Due to the greenhouse project mentioned below in last week’s newsletter, I have been up to my eyeballs with potting soil, baby plants, and seeds. So instead of telling you that my goat ate my homework, I will just tell you it has been an insane week around here and I didn’t manage my time well enough to write a newsletter.
But with that said, I would like to highlight our upcoming Dinner Bag menu. 1) Seared Ahi Tuna Buddha Bowl with tons of fresh veggies, 2) A Garden Pizza perfect for the grill or oven, and a fun dessert that you could eat with either of those dinners. Should be another tasty week.
Food Hours vs Food Miles
Our greenhouse project is finally done and I could not be happier or more excited about this project. You see, in the midst of launching a new web site, adding more delivery routes to help feed more New Mexicans, and restructuring our regional business model, we thought it might be a good time to change the paradigm for how urban agriculture functions. I’ll explain a little bit so that you don’t think I’ve gone mad.
OK, so to lay this discussion out we have to first look at the inherent conundrum that all urban farmers face; you want to be geographically close to your customers, but it is almost impossible to financially grow carrots on residential land prices. Cities have the consumers; rural areas have the land prices. What is the answer?
And first off, let me say that I only know the answer to this question because I failed the test the first go-round. I thought that we could grow crops viably while paying too much for our land. Seeing as how I am a stubborn optimist, it only took me 8 years to realize that I was fighting a losing battle. Our model had to change or the house would have fallen in on itself. We had to reinvent ourselves and the model.
What I quickly realized (after almost a decade) was that we needed to look at every single crop on a case by case basis for its needs and for its financial productivity. What began to come clear is that land extensive crops are not meant for urban growing. Extensive crops I look at are crops that just take a ton of land or space to grow. Corn, potatoes, onions, and fruit trees come to mind off the top of my noggin.
So for this new model, we have to almost concede the fact that those kinds of crops are not meant to be grown in/around the urban areas. We can bring those in from rural parts where land is less expensive and that kind of farming makes sense. So what that leaves us with are land intensive crops. These are crops like greens, lettuces, herbs, roots, etc. that do not need a lot of land to be productive. For example, a head of lettuce needs less than a square foot of space to become full grown. So knowing that space in our urban setting is a premium, we needed to fine-tune our crop plan.
But then working on this new crop plan, a dim flicker of a light went off in my head; these Intensive crops are not only the food that does not need a lot of space, but they are the most perishable of all the food we eat. You would have a hard time telling me if an onion was harvested this week or 3 weeks ago, but you could sure as heck tell me if a head of lettuce was harvested 3 weeks ago. So then, all of the sudden, the local produce game shifted for us. We have already tackled how do you cut food miles from the farm to you, but how can we cut Food Hours from the farm to you?
Wow. This question honestly changes everything. What does a system need to look like in order to cut Food Hours to your plate? The simplest answer is that you need to get your point of distribution as close to your point of production as possible. In an idealistic Farmer M. utopia, the distribution warehouse would be holding hands with your farm. Same place. OK, so let’s try it! That was the feeling in November last year. Fast forward to April and we have finished the greenhouse and now have over 7,000 germinated seeds and baby plants beginning their journey to your plate.
The logistics for this are actually simple (we like simple around here). It plays out like this. Each day as the order cut-off time passes, we head out to the 3,400 square foot greenhouse that is in the parking lot of our warehouse and harvest the needs for that day’s pack. No guess work, no over-harvesting. If we need 300 heads of lettuce, we grab what we need for that pack. Those heads are then brought into the warehouse, prepped, and put into your order that evening for delivery the following day. So you will have fresh food that is no more than 24 hours from harvest when you are eating it.
In total, this greenhouse will be able to comfortably house 15,000 plants at a time (100,000 a year) and be as productive as a 5 acre farm with outdoor production with 10% of the water usage. To say that this will be a real game-changer would be the understatement of the day.
I cannot wait to share more of this project and food with you as we move forward with its potential.
Have a great weekend, Farmer Monte