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New York City, 17 August 2011

Urban Food Production » BrightFarms to Have New Rooftop Headquarters and Greenhouse

Queens is set to become the home of the nation’s largest rooftop hydroponic greenhouse.

BrightFarms, a Manhattan-based firm that designs, builds and operates high-tech farms, is gearing up to move its headquarters to Long Island City, company officials said Monday.

“The area is on the rise,” said BrightFarms CEO Paul Lightfoot, 41. “We want to make Long Island City the center in the produce supply chain in the United States.”

The company is in the final stages of negotiations to lease a 32,000-square-foot space on top of a building near LaGuardia Community College.

“The buildings in the area have strong roofs available to construct on top of them,” said Lightfoot, referring to the area’s industrial pedigree.

BrightFarms is investing $1 million to build a 25,000-square-foot rooftop hydroponic greenhouse and 7,000 square feet of office space, Lightfoot said. The venture is expected to bring about 25 jobs to Queens in the first year and 30 more in the next two years.

“The construction will be done in March next year and by the end of the spring we will be producing 200,000 pounds of fresh produce annually for the local markets,” said Lightfoot, whose company is getting tax benefits from the city for making the move.

A rooftop hydroponic greenhouse is an urban farm structure on top of a building that controls the environment to protect the plants from the weather. BrightFarms specializes in building this kind of structure using hydroponic systems – a method of growing plants using nutrients in water, without soil.

“Per square foot, you get much more growth,” Lightfoot said.

BrightFarms’ hydroponic greenhouse will be the biggest in the country. Lufa Farms, in Montreal, currently has the largest in North America – at 30,000 square feet.

Erik Baard, a Long Island City resident and the 2011 winner of the Greenest New Yorker title, said BrightFarms’ move is good for Queens and that he supports hydroponic systems. But consumers should also keep an eye on the big picture, he said.

“We need to keep alive the farms upstate [by] buying regional food,” he said.

Lightfoot noted that his intent is not to compete with local or upstate farmers.

“We hire local farmers to work in our greenhouses,” said Lightfoot. “We displace the long-distance supply, not the local supply.”

From Inside Urban Green