Sky Vegetables has to be one of my favorite startup friday ideas in a long time, so I couldn’t resist breaking the rules and publishing it on a Monday. It’s a simple concept – take the otherwise wasted space on the roof of big box stores and use it to grow fresh veggies. It makes extra sense on the rooftop of supermarkets so that a ready supply of the freshest possible produce is always available just upstairs.
Call it pie, er, broccoli, in the sky, but if the amount of press they’ve been getting is any indication of potential success, this one has a real chance. In fact, according to Boston.com, Sky Vegetables has in fact signed a 20 year agreement with the owner of a former shoe factory in Brockton, MA to turn their rooftop into a thriving agricultural enterprise. The plan is to produce 300 to 400 tons of food per year with only rainwater as irrigation and an expectation of 5-15 times the yield that a similarly sized piece of ground would produce.
Sky Vegetable’s concept mockups come with enough bells and whistles to make even an idealist blush – rainwater catchment, wind turbines, solar energy, living-machine style aquaponics, all functioning 365 days a year without a care for the weather. All of which, presumably, produces frequent crops profitably enough that the company will even donate some to local food banks.
Joel Makower interviewed founder Keith Agoada last year and got some details:
“We come in on the rooftop as a tenant of the building. We rent the rooftop space. We pay for the upgrade, the insurance costs, the fixed costs for planning and development and the soft costs of architects, etc. We take all of that on. We outsource the equipment. We don’t invent technologies. We’re taking existing proven technologies and applying them to this rooftop. Then we make our money off the sale of the produce. The technology is controlled-environment greenhouses, year-around systems keeping constant temperatures and controlling the environment there. No pesticides, no herbicides, all integrative pest management systems and composting and trying to use paper and food waste from the building as the nutrient stream for our plants.”
Urban farming enterprises are cropping up in a lot of cities around the world these days and we’ll have to keep our eyes on Brockton’s shoe factory to see whether this one turns out to be a success or not. Either way, it’s a fantastic idea to learn from that, if profitable, will undoubtedly become more common.