The Whole Foods scheduled to open this fall in Brooklyn won’t look like all the other iterations of the upscale grocery chain—it will have a 20,000-square-foot greenhouse on its roof. Welcome to the ultimate locavore grocery store.
Rooftop farms are no longer a novelty in cities, where residents are increasingly coming to the conclusion that it makes more sense to grow their own produce than to get it shipped in from elsewhere. These farms are a feel-good solution to the food miles problem for urban locavores, which is why Whole Foods—the preferred shopping destination of locavores with a little extra cash to spare—started buying greens a few years ago for its New York City locations from Gotham Greens, a company that grows produce for restaurant and retail clients in a Greenpoint, Brooklyn rooftop greenhouse.
This week, Whole Foods announced that it’s going a step further, teaming up with Gotham Greens to build the first commercial-scale greenhouse farm in the U.S. that’s attached to a retail grocery store. The hydroponic farm will produce leafy greens, basil, and unlike the Greenpoint greenhouse, vine crops like tomatoes and cucumbers. As you might imagine, the produce arrives on store shelves much quicker than if it had come from an outside farm; in some cases, crops can make their way downstairs to the store in just 20 minutes.
"Just coming from a customer perspective, living in New York City and buying their product, it’s amazing how long you can have [Gotham Greens produce] in your refrigerator," says Tristam Coffin, Whole Foods Market’s Green Mission Specialist. Whole Foods will distribute the greenhouse produce, which Coffin says will be "competitively priced," to other New York City Whole Foods locations (there are eight in total) as well.
The partnership is a smart deal for Whole Foods. Gotham Greens is paying to build the greenhouse, and the grocery chain will simply buy the pesticide-free produce as they would from any other farm. If Whole Foods decides that it can’t handle all the vegetables emerging from the greenhouse, Gotham Greens can sell the excess produce to other clients. "We’re providing them with a ready rooftop," explains Coffin.
It’s an exciting announcement for customers, too. They get the ultimate locally grown produce—and they can feel better about their food security. After Hurricane Sandy, Gotham Greens was able to continue selling produce from its Greenpoint facility. Presumably the Whole Foods greenhouse will be able to do the same after future disasters.
Whole Foods hasn’t made any specific plans yet, but the Brooklyn greenhouse could be the first of many. "We’re ready to get one under our belt and then explore other options," says Coffin. "There’s potential for growing this out in different parts of the country."