How NYC urban farms are pivoting to stay in business during Covid-19
By Agritecture. This article was originally posted in April on Agritecture's website.
As New York City faces the impacts and rapid spread of Covid-19, the city with one of the richest and most diverse food cultures in the United States now faces unprecedented challenges––closed restaurants, disrupted food supply chains, and overwhelmed grocery stores.
The rise of the pandemic has called the resilience of our food system into question, shifting our focus to the importance of decentralized, regional food for feeding our populations and maintaining our health. A city that has historically relied on food supplies from other states and countries now faces a rise in demand for local products––spotlighting the urban farms that have always grown fresh produce for New Yorkers.
Today, urban farms around New York City are working relentlessly, keeping their supply chains flowing to provide fresh food and nutrition at a time when health has become our forefront priority. Below are five farms that have remained dynamic during this period of rapid change, adapting their businesses to this “new normal.”
Over the last few weeks, Manhattan’s only indoor hydroponic farm has made a full pivot in their business––from supplying rare microgreens and edible flowers to some of the city’s most prestigious and celebrated restaurants, to now offering their products directly to NYC consumers, for use in their home cooking.
With a skeleton staff in staggered shifts on the farm, they rolled out their first round of offerings on April 2nd at store.farm.one. Several new products will be available for contactless delivery and contactless pickup over the coming weeks, including a wider variety of herbs, weekly home delivery subscriptions, and seedlings.
Even as most of the city’s residents remain indoors, Farm.One continues to elevate eating experiences, offering surprise and delight for home-cooked dishes. Since opening in 2016, they have grown over 700 different types of crops, including over 100 varieties of microgreens, whose petite leaves contain high concentrations of vitamins and minerals. They are excited to now offer nutritious variety and quality for NYC home cooks to elevate simple meals.
In addition to offering items for home cooking, they are producing video experiences that pair with their herbs. Shoppers can purchase Farm.One’s Virtual Tasting Tour Herb Pairings to taste some of the farm’s most popular and rare flavors, as they enjoy a 40-minute video of the farm, led by CEO, Rob Laing. This week, the farm’s first online cocktail class has been made available online, as well. Consumers can purchase their Sweet Vermouth Herb Mix to make 800 mL of Farm Basket Sweet Vermouth at home, following along with Farm.One’s Michelin-trained head bartender, Oliver Holt.
In light of COVID-19, Smallhold Farms, New York City’s first and only organic mushroom farm, has adapted quickly––making changes to their own business model and services to continue providing fresh produce to New Yorkers.
Together with The Meat Hook in Williamsburg, they are offering a series of pop-ups, where they sell fresh mushrooms, as well as Grow Kits for people to grow their own mushrooms at home. They have also launched home delivery services, allowing people to place orders through an online form for their twice-a-week deliveries. To share what they are learning during this adjustment period, they are also developing a guide to help other local businesses make the pivot to home delivery.
Smallhold Farms has shown their resilience not only through their adapted services, but also through their team dynamics. The Smallhold team has added a virtual stand up meeting to their daily routine, keeping the team connected and keeping morale up. They also hold optional daily meets ups at the end of each day, creating a venue for each person to share updates from the day, or any thoughts on their mind.
Smallhold has also created a response guide with copy/pastable assets to help others achieve the same success as they have in keeping our operation running. Using this (and some elbow grease) they have seen a massive jump in sales and managed to avoid a majority of the impact that restaurant closures have had on many other businesses.
Today, they ask New Yorkers to continue to help each other––to check in on neighbors and support small, local businesses. According to their team, “now is the time for communities in NYC to come together and help each other. Wash your hands, eat your mushrooms, and take care of each other.”
In the face of a global pandemic, Square Roots believes that they have the moral obligation to use the resources they have––skilled farmers and a farm-tech platform––to keep growing food and find ways to get that food to as many people as possible.
As New Yorkers increasingly rely on the availability of food in grocery stores, Square Roots continues to expand their grocery store presence. They are also donating produce to those in need, through their partnership with Rethink Food NYC.
Through all of these changes, Square Roots has kept the safety of people––their team and the wider community––as a priority, operating in line with the New York State executive order. Learn more about their response here.
We Are The New Farmers
We Are The New Farmers, an indoor facility in Brooklyn that grows fresh Spirulina, also launched a project to support Rethink Food NYC, an organization that provides meals for those in need, by donating 20% of their revenue during the pandemic.
In recent months, their co-founder Dan volunteered with Rethink, and recently joined their Associate Board. Rethink is working day and night to provide food to those in NYC who can’t afford it, is helping to keep ~30 restaurants open by giving each a $40,000 grant, and is setting up a cafe in Brooklyn that functions as a hybrid between soup kitchen and restaurant, using otherwise wasted food from closed restaurants.
Operating their facility with a bare minimum staff on only two days a week, the Spirulina growers have shown how resilient urban agriculture and urban Spirulina production is. Historically, urban and community agriculture flourished during pandemics, mirroring people’s eagerness to grow their own food and cultivate beautiful things in times of great stress and uncertainty. This proves to be true in present times, as the Spirulina growers note an increase in demand for their product, and a growing interest in urban farming.
We Are The New Farmers is doing everything in their power to continue operations as long as they can. They know that many people rely on regular deliveries of fresh nutrients, as much as they rely on regular income from sales. During this time, they ask for as much support for local farms as possible. Even if consumers are unable to purchase products from We Are The New Farmers right now, they ask to consider donating directly to Rethink Food NYC.
We Are The New Farmers wants people to know that they are not alone. As an urban farm, they are part of a community––a community of farmers & restaurants, food lovers & health nuts. Despite the current crisis, the New York City community is strong, and together can fight for a better, healthier planet.
In a time when support for local agriculture and regional food systems is of utmost importance, Brooklyn Grange finds that this support remains palpable in New York City. The soil-based rooftop farming company notes that, “more and more people are now interested in sourcing from [them].”
With issues around food safety coming to the fore, people are now looking to local food, since they travel shorter distances and are touched by fewer hands. Additionally, “CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) memberships and open-air markets provide opportunities to obtain fresh, nutrient-dense food without entering a confined area, while supporting critical regional economies at the same time.”
While Brooklyn Grange is not yet cranking out harvests from their field, they will be in a few short weeks. Their farmers are hard at work cultivating their rooftops––at which point their harvest will be available through partner retailers. To support their farm, consumers can buy a CSA, or organize some neighbors for a CSA group delivery. Alternatively, they can sign up for an online workshop, or virtual gardening guru sesion. Brooklyn Grange is also offering gift certificates for those interested in enjoying their products and services at a later date.
During this time, Brooklyn Grange highlights the importance of ‘shopping independent’––“the world we promote today will be the world we wake up in tomorrow: it is critical that we support those businesses that we want to be around after this pandemic passes.”
Agritecture is a global leader is consultation services for businesses, investors, and governments, including feasibility studies, farm design, due diligence, and strategy.