Redefining Locally Grown

Redefining Locally Grown

Want to talk about the concept “as fresh as possible”? Well, we know that buying produce from a farmer’s market not long after harvest pretty much fits the bill, but what about produce at the grocery store? Sometimes fruits and vegetables come from local farms, but often the produce is shipped in from various locations, sometimes from across the country.

At McCaffrey’s Markets, which are located in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, however, offering produce that is literally as fresh as possible may be just around the corner. Plus, the produce will be available year-round.

Just how will they do this? Well, the grocery chain is in the process of having a greenhouse constructed on-site.

Mark Eckhouse, vice president of McCaffrey’s, says a greenhouse will be constructed on the roof of one of the three McCaffrey’s stores. The produce grown at the facility will supply the grocery chain and possibly other local retailers.

According to Eckhouse, the rooftop construction will be 40,000 square feet, and the plan is to have the facility operational later this year. McCaffrey’s, however, will not own or operate the greenhouse. The grocery chain is working with BrightFarms, an operation based in New York, who will design and then manage the facility. McCaffrey’s will purchase the fresh produce from BrightFarms.

The Largest Rooftop Greenhouse
The concept of rooftop greenhouses isn’t new. To date, there are a number of rooftop facilities located throughout the U.S., but most of them are on college campuses, explains Benjamin Linsley, vice president, business development and public affairs at BrightFarms.

“We completed a state-of-the-art greenhouse on Manhattan School for Children in New York in December 2010, and Gotham Green’s (also in New York) commercial rooftop farm opened in May of last year, which we were involved with in its early development stages,” says Linsley. “The McCaffrey’s greenhouse will be the first on a supermarket, and will also be the largest in the U.S.”

The key benefit of putting a greenhouse on the roof or next to a store is that the supermarket customer gets the freshest produce possible because it was grown locally and delivered within hours, not days, explains Linsley. “[The produce] was grown for taste and not for shelf life,” he continues. “By not trucking food thousands of miles, we also save millions of tons of carbon emissions from being released into the atmosphere.”

By selling produce from a rooftop greenhouse, McCaffrey’s will be able to offer consumers produce within a 12-hour period after harvest, adds Eckhouse. “The end result is it is going to be a better product coming from a controlled environment. It is not organic, but the nutrients given to the greenhouse produce will be controlled to exactly what the plants need.”

Fresh Lettuce, Tomatoes, And Herbs
What will be produced in the greenhouse? Lettuce, tomatoes, and herbs, answers Eckhouse. Those crops were chosen mainly because they are the ones most often requested by consumers. “Plus, they can be grown rapidly in a greenhouse and tomatoes can be grown vertically, so they take up less space. Eventually, the plan is to add squash to the lineup,” he adds.

McCaffrey’s Markets have a good reputation in the communities they serve and already have a very loyal customer base, adds Linsley. “The important role the locally grown movement can play in this, as with any community, is to continue to highlight the benefits from choosing to buy locally grown food items, in particular the superior quality and the reduced environmental impact,” he says.

From what Linsley says, this is just the beginning of rooftop greenhouses being aligned with grocery stores. The company is currently working closely with 10 additional supermarkets and he says they hope to have at least three more deals signed in the next few months.

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