Image © Square Roots

Urban indoor farming company Square Roots announced today it has teamed up with Gordon Food Service, a food service provider and distributor in North America. According to a press release (sent via email), the partnership will give Square Roots the chance to expand its farming footprint significantly while making locally grown produce more widely available.

Gordon Foods will assist Square Roots with building farms on or near Gordon distribution centers. Food grown on these farms will be available to Gordon’s customers, which include corporate clients as well as individuals buying from the company’s e-commerce store. Gordon is, according to the press release, a $15 billion company, so its deep pockets can facilitate the expansion.

Square Roots was founded by food entrepreneur Kimball Musk along with engineer-turned-entrepreneur Tobias Peggs. Since its inception in 2016, the company has been steadily rising as a leader in the vertical farming space. It’s known both for its indoor farms, which it operates out of recycled shipping containers, as well as its Next Gen Farmer Training Program. The latter is an entrepreneurial-meets-agricultural program designed to teach young adults the nuances of farming (right now the average age of a farmer is about 58). It places heavy emphasis on the technological aspects of urban farming, so participants graduate with as much tech savvy as they do plant savvy.

One cool thing about the Square Roots-Gordon Foods partnership is that it means more of these Farmer Training Programs across the continent. The deal includes building new Square Roots “campuses” on or near Gordon distribution centers, and each of these campuses will need people to care for the farms. Square Roots told me its Brooklyn HQ has 10 farms total and accepts 6 to 10 next-gen farmers each year. For new farms, the number of farmers will vary based on the size of the campus, Square Roots said.

Gordon operates 175 different distribution centers in North America. For them, the partnership is also a way for an old food brand to put on a newer, more modern face. The company has been in operation since the late 1800s and currently serves restaurants, hospitals, schools, and other food-service facilities. But as we’ve seen recently, even big institutions are starting to look beyond historical staples (green Jello, anyone?) and provide healthier alternatives to patients, students, and other customers.

While not a complete parallel, the deal does remind me of Corelle’s recent move to merge with Instant Pot: a century-old company teaming up with a young startup, presumably in response to the way our perception of food, cooking, and eating is changing. More and more consumers are growing aware of the quality of their food, and eating local is a growing movement that’s starting to become more than just a trend for rich hipsters. Big Food knows it. Old institutions know it. Gordon Foods has actually gone and done something about it, and possibly set a standard for other major distributors along the way.

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