St. Petersburg urban farm Brick Street expands
If you've wandered around downtown St. Petersburg, you've probably passed 48 acres of farmland and had no idea.
Driving the news: Brick Street Farms is growing leafy greens inside upcycled shipping containers in a warehouse and parking lot at Tropicana Field — and they're about to get a whole lot more growing power.
- The company, which started with three shipping containers in 2016, is expanding to at least 20 containers, which accounts for an estimated 60 acres of farmland packed into a third of a city block.
- It also just opened its first urban farm hub to the public at 199 20th St. South, where people can buy directly from the source. The company recently started offering membership subscriptions and home delivery.
Why it matters: Climate change is taking its toll on the farming industry, with climbing temperatures, historic droughts, floods, wildfires and sudden shifts in weather patterns costing our nation's farmers billions of dollars.
- Hurricane Ian is a prime example of that in Florida, costing the state up to $1.56 billion in agriculture losses, the University of Florida reported last week in a preliminary estimate. High winds and drenching rains hit our citrus, cattle, vegetable and melon operations the hardest.
How it works: Each of Brick Street's 40-foot containers — equipped with LED-simulated sunlight, water filtration and nutrient supply systems — can grow 2-3 acres of produce, much faster than traditional farming.
- A head of lettuce in Brick Street's containers grows in 40-45 days, compared with 70 days on a farm.
- That produce stays fresh in the fridge for up to two weeks, which the company says is what makes it worth the significant price increase ($5-$7 for a container of greens).
How it started: Like many tech companies, Brick Street Farms started in a garage. Founders and spouses Shannon O'Malley and Brad Doyle wanted to grow food in their own backyard but struggled with not wanting to use pesticides and laborious composting.
- "We just really liked growing things, and we thought that as humans we could do better," O'Malley told Axios. "We learned from a lot of the big warehouse grows that started in the early 2000s. We wanted to look at a model that would take us into 2060 and 2070, that's why we designed ours differently."
Between the lines: If vertically farmed food doesn't make a profit at grocery stores that control prices, sustainable farming can become unsustainable.
- Kalera, an Orlando-based vertical farm that sells its produce to grocers, has faced recent growing pains. The company suspended the opening of multiple farms after its first earnings report since going public in June revealed a net loss of $78.7 million.
- Brick Street told Axios it's trying to stay profitable by selling directly to consumers and wholesale partners like local restaurant chain Naked Farmer.
What's next: The first phase of its container stacking was just completed, and the entire stacking project is set to finish by next week.
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