square roots farm

3 Ways Square Roots Is Shaking Up Urban Farming

Earlier this January, students from our Professional Culinary Arts program with Farm-to-Table extension journeyed to Flushing Avenue in Brooklyn to visit Square Roots. Co-founded by ICC alumnus Kimbal Musk in 2017, Square Roots is an urban indoor farm growing local, real food while training the next generation of leaders in agriculture. In early 2019, they expanded to Grand Rapids, Michigan and partnered with Gordon Food Service to grow produce exclusively for their customers. In the future, they hope to continue the expansion of their farms throughout Gordon Food Service distribution centers across North America.

Farm-to-Table Students At The Farm
Farm-to-Table Students At Square Roots

While getting a first-hand look of Square Roots, Farm-to-Table students learned that their operation is so much more than a traditional farm. When Square Roots established their campus in Brooklyn, they didn’t just tend to a farm—they planted 10 reclaimed shipping containers in the middle of a parking lot and built miniature farms from the future. These hydroponic farms grow certain non-GMO vegetables around the clock—like mint, basil and other leafy greens—without pesticides.

The Shipping Containers in Brooklyn
The Shipping Containers in Brooklyn (Photo by Square Roots)

To learn more about Square Roots and how they’re changing the world of urban farming, read below!

Seed-to-Sales

Bicycle

Instead of growing mass amounts of produce to ship globally, Square Roots focuses on distributing their product locally. Through these practices, they’re actively reducing damage that can occur to produce, which results in less food waste and less spoiled product. They also transport all of their products on bicycles with storage containers—less transport and distribution means less of a carbon footprint!

Technology At The Farmer & Consumer's Fingertips

Technology

Technology is at the heart of Square Roots. Using data that they collect from their growing systems, farmers are able to analyze everything from when the seedlings were transplanted to crop yields. This allows the farmers to create a timeline for how the leafy greens were grown and put a QR code onto their packaging. Then, consumers can look up their produce’s planting timeline and learn more about how the crop was grown.

Next-Gen Farmer Training Program

Farmers

In addition to their more environmentally friendly distribution practices and technology for their farmers, they are also committed to inspiring the next generation of farmers. Throughout the Next-Gen Farmer Training Program, trainees get to learn all about plant science and computer science, in addition to earning a salary and health benefits, which is not always available to similar apprenticeships.

riverpark demo

A Restaurant That’s Doing it Right: Riverpark

On April 10th, 2019, Executive Chef Andrew Smith and Farm Manager Jonathan Sumner of Riverpark helped ICC kick off our month of programming dedicated to promoting sustainability in food, farming and business practices to better understand our foodprint. In the past, our Professional Culinary Arts program with Farm-To-Table extension has visited Riverpark as a part of the program’s dedicated field trips for a personal tour of the farm with Chef Andrew and Farm Manager Jonathan. This time the farm was brought to ICC!

FARMING NEXT TO A FREEWAY

Riverpark is arguably one of the most unique restaurants in New York City. Situated in the middle of a concrete office plaza with East River views, it’s hard to understand what a feat it is to grow ingredients worthy of a fine-dining restaurant next to the 10 mile freeway that is the FDR. Somehow, they still manage to create a dynamic environment for ingredients to flourish year-round and produce new, seasonal menus daily.

The restaurant is in it’s 9th year—8th season for the farm—and is still producing over 100 varieties of vegetables in milk crates each year. Yes, actual milk crates. This mobile method allows Farm Manager Jonathan to rotate the crops to account for unstable wind, sun exposure & more, while a drip irrigation system that was created specifically for the milk crates helps to water the plants without flooding them and depleting them of their nutrients.

With growing conditions as difficult as this, it makes sense that Riverpark’s menu focuses on using whole ingredients and featuring their farm-grown produce at the center of the plate. Sustainability runs through the DNA of the restaurant—so it’s no surprise that their demonstration dove into what it means to use an ingredient in it’s entirety and think about the different ways a single product can be used.

WASTE NOT, WANT NOT

Looking at plants & animals as a whole and respecting the ingredient is something that is ingrained into Chef Andrew. When Farm Manager Jonathan provides him with fresh vegetables from their “backyard,” or a delivery of farm-raised lamb arrives to the kitchen, it makes sense to use the whole spring onion from root to stem or every part of the lamb saddle. Chef Andrew stresses that often, the parts of the ingredients that are thrown out have the most flavor. Over $165 billion dollars in food waste is thrown out each year, when in reality, a lot of this waste could be re-purposed in kitchens, composted or used to feed those who are going hungry.

While it may be intimidating to break down a lamb saddle (the whole loin of a lamb)—and maybe not the most practical for everyday home cooking—you are able to get much more product by breaking down the animal yourself and it’s extremely doable when learned correctly. Furthermore, different parts of the animal can be re-purposed for various dishes or even frozen to be used in the future.

In addition to the popular “snout to tail” movement, it’s also important to emphasize “root to stem” cooking. As Chef Andrew broke down a whole lamb saddle for the audience, he prepared side dishes featuring produce from the farm to accompany the meat. While chopping the spring onions for garnish, Chef also utilized the roots of the spring onion for a fried crispy topping, and also shared that you can dehydrate the tops to create an onion powder.

As the world becomes more populated and resources are depleted, it is important to think of new ways to feed hungry diners around the world. As chefs, it is even more vital to respect the ingredient that you’re given and work with it to use as much of it as you can. Today, the relationship between farm-to-table is expanding, and restaurants like Riverpark give us hope for these models to thrive in urban communities.