There really is nothing quite like a vegetable picked fresh off the vine – the taste, texture and smell are all one-of-a-kind. While those with gardens are very familiar with it, the vast majority of us probably aren’t — and we certainly wouldn’t expect to encounter it in a supermarket or restaurant.
Until now. The business Fresh with Edge is closing the gap between farm and table by redefining the traditional farmer/consumer experience.
Through the use of hydroponics and aquaponics, Fresh with Edge grows their herbs and greens on five feet vertical towers inside a greenhouse system, according to Sustainable Cities Collective. When the greens are ready, the towers are simply transferred to the designated location where they’ll be consumed (think: a grocery store or eatery).
This Rochester, Minn. business is owned by Chris and Lisa Lukenbill, who started it back in 2011 because of an overwhelming urge to know where their food came from. Although both work in computer science and neither of them grew up on a farm, the couple used agricultural knowledge they had from aunts and uncles to get the business rolling.
It wasn’t an easy start. In between working full time and raising their two children, Chris and Lisa were learning how to run Fresh with Edge through a series of trial and error.
That all changed, however, after Chris attended an aquaponics conference in 2012. There, he met Nate Storey who operates Bright Agrotech, manufacturer of the ZipGrow vertical farming tower. Storey offered his assistance, and after a local food co-op let them sell onsite, the Lukenbill’s business began to grow.
Currently, Fresh with Edge has 300 towers in its facility and is connecting with consumers across the Rochester area. Its greens and herbs are sold at two local restaurants – Tonic in the Midtown district and Rainbow Café in Pine Island. It can also be found at the People’s Fund Co-op where its produce is sold by the ounce.
While Fresh with Edge used to actively participate in farmer’s markets, it’s taking a break to explore other avenues.
One of those is home sales, which will allow customers to purchase their own towers complete with fully grown greens and herbs, such as lettuce, bok choy, kale and chard. Additionally, the Lukenbills look to add more fresh, local and nutritious foods to their business, and they’re also looking into a way to use waste heat from electricity production to heat the greenhouse, which is currently only in operation from April to early November.
For Chris, though, the towers are a way of bringing people closer to the roots of the food they are eating.
“The towers help restaurant customers make connections with their food,” Chris tells Sustainable Cities Collective. “There is lots of opportunity for more growth.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article misreported the name of Nate Storey’s business, Bright Agrotech. We apologize for the error.