AKRON, Ohio - Vincent Peterson, Mark Preston and Jacob Craine started Akron-based Vigeo Gardens as a small hydroponic garden in Craine's basement in 2014. It has quickly grown into a 6,100-square-foot, high-efficiency vertical farm with 2017 sales set to exceed $750,000.
Vigeo Gardens currently occupies the third floor of the former B.F. Goodrich Company tire factory in downtown Akron, and provides hydroponic lettuce, hydroponic basil and microgreens to more than 40 restaurants in the Cleveland and Columbus markets, along with major food distributors, grocery stores such as Heinen's and Giant Eagle, and most recently, Quicken Loans Arena.
"To be able to supply the home of the Cavs is a dream come true and will hopefully open up a lot of doors for us," Craine said.
The deal took about three months to secure, and the first shipment of lettuce, basil and microgreens will arrive at the arena on Monday, according to Vigeo Gardens Director of Sales John Hairston.
Vigeo founders Peterson, Preston and Craine, along with five full-time employees, grow more than eight varieties of lettuce and 20 types of microgreens at their indoor farm, as well as basil and wheat grass. According to Craine, indoor farming offers several benefits, including being able to grow and harvest produce year-round, without the use of pesticides or chemicals.
Vigeo Gardens' lettuce and basil are harvested the same day they ship and sold live, which means the produce can last for up to two weeks in the fridge or longer.
"It's as fresh as you can possibly get," he said.
The farm is also on a mission to refine and grow its operation, using the least resources possible.
"We've spent the last two years designing, developing and tweaking the systems to perfect vertical hydroponic farms," Craine said. "Everything in our space is designed, engineered and built by us."
Innovations include designing a vertical racking system to house the plants and a custom nutrient solution. The trio also worked with a Chinese manufacturer to create custom LED lights.
The farm is working to be waste-free by 2018 through composting and waste-water recycling initiatives, and is working with FirstEnergy to become the first zero-carbon footprint farm in Ohio.
"Our goal is to expand throughout the Rust Belt, because there is a need for fresh produce all the time, especially during winter months. We'd like to continue our work repurposing old factories, like we have here in Akron, into high efficiency vertical farms to supply communities with fresh produce," Craine said.
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