In 2009, Viraj Puri and Eric Haley founded Gotham Greens, an innovative urban agriculture company focusing on “hyper-local, premium-quality, greenhouse grown vegetables and herbs.” Gotham Greens currently operates over 170,000 square feet of hydroponic growing facilities in urban areas, including the world’s largest rooftop greenhouse at 75,000 square feet located in Chicago.
Combatting climate change is at the heart of Gotham’s mission. By growing produce for hyper-local consumption, transportation-related fuel consumption and food wastage is practically eliminated. Gotham’s facilities run year-round, are powered by 100% renewable energy and feature energy-saving mechanisms such as lighting and ventilation controls. All irrigation water is 100% recycled and enclosing the growing space protects the produce from harsh weather conditions and the damaging effects of climate change itself.
Hydroponics is the foundation of Gotham’s innovative growing practices. In a hydroponic system, nutrients are dissolved into water that is fed directly to the plants. This method can produce 20-30 times as many crops per acre as a conventional farm. Without the need for nitrogen-based fertilizers, hydroponic systems do not produce ground-contaminating runoff or contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Because hydroponic systems do not use soil, they are lightweight and can be installed in large rooftop arrays, making them well-suited to the built-up fabric of major cities.
Gotham is now the largest urban agriculture company in the world, but having moved beyond the proof-of-concept stage, the business now faces new challenges as it pursues its goal of expansion throughout the US. As an operation with high fixed costs that cannot be easily spread across facilities, Gotham faces new logistical and regulatory challenges with every new location. Industrial farms still hold the lion’s share of the produce market in the US and every day more hydroponic growing startups such as BrightFarms and Aerofarms are entering the market.
One of the ways Gotham is staying ahead of the pack is by increasing its product offerings. New lettuces and specialty basils are being grown in addition to the preexisting lineup of tomatoes and basic greens. Gotham is introducing a line of packaged foods, including a pesto made from its Genovese basil. The company has also begun to roll out a program it calls Ugly Greens: selling bags of slightly blemished lettuces alongside its regular products at a discount. The program is intended to call attention to the global issue of food wastage and has experienced early success. All these new products will increase the complexity of Gotham’s supply chain but may also offer operational synergies with its original product mix.
Taking advantage of recent technological innovations in distribution is one way for Gotham to fuel its growth. Full Harvest, for example, is a company that runs an online B2B marketplace for the same “surplus and imperfect” produce that Gotham is selling through Ugly Greens. The direct-to-consumer model may also represent untapped potential for Gotham. In 2015, the USDA released a report about local and regional food systems, indicating that the number of farms with DTC models “increased by 17 percent between 2002 and 2007 and another 5.5 percent between 2007 and 2012.” Gotham already sells directly through its partnerships with local chefs and restaurants, but with the recent proliferation of technology-enabled delivery services, there will likely be new DTC opportunities in the near future.
Gotham should also take advantage of the numerous startups that are leveraging digital technology to optimize agricultural production. Companies such as Granular and AgCode use advanced data processing to allow farmers to precisely monitor their entire crop, giving them instant visibility into resource consumption, production levels and even staffing and profitability. Other firms such as Mavrx and Farmer’s Edge use satellite imagery to identify, assess and manage farmland variability. Although satellites imagery does not apply to Gotham’s enclosed growing environment, the use of advanced imaging more generally may provide valuable insight into the effects of various cultivation techniques on plant performance. There are even blockchain and big data companies such as RipeIO and the Farmer’s Business Network that help small farms use analytics to compete with larger operations.
The growth potential for Gotham Greens and other urban agriculture businesses is substantial. If these companies can develop a wide range of products, capitalize on new modes of distribution and integrate new digital technologies, the increasing demand for locally-grown, sustainable produce will sustain them for many years to come. The question of whether these operations can go head-to-head with corporate farming, however, remains to be answered. If Gotham Greens can take on the industrial farm, the company may provide an agricultural solution not just for the US but for every country in which farmers are struggling to cope with the effects of climate change.
 Gotham Greens, http://gothamgreens.com, accessed November 2017.
 Christine Escobar, “World’s Largest Rooftop Farm Opens on the South Side of Chicago,” https://www.huffingtonpost.com/christine-escobar/worlds-largest-rooftop-fa_b_8715554.html, accessed November 2017.
 Ashleigh Schmitz Morley, “Take a Peek Inside the World’s Largest Rooftop Greenhouse,” https://weather.com/holiday/spring/news/chicago-rooftop-greenhouse-worlds-largest, accessed November 2017.
 Bond Street, “In the (Green) House: Gotham Greens,” https://bondstreet.com/blog/gotham-greens, accessed November 2017.
 Lisa Elaine Held, “How Urban Farms Are Changing the Way We Eat,” https://www.eater.com/2016/4/12/11394458/urban-farm-greenhouse-brooklyn-chicago, accessed November 2017.
 Bridget Shirvell, “Gotham Greens Wants to Sell You Ugly Lettuce,” https://www.ediblebrooklyn.com/2016/gotham-greens-wants-to-sell-you-ugly-lettuce, accessed November 2017.
 Full Harvest, https://fullharvest.com, accessed November 2017.
 Held, “How Urban Farms Are Changing the Way We Eat.”
 Chloe Sorvino, “The 25 Most Innovative Ag-Tech Startups,” https://www.forbes.com/sites/maggiemcgrath/2017/06/28/the-25-most-innovative-ag-tech-startups/#1274c85b4883, accessed November 2017.