2013-04-03

Co.Exist

This Super Local Brooklyn Whole Foods Will Have A 20,000-Square-Foot Rooftop Greenhouse

Whole Foods is teaming up with rooftop garden company Gotham Greens for its next New York location. When the lettuce only has to come down a staircase from the roof, that’s about as local as you can get.

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.

Ari Burling

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.


Ari Burling

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."

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7 Comments

  • Raven

    How cynical of Whole Foods to pretend they are environmentally responsible by harvesting some greens upstairs, when they located their 70,000 SF Regional Mega Store in a walkable urban fabric and will encourage thousands of customers to drive to it.   And to build the store, they underhandedly upturned the local zoning code and ignored the environmental potential of the brownsfield site it sits on and the Superfund waterway surrounding them.  Good job. 

  • Alvin26

    always good to see this kind of thing taking root...but i suspect that full spectrum LED lights will end up changing the game a lot more in the future, at least in cities..this is just on tier of gardening..imagine a skyscraper of 1000s of tiers, producing food for millions of people at once...should be possible.

  • Abram

    and still won't label or carry non-GMO products...ah yuppies and hipsters, the illusion of sustainability and healthy sustenance :) 

  • I'm Going Eco

    totally awesome!  maybe they'll make it like one of those "pick your own" farms haha.
    Def will be cool to see how it all pans out though.  Might be nice to smell the fresh produce and herbs.  I bet lots of people will buy just because it's grown right there!

  • paul chepolis

    Can't wait to smother my garden salad with chunks of their hydroponic tomatoes.  Yum-m-m!

  • dduggerbiocepts

    Roof top hydroponics are a current topic de jour in the green media and many authors make the leap to roof top aquaponics, but all tend to forget the structural loading/support necessary for suspended water - both in the form of nutrient reservoirs, aquaculture production tanks, and the resulting plant crops that are 90+% water themselves - at about 8 lbs. to the gallon, or 62.4 lbs./ft.3. Most of these efforts will either find the existing host structures - structurally incapable of supporting the additional weight loads, or that re-structuring the host structure to support the loads cost more than building a new host structure. Of course all of this has to be economically weighed against transporting the fresh vegetables from near by (but cheaper real estate) production facilities to market centers - usually just a few cents a pound - easily lost in down town locations. However, with Whole Foods - this is increased a visible reminder to consumers of their increased "skin in the green game" and I imagine their calculation that the green houses on the roof are better than any billboard advertising of the companies fresh food perception (and where the dollar meets the cash register) - whether that is perception only - is another question. In general, even well educated American consumers are remarkably naive, unskilled critical thinkers and most scientifically illiterate regarding the exact meaning and real cost/benefits vs. nutrition quality of the legally undefined American market terms - "green, fresh, premium, organic, etc." Perhaps they should start with -  "No,"  you don't necessarily get what you pay for.

  • Gwlend

    This is an April Fools Joke, isn't it.
    The Brooklyn Whole Foods is located in the marsh land of Gowanus, it was underwater when Superstorm Sandy hit, the water/canal is an EPA Superfund site, and Whole Foods only cleaned up half of their contaminated site