It was in March of 2015 when I first met up with the visionaries behind Vertical Fresh Farms (see here). Since that time, vertical garden operators Jeremy Witt (photo right) and Matt Latham have been busy growing their enterprise and scouring the city for new digs. Well, they finally managed to find a space that was the perfect size, in the perfect location – a Sinatra building at the corner of Main and Ferry.
Walking into the new operation (they moved in two weeks ago) is a far cry from when I first encountered the growers in their residential garage setup. The long expanse and the tall ceilings offer the ability to not only accommodate increasing product demands, but also affords them plenty of room for growth.
A couple of significant changes have been implemented since I last spoke to Jeremy and Matt. First, they no longer dabble in aquaponics since they would need a large scale tank operation to make it profitable – they might come back to it someday. Second, they have switched over a lot of their crops to microgreens, in order to supply local restaurants with their orders. “Martin Cooks was the first restaurant that we hooked up with,” they told me. “The owner, Martin Danilowicz, helped to steer us in the right direction when it came to what to grow for local restaurants. Now we’re growing pea tendrils, popcorn shoots, shiso, and sunflower microgreens, among others.
At this point, whatever we are growing and cutting, we are selling.
“At this point, whatever we are growing and cutting, we are selling. We have standing orders, and we also have a ‘walking farmer’s market’, where we walk into restaurants with our produce and chefs handpick what they want. We also have chefs visit our new Main Street location… if they run out of something that we grow, they can sometimes get it back into their kitchen within ten minutes. That’s why we chose this centrally located spot. At this point, we are able to grow 52 harvests throughout the year. Moving forward, we’re concentrating on automation and production.”
The Vertical Fresh Farms (VFF) business is just one significant element that is unfolding at this corner. It turns out that Ashker’s actually leases the space, and VFF then subleases. In order to offset the cost, VFF provides fresh cut wheatgrass to Ashker’s for juices. Since Ashker’s still has control of a space in the back of the building, and a couple of retails spaces closer to the corner of Ferry, there are big collaborative plans in the works.
In our case, local truly means local.
“We want to start a farm market in the back, featuring locally grown and produced foods, along with a website for orders,” Jeremy and Matt explained. “The market will have juices and wraps, protein, cheese, flowers, seeds, grains, etc. Then, the space next door will have tables for seating, and will be used for weekly farm to table themed dinners. Another room will be used for events and private parties. We want this place to be a resource for connecting farmers to restaurants, with a CSA sort of twist element for the community, but not so stringent. We’re still working out the logistics on a lot of this stuff.”
Doubling the size of their operation has allowed for triple yield in production. That allows the growers to fulfill orders for 11 restaurants on a regular basis and a few more that come and go. In a couple of weeks, all of the beds will be up and running, which will allow for more restaurants to set up standing orders. In the fall, they will change over some of the beds to baby bibb Boston and baby bibb romaine – there will be a bigger demand for these once the farmers are not able to grow the crops due to weather. From year round product availability to zero transportation costs, the benefits of Vertical Fresh Farms is limitless. “We’re right in the neighborhood,” the VFF partners noted. “In our case, local truly means local.”