"Over 6,000 pounds of food per year, on 1/10 acre located just 15 minutes from downtown Los Angeles. The Dervaes family grows over 400 species of plants, 4,300 pounds of vegetable food, 900 chicken and 1,000 duck eggs, 25 lbs of honey, plus seasonal fruits throughout the year.
From 1/10th of an acre, four people manage to get over 90% of their daily food and the family reports earnings of $20,000 per year (AFTER they eat from what is produced). This is done without the use of the expensive and destructive synthetic chemicals associated with industrial mono-cropping, while simultaneously improving the fertility and overall condition of the land being used to grow this food on. Scaled up to an acre, that would equal $200,000 per year!"
Local Tower Garden Farmer Produces Aeroponic Food for Disney, Emeril’s, and other Fine Orlando Restaurants
Our mission at Future Growing® is to inspire healthy and sustainable living around the world, by empowering people with the technology and training to do so. We have been on this journey for almost a decade, with over 100 successful projects across North America.
The local, grass roots urban food movement has given us the opportunity to meet some truly extraordinary people along the way, and the urban farmer we’ve featured this week is no exception. She is not only a first-class producer of premium produce, but has been instrumental in transforming the quality and standards for the locally grown food market in Central Florida.
I met Katherine Grandey, co-founder and owner of “The GreenHouse”, in Orlando, Fla., three years ago. Even though she was a highly-educated professional with a career and a young family, she wanted to be more engaged with her family, live a healthier life, and run her own company.
With that vision in mind, Katherine developed three main goals for her business:
Produce healthy, safe food for her family. Provide local, healthy, chemical-free, low-carbon footprint food to the Orlando-area community. Work a moderate amount of hours and have time to raise her children.
To meet these goals, Katherine created a business plan with three main objectives:
Produce food that is “beyond organic”, meaning that the food is more nutritious, has a smaller carbon footprint, and uses far less water. Start off with a 100-tower Tower Garden® farm in an affordable 48′ x 48′ greenhouse and office. Utilize Future Growing® patented vertical aeroponic technology to grow a multitude of produce in very little space to produce the highest quality local food available in Central Florida.
After developing her successful business more than two years ago, I recently had a chance to catch up with Katherine on the success of her Tower Garden® farm. Here is what she had to say:
Katherine, I am so proud of the work you are doing! You are obviously very busy. Who are your current clients?
Several high-end restaurants at the Walt Disney World resorts, along with Emeril’s Orlando, Ritz Carlton, Marriott World Center, Hilton, and several others.
These are big accounts! How did you land them…and keep them buying from you year round?
It is a well known fact that food grown in Florida has heavy pesticide residues. This is a natural side effect of farming in a state that has tremendous insect and disease pressures. The emerging local food movement in “the Sunshine State”, combined with the state’s looming water crisis, has created a boom of opportunity for farmers like me.
The restaurants we sell to demand the highest quality local, healthy, pesticide-free food. They also need seasonal consistency, which is something that has not been possible for outdoor farms. The Future Growing® Tower Gardens® allow us to have total control over the growth of the plant. The towers are so predictable and grow plants so consistently, that we can plan our seeding, transplanting and harvest four to six weeks in advance and be able to count on those numbers.
We also have incredibly small losses, and the consistency of growing allows us to be able to deliver the same quantities weekly to our restaurants, making us a lot more reliable than “traditional” farms.
Because Orlando hosts large, international conventions, we can even accommodate special events and one-time orders, if we know far enough in advance.
What crops does The GreenHouse specialize in?
Petite leafy greens, lettuces, herbs and micro greens. A few of our micro greens include arugula, green sorrel, Swiss chard, and Tuscan kale.
What are some of the ways you have tried to sell produce, and which way is the most profitable?
We sell our produce “live”, with the roots attached. Living food grown in the aeroponic Tower Gardens produce the freshest, most flavorful aroma you can imagine, so the chefs really love it!
Petite sizes seem to be in demand with these clients, and I can turn these crops around in just 15 days with aeroponics! We sell and deliver directly to restaurants, which we find to be the most profitable. We also sell some plants through local produce distributors.
Florida has some extreme growing conditions that can bring in the bugs and diseases. How do you combat that?
Our locally manufactured greenhouse from Imperial Builders and Supply is designed specifically for the harsh Florida climate. We have insect screens to keep the “bad” bugs out, evaporative cooling pads to keep us cool in the summer, and special light-diffusing plastic to keep the intense sun away from our crops.
Growing our food vertically keeps the plants up off the ground and allows for plentiful air circulation, which deters most pests and diseases. We use only organic sprays or beneficial insects for the few pest challenges we encounter at specific times of the year.
Katherine, based on the information you just provided, I calculate that you can produce 135,000 plants in this small area on an annual basis. That is a tremendous turnover. I know you like to spend a lot of time at home with your family, so how many employees do you have?
Not too many, besides myself. We have one full-time manager, who oversees order fulfillment, seed planting, crop transplanting, and the cleaning and general greenhouse upkeep. We have a second full-time employee who works closely with the manager to fulfill the aforementioned jobs. We have an additional one to two part-time workers who help transplant, harvest, and maintain the greenhouse. We also work with a variety of community volunteers and college interns who help keep labor costs low, but gain education and experience in return.
Katherine, besides meeting your business goals, what have you enjoyed most about your work?
I love watching the expression on the chefs’ faces every time I walk in with a delivery! “Katherine is here!” they say, since they can smell the living food as soon as I walk in the door!
I am also someone who tries to live a green lifestyle. With our cool greenhouse and vertical aeroponic technology, we have been able to show people that there is a solution to the environmental challenges we face in Florida. I can grow an enormous amount of plants vertically in my small greenhouse with as little as five percent of the water as the outdoor farmers. I don’t use contaminated agriculture water, herbicides, or chemicals. My food is nutrient-dense, clean, and free of harmful pathogens. People just love it! They have come to understand what we are about and stand for, and that has given us a loyal following.
The application deadline for our 2015 grant cycle has passed. We are, however, accepting applications for our 2016 cycle. To be considered for funding for our 2016 cycle, applications must be submitted by 5pm Eastern Time, Friday January 8, 2016.
Sow It Forward is the grants and partnership program of Kitchen Gardeners International. The grant is for nonprofit causes or organizations (schools, 501c3s, food banks, community gardens, colleges, libraries, prisons, senior programs, etc.) interested in starting or expanding food garden projects that are of general benefit to their community. Past grantees include school gardens, community gardens, food bank gardens, library gardens, senior gardens, prison gardens and homeless shelter gardens among others.
We offer full and partial grants. A full grant has an approximate value of $500 and normally consists of a cash grant of $300-400 with the remaining $100-$200 taking the form of seeds and gift certificates for garden supplies and KGI's online garden planner. The partial grant normally has a value of $325 and consists of a $300 cash grant and $25 one-year subscription to KGI's online garden planner. There are no geographic limitations on what types of food garden projects will be considered. Past grantees included projects from Portland, Oregon to Pakistan and many places in between. Because of trade restrictions and international shipping fees, garden projects from outside the US will only be eligible for partial grants.
The application deadline for our 2016 grant cycle 5pm Eastern Time, Friday January 8, 2016. Only funding requests submitted through KGI's online grant application will be considered for funding. We recommend that prospective applicants download and complete the Sow It Forward Application Prep Form (Word) offline before starting their application online. This way you will have a version saved on your computer in case you have any trouble submitting the application online.
Any questions about the application process can be directed to Roger Doiron via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (207.956.0606). For general issues related to using the KGI website, please see our help pages here: kgi.org/help