Last Fall, I moved from NYC to north San Diego County, just outside of the Camp Pendleton Marine Base, to work full-time with Colin and Karen Archipley at their hydroponic organic farm, “Archi’s Acres.” After realizing how impressive their ideas and effectiveness are, I decided to invest the money that I earned for writing Greedy Bastards (which when combined with a loan from Whole Foods) to build a 30,000 square foot “farm incubator” that can serve as the prototype for job-creating, water-saving, food-producing, veteran-led hydroponic organic greenhouses nationwide. We’ve even enlisted Major General Melvin Spiese and his wife Filomena to join us in support of our mission to make this program more diverse and robust enough to build it into a nationwide network.
Earlier in that piece, he says these hydroponic farms are a way to cure “food deserts”, which are (generally) inner city areas where access to fresh food is limited, and the residents don’t have transportation to travel to outlying suburbs to get fresh food.
I’m no expert on produce distributing, and Bieber knows that’s an area with incredible expertise, but in my town (Rochester, NY) I see two kinds of failure and two kinds of success. The fails are Target/Wal-Mart and the independent organic food stores (and Trader Joe’s). Wal-Mart and Target have just announced “fresh food” sections, but their nationwide stocking model means they source their produce from big growers who can provide them with relatively stable staples like bananas, apples, broccoli, bagged salad and the like. Generally, anything that can’t sit on the shelf for a week or two is wilty and unappetizing, but at least its cheap. Similarly, the organic produce is also usually wilty and sourced from far away, but it’s incredibly expensive.
The success stories are the local farmers’ markets and the big regional chain, Wegman’s. The farmer’s markets are better than anyplace else when what they’re selling is in season (since it’s freshest), but that’s clearly not a year-round solution. Wegmans has developed solid relationships with nearby (well, a couple hundred miles) hydroponic farmers, so we get a fair amount of year-round high quality produce. And, during the summer, the relationships between individual stores and local farms means that each store has a different set of high-quality local produce.
Of those four models, the place where Ratigan’s farms would fit is clearly the organic stores and chains like Trader Joe’s. They have customers willing to pay a premium for good, organic produce, and they have an obvious need for more of it. If some vets get jobs because of it, that’s great. But I don’t see this model fixing food deserts, because Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and the rest aren’t going to locate in inner city neighborhoods currently served by corner bodegas selling cigarettes, bread and milk.