NEW YORK (Reuters) - Erik Groszyk, 30, used to spend his day as an investment banker working on spreadsheets. Now, he blasts rapper Kendrick Lamar while harvesting crops from his own urban farm out of a shipping container in a Brooklyn parking lot.
The Harvard graduate is one of 10 “entrepreneurial farmers” selected by Square Roots, an indoor urban farming company, to grow kale, mini-head lettuce and other crops locally in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn.
For 12 months, farmers each get a 320-square-foot steel shipping container where they control the climate of their own farm. Under pink LED lights, they grow GMO-free greens all year round.
Groszyk, who personally makes all the deliveries to his 45 customers, said he chooses certain crops based on customer feedback and grows new crops based on special requests.
“Literally the first day we were here, they were lowering these shipping containers with a crane off the back of a truck,” said Groszyk. “By the next week, we were already planting seeds.”
Tobias Peggs launched Square Roots with Kimbal Musk, the brother of Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) Chief Executive Elon Musk, in November, producing roughly 500 pounds of greens every week for hundreds of customers.
“If we can come up with a solution that works for New York, then as the rest of the world increasingly looks like New York, we’ll be ready to scale everywhere,” said Peggs.
In exchange for providing the farms and the year-long program, which includes support on topics like business development, branding, sales and finance, Square Roots shares 30 percent of the revenue with the farmers. Peggs estimates that farmers take home between $30,000 and $40,000 total by the end of the year.
The farmers cover the operating expenses of their container farm, such as water, electricity and seeds and pay rent, costing them roughly $1,500 per month in total, according to Peggs.
“An alternative path would be doing an MBA in food management, probably costing them tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Peggs said, adding that he hopes farmers start companies of their own after they graduate from the program.
Groszyk harvests 15 to 20 pounds of produce each week, having been trained in artificial lighting, water chemistry, nutrient balance, business development and sales.
“It’s really interesting to find out who’s growing your food,” said Tieg Zaharia, 25, a software engineer at Kickstarter, while munching on a $5 bag of greens grown and packaged by Groszyk.
“You’re not just buying something that’s shipped in from hundreds of miles away.”
Nabeela Lakhani, 23, said reading “Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal” in high school inspired her to change the food system.
Three nights per week, Lakhani assumes the role of resident chef at a market-to-table restaurant in lower Manhattan.
“I walk up to the table and say, ‘Hi guys! Sorry to interrupt, but I wanted to introduce myself. I am Chalk Point Kitchen’s new urban farmer,’ and they’re like, ‘What?’” said Lakhani, who specializes in Tuscan kale and rainbow chard.
“Then I kind of just go, ‘Yeah, you know, we have a shipping container in Brooklyn ... I harvest this stuff and bring it here within 24 hours of you eating it, so it’s the freshest salad in New York City.’”
Reporting by Melissa Fares in New York; Additional reporting by Mike Segar in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler