If you search around New York City for a mushroom farm, you might think it's impossible for one to fit there. Well, in fact, there is one mushroom farm in the city. Not only that, but it's the only organic farm as well. Located near the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Smallhold mushroom farm is the creation of Adam DeMartino and Andrew Carter, two former college mates who gave up their previous jobs to bring their vision of hyper-local produce to reality.
What Smallhold does is somewhat different to the traditional grow-and-sell method. "Smallhold provides a service to give stores and restaurants the chance to grow their own mushrooms to sell to their customers," DeMartino said. The company designs, engineers, and nurtures small-scale mushroom farms (aka Minifarms) that can be installed right inside the customer's premises.
Adam DeMartino holding a Lion's Mane mushroom.
The service doesn't stop once the client has received their mushroom farm. "We grow the desired mushroom varieties until they are ready to fruit, before delivering it over to our client," said Carter. "They are placed in the Minifarm that we install at the store and the mushrooms are harvested as needed. We farm the mushrooms remotely from our office in Brooklyn by controlling growing parameters using proprietary IoT technology. Since we only grow the fruiting stage of the mushroom onsite, it only takes a week for the produce to mature. This makes each farm extremely productive–you can get up to 140 pounds of fresh-farmed mushrooms in your grocery store in less than 20 square feet.”
Clearly, the vital piece of infrastructure is the actual Minifarm where the mushrooms are housed while growing. The Smallhold team constructs the Minifarms according to the customer's requirements in their Brooklyn facility. Once built and tested, Smallhold then installs them at the location, whether it be a store or restaurant.
"We size the Minifarms according to weight," DeMartino explained. "The typical range of yield is between 30 and 120 pounds of mushrooms per week. We customize the display units in order to make them fit neatly in the required space and they can be hooked into the water and refrigeration lines on site. With a clear window, consumers can view the mushrooms and purchase as they need. The farms can have four separate growing environments, enabling the mix and match of mushroom species, of which we currently offer ten. We’re also developing a merchandiser attachment for easy access to the produce once it has been harvested."
One of the main benefits that these Minifarms bring is the hyper-local factor. Studies suggest that fresh and locally-grown produce is something that many consumers are more focused on, therefore Carter noted that with a Smallhold mushroom farm, the produce is actually grown inside the store. "It doesn't get more locally-grown than having it grown in-store, with the added benefit of an increased shelf life. Exotic mushrooms typically have a very short shelf life. This, combined with changing consumer tastes moving toward healthy food and less meat, mean exotics are now in more demand than ever. We have seen an increase in popularity for more medicinal varieties like Lion's Mane, which is a versatile and impressive-looking mushroom."
The recently installed Minifarm at Whole Foods Market on 3rd Avenue.
Recent install at Whole Foods results in sellout on first day
This past weekend, Smallhold installed a Minifarm at the Whole Foods Market on 3rd Avenue, Brooklyn. This Whole Foods is already known for having a Gotham Greens urban farm on its rooftop. "The Smallhold Minifarm installed at Whole Foods on 3rd Avenue is capable of growing over 80 pounds of mushrooms every week," DeMartino shared. "We installed it into the Specialty section, where weekly fresh harvests of mushrooms ensure that customers can get their produce often literally within minutes of harvest."
According to DeMartino, the Minifarm proved to be a hit with Whole Foods customers, "They were sold out of mushrooms twice on opening day, with the first crop harvested straight into peoples' shopping carts. Along with providing its customers with the ability to buy freshly harvested mushrooms, a co-marketing strategy was established with Severino Pasta, which operates fresh pasta bars in many Whole Foods supermarkets, so customers can enjoy the fresh mushrooms while having their pasta too."
Close up of the mushrooms at the Whole Foods Minifarm.
Smallhold plans to continue installing Minifarms across various stores and restaurants in the New York City area. One of the aims of the company is maximize the amount of mushrooms that can be grown and merchandised into as limited area as possible, further increasing their revenue per square foot for their customers. They are currently on the lookout for more retail design partners to inform the process.
"One of our goals is to maximize growth per square foot while maintaining quality and flavor," Carter said. "We are looking for people with knowledge and expertise in this field to help us out. Several of our customers have requested a second or enlarged farm as the demand has outpaced the original design. We look forward to continuing our development and to bring hyper-local produce to customers."