As you travel through Bridgeport, the largest city in Connecticut, you might pass an old factory building, unassuming from the outside. But inside, it’s another story. Fresh, delicious, high-quality lettuce, kale, arugula and more are being grown inside, in the middle of one of the most populated cities in Connecticut.
“We found an underutilized building in Bridgeport and set up what is now a commercial farm,” says Steve Domyan, co-founder of MetroCrops, a high-density, urban indoor farm. “We grow high-quality produce and sell it mainly to restaurants, gourmet shops, the local community and at a farmers’ market.”
MetroCrops formed in 2010 after the company was awarded a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) research grant to figure out the technology needed to turn an old building into a lettuce farm. After working through the University of Connecticut and USDA for a few years, the farm was constructed in Bridgeport in 2014.
The Governor’s Council for Agricultural Development was charged with ways to increase the percentage of consumer dollars spent on Connecticut Grown fresh produce and farm product by 2020, to not less than 5 percent of all money spent by such residents on food.
“You find out that it’s not a demand problem, but that it’s a supply problem. Here, we’re growing things 365 days a year,” Domyan says, referring to the lack of conventional farmland available, plus the high price of the land that is. That’s one benefit of urban agriculture.
“In conventional agriculture, we wouldn’t be growing lettuce here for six months out of the year. It’s also very beneficial to be in urban areas because we’re so close to our customers,” Doyman says.
He adds that a current effort of MetroCrops is to manufacture and sell the technologies they use in their farm to help consumers start their own micro-farms.
“We want to expand this idea to have entrepreneurs who are growing locally,” he says. “People see us in the city and they see that they can now become farmers, too.”
KNOX, an urban horticulture nonprofit organization based in Hartford, also aims to improve the life of residents through city agriculture.
“The cornerstone of what we do is our 20 community gardens in the city,” says Ron Pitz, executive director at KNOX. “We have about 400 gardeners, and they do all the work. We provide infrastructure, space, tools and donated seeds, but the program empowers people to live healthier lifestyles and eat what they grow.”
KNOX began the urban farming program, named Hartford Grown, with grant funding and support from the Lincoln Financial Foundation, Aetna Foundation, U.S. Conference of Mayors and the Connecticut Department of Agriculture. Pitz says that community gardens and urban farms reflect the ethnic diversity of the city.
KNOX works with gardeners who want to profit and even make a small business out of farming. The program teaches gardeners how to grow food and opens the doors to helpful organizations and grant programs.
“Urban agriculture is important now because people are looking to buy local so they can trust and know where their food comes from,” Pitz says. “Vacant lands can be developed into urban farms, and we’re always actively looking for other sites in the city.”