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VOL. 127 | NO. 218 | Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Green Girl to Create Indoor Vertical Farm

By Sarah Baker

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A group of food professionals is working toward supplying restaurants with local produce while improving the health of Memphians and fighting urban blight.

Green Girl Produce plans to leverage technology to create the city’s first indoor vertical farm, providing the community with cost-effective, year-round organic mircogreens. By leasing an old 1,260-square-foot liquor store at 2655 Broad Ave., the space has the potential to store up to 2,500 square feet of growing room.

But what exactly are microgreens? Emma Self, silkscreen printer, restaurant industry veteran and gardener, calls them “sexy little plants.”

“Chefs love them because they make a boring dish pop, they add intense flavor, texture and vivid color,” Self said. “On top of that, they are super nutritious with up to 40 times the nutrients and vitamins of their mature counterparts.”

Green Girl Produce plans to use Light-Emitting Diode (LED) lighting with only two employees administering an automated, re-circulating hydroponic system. This is accomplished by using the same amount of electricity as a similar-sized office building and 90 percent less water than conventional farming techniques.

“It’s one of these fantastic systems that’s new, but it’s not so new that it hasn’t been tested elsewhere,” Self said. “Our growing media … doesn’t involve soil, so it’s a very simple cleaning method. You lay it down, you feed and then you roll it up when you’re done. It’s literally just about 10 minutes feeding the entire space.”

Green Girl Produce assesses the unfilled local demand of microgreens to be 550 pounds per week. Ciao Bella’s executive chef Jonathan Steenerson told Self that he pays farms in California more than $100 per pound for greens that are often wilted by the time they arrive.

Other restaurants that have demonstrated a desire to have readily available microgreens include Acre, Interim, Andrew Michael Kitchen and Hog & Hominy, Chiwawa, Cosmic Coconut, Elegant Farmer, Republic Coffee, Rizzo’s Diner, Sweet Grass and Sweet Grass Next Door, and Tsunami.

Green Girl Produce estimates its production to exceed 100 pounds of microgreens daily. At $25 per pound, that translates to $1.2 million in annual revenue – with payback within just one year.

The idea is to first meet local demand by partnering with M. Palazola Produce Co. and other restaurant distributors, as well as local farmers markets and specialty grocers like Whole Foods Market. Eventually, Green Girl Produce aspires to fill regional and national needs of microgreens.

“Since we’re so close to the FedEx hub, we can leverage our proximity and get in orders six or seven hours before all of these other people all over the country that have to ship out,” Self said.

Besides Self, Green Girl Produce is made up of Taylor Berger, attorney and owner of YoLo Frozen Yogurt & Gelato; Ellen Roberds, former reverend with Calvary Episcopal Church; and Lynette Morgan, authority in hydroponic and LED methodology.

Green Girl Produce recently achieved a major milestone by being selected as one of three teams for LaunchMemphis’ 48-Hour Launch Weekend, when archer-malmo and Nibletz helped the group develop a website (www.greengirlproduce.com), logo, investor pitch, teaser YouTube video and social media pages. Right now, the group is in the midst of two simultaneous tasks, Berger said.

“We have a couple of conversations going on with investors for the whole project amount, which we need $200,000,” Berger said. “We’ve also got an Indiegogo campaign, which is kind of like Kickstarter, and we’re just trying to raise $5,000 … to build a prototype that would let us get started with some small production now. Then once we have the full investment, we’d be able to donate that prototype to a school.”

Green Girl Produce is also preparing for LaunchMemphis’ Risk City 2012, a week of entrepreneurial-related events in Memphis and across the country taking place Nov. 12-16. They hope to be selected as one of the teams to participate in The Amazing Risk Startup Challenge, where they’ll have a chance to win $10,000 and some valuable help developing their concept.

All the while, Self is conducting due diligence with local chefs to narrow down the microgreen interest to about 15 varieties.

Green Girl Produce plans to move into its Broad location during the first quarter of 2013, and be supplying restaurants by mid-year. To donate to its Indiegogo campaign, visit www.indiegogo.com/GreenGirlProduce.

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