There’s a new way to do the whole the “farm-to-table” concept in restaurants: put the farm in the kitchen.
That’s what Brooklyn-based startup Smallhold, a “distributed farming” company, is helping restaurants to do. The business supplies various New York City locations with 100 percent climate-controlled mini-farms, which are quite compact in size will certainly give any kitchen a futuristic vibe. With the farm onsite, restaurants can “harvest” things like mushroom and basil, giving customers the freshest ingredients they’re likely to get in a public restaurant.
The company was started by Andrew Carter, a longtime expert in controlled-environment farm systems, and Adam DeMartino, who specializes in product strategies for startups. The two operate out of Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood, where they keep a warehouse full of reclaimed shipping containers that hold the mini-farms. Smallhold grows the crops three-quarters of the way in the warehouse, delivering them to restaurants during the final growth stage.
All farms are wi-fi enabled, so that the growers at Smallhold can monitor and control climate remotely. The restaurant only has to worry about picking the goods once they’re ready for eating.
Bun-Ker Vietnamese was the first restaurant to use Smallhold. Mission Chinese had a custom installation of the mini-farm created to match the design of the restaurant. And Smallhold is working with Meyers USA/Great Northern to reclaim coffee grounds and turn them into King Oyster mushrooms.
Urban farming is on the rise across the country, with 40 percent of USDA-backed programs now in cities. NYC, in particular, holds a high concentration of urban farms. That’s not to say urban farming isn’t thriving elsewhere, but the Big Apple’s an interesting location because it’s pretty much the most farm-unfriendly mass of land in the country.
These urban farms run the gamut in terms of how much technology is used, but it’s typically a combination of hydroponics, aquaponics, aeroponics, and traditional growing methods.
Some notables include:
Verdical, who can supply restaurants and homes alike, makes a “living food appliance” in the form of a tower equipped with sensors and horticulture LEDs. Users insert a seed pod, push a button, and then simply monitor this mini-farm throughout the grow process.
Elsewhere in Brooklyn, the Eagle Street Rooftop Farm is a 6,000-foot garden offering fruits, vegetables, and flowers. The building is owned by Broadway Stages, home of shows like The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. They offer apprentiships for the especially eager.
Bell Book and Candle, in the West Village, is the first restaurant to use a rooftop garden for its produce supply. It uses a hydroponic technique that reportedly helps plants grow at a faster rate than would be on a traditional farm.
Even famed jail complex Riker’s Island has an urban farm, run by the Horticultural Society of New York since 1996, where inmates receive vocational training and horticulture therapy.
A program like Riker’s may not be as technologically in-depth as someone like Smallhold, but it still serves the same mission: finding sustainable ways to grow and deliver food in a world where traditional agriculture techniques grow increasingly worse for the planet. I’d love to see a company like Smallhold make its way into a place like Riker’s or other state-run institutions, like public school projects. That could make for some truly innovative new farming methods.
Image credit: Brooklyn Magazine