Time for a little more Farm.One history, and a few words about the future.
I moved to New York in February of 2016, so early last year the whole city was very new to me, in addition to being the site of a brand new business. Along with finding team members for the farm, I was also apartment hunting, sorting out a visa involving three trips to Australia in six months, breaking up with a girlfriend (ouch), setting up a bank account and doing all the thousands of fun things you do when you move to a new country.
Finding our amazing space at ICE and planting our first crops in April 2016 was a relief, in a sense, because it meant we were finally starting, and I could finally focus on one thing. This space has been about as good as we could ever have hoped for, being a small farm where we could make mistakes on a small scale and try things out quickly. The way we do things now is around 300x better than when we started :)
The Next Step
It’s now a little over a year now since the beginning, and we’re now about to open our new farm in Tribeca. This is more than six months in the making, a huge undertaking by our small team, in addition to trying to build our existing business out of our farm at ICE. We can’t wait to share this new space with you all. In addition to it being an exciting central location, we’re working in partnership with one of the best restaurants in the city, if not the world.
It’s considerably larger - around 8x bigger growing space, meaning when it’s at capacity we’ll have about 10x larger space across the two farms than what we have now. Growing more doesn’t just mean serving more customers, it also means being able to supply larger restaurants and other food businesses (many larger restaurants would use up our entire output at ICE in just one sitting).
In terms of hydroponics systems, we’ve built the farm as a “Version 2.0” based on what we’ve learned at ICE. Everything has been scaled up, and optimized to reduce manual labor so we can concentrate on the plants. We have space dedicated to microgreens, to herbs and flowers, and also experimental system areas using new technologies like fogponics to allow us to grow larger fruiting and flowering varieties. We’ve carefully designed every aspect of the space to be more efficient and more user-friendly - as the model of a small vertical farm in a previously under-used space in the middle of a city.
Good Ideas & Bad Ideas
We’ve learned a lot over the past year. Many of our initial ideas about building a vertical chef’s farm in New York turned out to be correct - but many also turned out to be wrong. We first thought that chefs would be interested in renting growing space, just telling us to grow. This proved a complete failure, as it was so different to how chefs normally think about ordering produce. So we sell in a more traditional way now - pounds and ounces and counts and trays - which is a lot more understandable for everyone.
We also originally expected the farm to be purely a production facility. But as time went on, we had so many requests to tour the farm that we realized experiencing the space and tasting the herbs on site was just as important as selling the product. Now our tours and classes are an important part of our business, something we plan on expanding with our Tribeca farm.
A year ago, the team was just myself + David, our Farm Manager. Over the past year we’ve added Luke on Sales, Nic as Engineer and Wilson working on Sales and Events. We also have a number of Farm Hands, and now a whole army of interns for the summer months, meaning we’re often 9-10 people on busy days. This is obviously too many for a small farm like we have at ICE! But as we scale up our production in the next few months the team should match our farm size a lot better.
With around 100 different plants growing at any one time, Farm.One is now a unique “taste library” of fresh ingredients in the city, which as far as we know it is unrivaled around the world. Food, beverage and fragrance brands now work with us to give new experiences to their teams, providing the inspiration behind new products. Over the past year we have grown over 300 different plant varieties, and at our new farm we hope to have close to that number always available, making the library even more exceptional. This a cool and unexpected new area for us, which we're discovering more about every week.
The next few months will be exciting for the team. We’ll be expanding production, making many more products available on the website, putting on more special events, classes and tours, meeting new customers, working with our new restaurant partner and showing more of the general public the advantages of a vertical farm in the city. I am sure there will be a few more mistakes too, but that’s part of the fun. Thanks for being part of the very beginning of our journey - and I’ll keep you posted on when you can come visit us in our new space.