The view from inside Square Roots’ urban shipping container farms in Brooklyn
A month ago, Square Roots, the urban farming accelerator launched by Kimbal Musk and Tobias Peggs, began its yearlong program in the Pfizer Building
By April Joyner
Dec 19, 2016
The farmer-entrepreneurs have been given free rein to develop farming and business strategies of their own choosing. The challenge, both Peggs and the program’s participants stressed, is figuring out how to make the economics work. The modular farms, which use technology from Boston-based Freight Farms and Laramie, Wyo.–based Bright Agrotech, cost about $3,000 a month to run, according to participant Jonathan Bernard. But they also produce a relatively high yield, given the space: one farm, for instance, could yield 55,000 mini-heads of lettuce per year, Peggs said. The farming system Square Roots uses allows the participants to yield a weekly harvest once their first crop matures.
In addition to learning how to operate their farms, the participants are also getting advice on sales and marketing, including the basics of pricing: enough to meet their expenses, but not so much that customers will balk. For instance, Bernard plans to charge no more than $3 each for his mini-heads of lettuce in order to keep his prices competitive.
While Square Roots paid for the cost of the farm and the initial expenses to run them, the participants will be responsible for meeting expenses thereafter. The farming system itself is quite reliable, Bernard said, but without a real product just yet, none of the farmers has a customer base. Whether enough people will come to shop is an open question.
“I’m fine with that risk,” Bernard said. “Maybe I was chosen because I’m one of the people who’s crazy enough to consider it.”