Articles, Blog

Vertical Roots Farm

November 19, 2019


I’m speaking with Andrew Hare
who is a co founder and manager of Vertical
Roots a very unusual way of farming. And tell me
how you got involved in a different way of going
plants in South Carolina. absolutely well thanks
for having me. Vertical Roots started about four
years ago. Twenty fifteen a buddy and I wanted to
basically approach a different way of growing.
I had always been interested in growing
plants growing up, in animals in general. And we
decided to embark on the hydroponic way of growing
which is soil less. You’re using water and nutrients
for us we use coconut husks to be able to grow
the plants. And so what kind of started off as a
hobby over the last couple years has
blossomed into a relationship with the
manufacturing company that we are now part of.
So we basically go from a blank shipping container
all the way through the process. So what Vertical
Roots does is farming operation to grow will be
focused on is leafy greens and lettuce here in
South Carolina. Well and it sounds like the idea of
using a shipping container when it’s at
the end of its life of being sturdy
enough to send across the ocean and haul up and
down all that kind of stuff.
Being sustainable I think has driven you. So tell me
how the shipping containers are used. And
then let’s expand from there. Yeah the biggest
thing that we’re trying to do is, be sustainable in our practices. So the the shipping container
one allows us to mitigate risks, compartmentalize and
build to grow in an isolated controlled
environment. But the great thing with a shipping
container is to your point it’s end of its life cycle,
why not up cycle another piece of our equipment
that no longer has a need so when they’re going
back and forth overseas, and they get de-commissioned to come back to port, we purchased
those from local companies and turn those
into grow environments. And I believe that the
whole business is all under one umbrella now.
The shipping containers are re-purposed all the
infrastructure that goes into them is part of the
whole company. Yes so we have two sister companies. So
Vertical Roots is a farming operation of just
production. Tiger Corner Farms is our
manufacturing arm. So they literally take that blank
shipping container and outfit it with the air
conditioning, the plumbing, the lights, everything you
need to be able to grow a plant. And then we also have a
technology company, Boxcar Central, that handles all
of our software, automation, we’re able to
pick up our phone and make controls and changes
to the farm itself through a cloud based
system that we also operate. Well, we’re
sitting here with the beautiful array of leafy
greens. Is that the product that ya’ll are now
focusing on? Yes ma’am. That’s exactly we’re
focusing on. It’s leafy greens is a nice supplement
compliment to the southeast traditionally
grown in just two states in the west coast. It’s
trucked over two thousand miles to get to us. So for
us we are able to find something that’s
conducive to the environment we grow in,
complimenting traditional agriculture in the
southeast. It’s something that really just doesn’t
do very well when it’s hot and humid like it is
here in South Carolina. And so you actually start
with these little plugs and I’ll hold one up. And
you say this is mostly coconuts bark. Yes. Coconut bark
because a number of things that go into that.
But we chose that. It grows plants well for us. Yes.
But it’s able to be composted. It can be
eaten by livestock if we donate to a farm,
maybe some pigs or such that want to be able to enjoy
some of the leftover greens and roots there will be able to eat that coconut as well. So you start by
actually seeding into that by hand. People go
at your farmers. Yes. Our farmers do all of the
seeding, the transplanting and the harvesting and again
your software program is introducing the correct
stream of nutrients depending on which
lettuce wants what. Some want a little more of one
thing, a little less of another. Is that correct? Yeah
everything you could think of, we can control, CO
two, humidity, nutrients, water temperature, PH, the
list goes on. Our software controls all of those
functions And it’s pretty much hands off. This is an
extremely clean crop. It is. We don’t have to use any
foliar sprays. So there’s no pesticides or
insecticides you’re gonna find on the greens. So
again for the consumer it’s something that’s
very important to us that they have a fresh clean
product that we know when they’re eating that it’s
gonna be a healthy option for them.. Well in my garden at
home I’ve had to water a lot because it’s been so
dry lately. I believe that your water
use is much smaller than one might expect.
Absolutely, so because it’s a closed loop
re-circulating system it’s about ninety five ninety
seven percent more efficient than what you
would do traditionally. So to give an example, thirty
four hundred of these plants will grow in a
container at any given time. And they may consume
about ten gallons of water into the entire
crop in just one day. So if you compare that to
what you do outdoors, it’s night and day difference
of what we’re consuming for water and nutrients. When
they’re ready how do how do you harvest
and how do you prepare them to send to the
market? Yes so the team just like they do with the
seeding and transplanting, we have the team that goes
in there and harvests. They do the roots attached to
that so the head is actually coming out of
the system still alive, which of course helps
with the the freshness and quality of the plants.
It’s not going to continue to grow
necessarily but it is still sustaining itself
in a lot fresher than having to cut that off. So
the team will go in there with their carts and just
harvest all those plants into bins and they go
into basically a packing room that’s brought down
to fifty degrees in temperature, that’s got a
cold storage attached to it. So the plant is then
being cared for as it goes through the
production line and it can go to a restaurant. It
can be going to a grocery store. So depending on
where it’s going to will dictate how it’s gonna be
packaged when it’s in that kind of cold room
environment. And at each phase, hygiene is very
important? Yes. Every decision that our company
makes whether it’s technology, manufacturing
or us growing it is with food safety in mind.
Everyone’s very aware that just one corner
being cut can mean the difference of someone
being sick and not to being able to properly
utilize our product the way that we want it to be.
So gloves, washed hands, bio security is what we call
it. Not allowing people to come in without going
through a certain protocol into the farm
system itself are all things that we take very
seriously. And also I believe there’s a very
systematic system of cleaning after each
harvest. Yes so we make sure after all those
plants are harvested, the team comes through there,
rinses out all the root debris or anything that’s
kinda left over from that harvest and then the farm
goes through a sanitation process, where it’s going
to be basically scrubbed down and cleaned, then
sanitized, the water gets tested and then we
transplant new plants into that so once all those
tasks and completed. And again with y’all’s
emphasis, I believe all the products used are
ones that are considered to be sustainable and not
particularly harsh? Right. So while we’re not
organic certified. We’re organic in practice. We use
listed ingredients. Again staying away from those
really harsh chemicals and pesticides, reusing
things like alprocide that you’re able to get
the the cleaning that you need to get done out of
it without any over lasting or long lasting
residue that’s going to be left behind with some other
chemicals. So I could go to the store and found
this and enjoy it at home in my salads. What about
restaurants? Do you have a different way of packing
for them? Yes so the heads are gonna go, roots attached
into a case that the restaurants are gonna be
able to pick more of a variety of different products we
offer them. We work with really everything in the
Low country to the Midlands, from your fast
casual places like a salad bar to your fine
dining restaurants that are really really taking
our our lettuce and making a masterpiece out of it. And
here at the farmer’s market, I believe you’re
working in cooperation with one of our well well
established fruit and vegetable suppliers. Yes
so we’re fortunate to be in the farmers market
here in Columbia. So that allows us to be able to
work with the distributors, Sent
Brothers right next door to us, we’re able to bring
our truck just a hundred yards down the street
and pack, unload our packages right into their
facility and out they go to our different
customers. Well Andrew this has just been
fascinating and I can’t wait to share your story with other people around the state. Well, thank you. I really appreciate you having me.

2 Comments

  • Reply Gordy Bishop November 13, 2019 at 2:44 am

    Awesome work. Hope you spread all over the country

  • Reply David Heller November 15, 2019 at 1:37 am

    All we need is 🤖 s and geo-engineering.

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