

It’s possible we are witnessing the beginning of a good food innovation revolution. From paddock to plate, food innovators across the globe are working towards a food value chain that’s better for people, profit and the planet.

In the local market, the challenge of delivering consistently fresh food is an issue for both Coles and Woolworths. As consumers seek better quality, sustainably sourced, affordable produce, the way in which we think about, use and recycle food is evolving.

Perishable food rescue organisations OzHarvest and SecondBite minimise waste and recycle excess food and leftovers for those in need. The boom in farmers markets also reflects the rising importance of food provenance whilst the growth in community gardens reflects a societal need to connect. But what about food without the footprint?

Harris Farm's Imperfect Picks
Harris Farm’s Imperfect Picks

While it is unlikely that commercial scale rooftop greenhouses will enter the Australian market in the foreseeable future, we are becoming increasingly aware of what constitutes quality produce. This mindfulness has been embraced and promoted by a number of well-known chefs with the paddock-to-plate philosophy. For example, NSW grocery chain, Harris Farm, now delivers a new category of product to consumers with their Imperfect Picks and Curious Cuts product lines. The value equation is high, with significant discounts on price reward the consumer for cosmetic defects and irregular cuts on fruit and meat goods.

According to Tristan Harris, in less than 12 months, Harris Farm Markets has sold two million kilograms of imperfect looking fruit and vegetables as part of its Imperfect Picks range.

While it will be some time before we hear anyone say “Holy rooftop garden, Batman,” the challenge for retailers remains sourcing the best available fresh produce, and delivering this in the best possible condition via the fastest distribution channels. Anything which can deliver fresher product to consumers sooner will change the fresh food retail landscape.

James Stewart is partner at Ferrier Hodgson

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