The Fresh-Food Revolutionaries

Square Roots is bringing the farm to your office desk.

From the outside, there’s nothing particularly remarkable looking about Square Roots’ Brooklyn campus of shipping containers. But inside, under the neon-pink glow of grow lights, row after row of vertically stacked hydroponic greens are being harvested—a new kind of farm-in-a-box designed to bring fresh, nutrient-dense produce into the heart of big cities year-round.

“We have more people living in the city who are demanding local food,” says Tobias Peggs, CEO of Square Roots. “People are losing trust in the industrial food system” that has fruits and vegetables shipping halfway around the globe, often lingering for months. “We’ve got to figure out how to grow real food in the city, at scale, as quickly as possible.”

Peggs, a tech entrepreneur with a Ph.D. in artificial intelligence, launched Square Roots last spring with Kimbal Musk, founder of Denver’s farm-to-table restaurant The Kitchen and the fledgling Next Door restaurant chain and brother of Elon Musk of Space X and Tesla.

These “farms” are a model of efficiency, with each shipping container producing about 50 pounds of greens each week—the equivalent of two acres of farmland—while using 80 percent less water than traditional farming.

Square Roots began making weekly deliveries of pesticide-free kale, lettuce, chard and herbs to offices around New York last March and now delivers to 30 locations around the city. It hosts farm tours of its shipping containers so potential customers can sample the goods and meet the farmers, and it also holds a pop-up farmers market at the restaurant Egg Shop in New York’s Nolita neighborhood to drum up business.

There are three different delivery options for its New York customers, from a single $7 bag of greens to “eat like a bag of chips” to a week’s supply of seven bags for $35. That’s certainly not cheap, but with greens picked the same day they are delivered, Peggs says you’d be hard-pressed to find fresher, more-nutrient-dense food delivered right to your workplace.

“People love a farmer turning up at their desk with freshly harvested greens,” remarks Peggs.

Of course, Square Roots farmers aren’t your average large-scale farmers. They’re an energetic bunch of millennial musicians, yoga instructors and serial entrepreneurs who have signed on to grow fresh food in their own 320-square-foot container and make deliveries, sharing a cut of the revenue with the company, in hopes of “graduating” from Square Roots and starting a larger growing operation.

“Our goal is to empower entrepreneurs to build sustainable, local food businesses,” Peggs says, “many of which we will undoubtedly invest in.”

And Brooklyn is just the start of what Peggs and Musk hope is a massive local food revolution, with Square Roots opening campuses of 10 to 100 containers in cities around the nation, and eventually around the globe, as people demand fresher, more nutritious food.

“This isn’t just a Brooklyn hipster thing, “Peggs insists. “Local is the food industry’s fastest-growing sector … Kimbal and I believe that this opportunity is bigger than the Internet was when we started our careers 20 years ago.”

Photo credit: Freight Farms