In October, New York-based vertical farming company Farm.One launched an in-store farm at Whole Foods in Manhattan. The farm will grow Blue Spice basil that consumers can purchase to take home, eat on a pizza served in the store and in a Whole Foods Mule, the store’s take on a Moscow Mule.
The basil will be grown in a three-level deep water culture hydroponic system.
According to Farm.One founder Rob Laing, the project is similar to what indoor mushroom grower Smallhold previously did with Whole Foods.
Produce Grower: How did this new farm project come to be?
Rob Laing: We think we’re really good at building farms for small spaces and farms that work in cities. And I think we are very different than most vertical farming companies in that we tend to grow a specialty range of produce, more miniature produce, more interesting kind of stuff. And we like to create farms that are viewable to the public. So this opportunity to work with Whole Food was sort of perfect for us because it was an opportunity to put something in their newest store. We’ve been working with them on this for quite a few months, trying to put together a design that works well with the store and something that really is very open and bright and attractive to the customer.
PG: How did you choose Blue Spice basil for the mini-farm?
RL: We grow a lot of different types of basil. The one most consumers are familiar with is the Genovese basil.
Blue Spice has this amazing bubblegum, berry kind of aroma. It’s really strange — almost a sweet aroma as opposed to a traditional basil. So we thought it was a really interesting crop. It’s something that you can smell that is different and taste that is different as a consumer, even if you don’t know that much about produce.
It also grows really well. It’s a very flourishing variety. It grows these beautiful purple flowers that feature nicely in the cocktails. We thought it was something that was a little off the beaten track, but at the same time accessible for consumers.
PG: What is it like working with Whole Foods, which is a big company in its own right, but is owned by Amazon?
RL: They were just really enthusiastic about what we were doing. They’re a huge company, but there are real people there. They see a lot of small food producers, so for them to come to our farm meant a lot.
For Chris [Manca, Whole Foods’ local forager] to come to our farm, it is like a chef visiting us. He knows what’s going on and the upside of the technology. We’re not really coming into this like a bulk supplier. It was more of ‘let’s create something that’s stunning.’