The local food movement— growing, selling, buying and eating fresh local produce— has gained support over the last few years in Chicago as in other major cities who seek to bolster local farmers and keep dollars in the community. The drawback for some is that the food generally costs more, prompting some to label the movement as “elitist.”It’s true that local foods are largely unaffordable for many lower income residents, seniors on fixed incomes and the poor.
Food prices are expected to decline as the local food movement becomes more popular, allowing “economies of scale” to kick in. To be successful, local food farming must be cost-effective and replicable, and have the right systems in place to support it.
A New York-based company called BrightFarms, has created a new business model that makes urban farming scalable. BrightFarms builds commercial scale greenhouse farms across the country—many on the roofs of buildings in urban areas—by partnering with local farmers who manage the greenhouses. The company then negotiates an agreement with a local supermarket chain that purchases the fresh produce.
Each farm creates an average of 6 green-collar jobs and 50 construction jobs per acre, reduces the carbon footprint of trucking produce across the country and gives supermarket customers farm-fresh vegetables picked within hours—not days—of harvest. As important, the food is more affordable than most local produce at farmers markets and other venues.
BrightFarms recently announced plans to build a one-acre farm on the roof of the 355,400-square-foot Bradley Business Center in Chicago’s Roscoe Village. It will be the largest rooftop farm in the city and grow up to 500,000 pounds of lettuce, tomatoes and herbs each year, and scaling up locally grown produce in Chicago.
The farm is expected to begin operating next year. As the company has done in other cities, BrightFarms is in negotiations for a distribution agreement with a local grocery chain, Crain’s Chicago Business reports. Fresh produce from the farm would be delivered to up 10 stores daily. Lakeview Pantry contacted BrightFarms to ask, “Do you have plans of involving the community to address long-standing issues like hunger and unemployment through your business model in any way?” Kate Siskel, the Marketing and Press Associate of BrightFarms said, “Nearly half of every $100 spent on local food remains in the community, benefitting farmers and non-farmers alike. BrightFarms strives to positively impact communities by growing produce more sustainably, creating jobs, and community-building. In addition, we partner with local schools to provide sustainability education. We are working to make sure a portion of our produce is reserved for the community.”
This is good news for Chicago because it creates jobs, keeps dollars in the community and lowers the cost of fresh, local food for everyone. We’ll keep you up to date on the progress of the local food movement.