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BrightFarms Inc. is a startup that builds and operates urban greenhouses for supermarkets. In December, the New York City local-food company raised $4.3 million in Series A funding, and last week it secured the right to build a sprawling rooftop greenhouse in Brooklyn that may grow a million pounds of produce a year.
The company’s hydroponic greenhouses use no soil but can grow greens year-round in any climate, according to CEO Paul Lightfoot. BrightFarms has built several greenhouses in NYC and plans to open three supermarket farms this year.
Lightfoot: BrightFarms finances, builds and operates greenhouse farms on behalf of our clients to cut time, distance and cost from the produce supply chain. We can bring to our supermarket clients produce that is fresher, longer-lasting, safer, tastier, more nutritious, and better for the environment. A lot of produce executives are looking at a tomato, and they know that they’re paying as much for fuel as they are for a tomato. That can’t be good for the customer.
Lightfoot: We developed a business model based on a transaction called the “produce purchase agreement” which is based on the power purchase agreement used by the solar industry. We say to a retailer, if you merely agree to buy produce for a long term at a fixed price and for no money upfront, we will build it, and then will hire a local farmer to actually operate it.
DF: Your relationship with farmers is interesting. The farmer at a greenhouse doesn’t work for the grocer, but for BrightFarms as a contractor. Why that approach? Lightfoot: A couple of things, but one of them is that we wanted to have an owner on site. And by owner, I mean in the sense that that “the fruits of my labor go to me.” That sense of ownership is something that can only be achieved through entrepreneurship.