Growing the Goods: Inside the Urban Farm Movement in Your Office
The farm-to-table movement is taking root in corporate offices thanks to Farmshelf, a Brooklyn-based startup, which provides a creative way to grow fresh herbs and greens indoors and year-round.
Like a tall bookshelf stocked with herbs and plants, this customized, indoor urban farm is used regularly throughout the café for salads and other prepared dishes. For Chef Ed Manacle, Corporate Regional Chef at a global financial institution in New York, the benefits of year-round growing is immeasurable.
We recently had a chance to sit down with Chef Ed and get the lowdown on how urban gardening has enhanced not only his culinary dishes, but his interactions with guests.
FLIK: FLIK Hospitality Group values using local produce in each of our locations. Tell us more about this hyper-local approach to food.
Ed: Our building is a “green” building, so sustainability and the environment is important to both our client and FLIK Hospitality. Providing local ingredients is important to our client’s internal lifestyle program, so FLIK’s partnership with Farmshelf has really shown we are committed to these same corporate wellness ideals.
FLIK: How did you hear about Farmshelf?
Ed: Farmshelf was actually something our client brought to the table. Together, we had the opportunity to see a Farmshelf in action; one look and I was sold!
Having the ability to grow our own sustainable herbs and greens right in our café seemed like a very cool concept and totally in line with the farm to table movement. So of course I was excited – I mean, how much closer to the farm can you get than 10 feet away from your salad bar?
FLIK: Can you describe what the Farmshelf looks like? How exactly does the Farmshelf work?
Ed: The Farmshelf is essentially a hydroponic growing cabinet, which means the herbs and greens are grown in a controlled environment, specifically in a water-based, nutrient-rich solution instead of soil. The herbs and lettuce pods are placed in a growing tray and the roots, which grow below the trays, are fed this nutrient-enhanced water. Sunlight is simulated via red and blue LED lights. Plus, no pesticides are used because the Farmshelf is enclosed and indoors.
It’s amazing how fast these crops grow. Items we harvested on Friday are ready to be picked again on Monday. Honestly, if you don’t keep an eye on them, they grow like a jungle. The good news is you can control the water and light to help keep the growing and harvesting consistent.
FLIK: How have guests responded to herbs and produce being grown inside the café?
Ed: Response has been great! Every time I’m out there harvesting, someone comes up to ask a question: How are they grown? Do we use them in our food? Can they buy some? All great questions that not only help solidify our food program, but it’s also a great way to meet customers and talk to them about our food. One of the best reasons to have this in your café is how awesome it looks–and the conversation it starts.
FLIK: What have been the expected and unexpected impacts of having a Farmshelf in your café?
Ed: The Farmshelf has really resonated with the client’s community, plus speaks to [FLIK’s] commitment to sustainability. As the next phase of our Farmshelf education, anything grown in the Farmshelf will be identified on our menus, highlighting prepared with ingredients grown on-site. I think connecting the dots like this will be a really positive experience for our guests. It also helps us from a cost perspective. We can strategically select which items to grow to reduce food cost. Finally, because we are growing and picking right here with our FLIK associates, we are doing our small part to reduce carbon emissions that result from transportation of produce.
All in all, it’s a win for local food, a win for cost, and a win for the environment. Most importantly, it’s a win for the café guests.
Ed Manacle is the Corporate Regional Chef at one of our cafés in New York City. He has been part of the FLIK Family for about five months. Prior to his role with FLIK, he was Aramark’s Culinary Director for National Accounts and oversaw 16 hospitality accounts across the country.
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