more about the work the local farm does, what customers can expect when signing up for CSA, and why growing and consuming fresh and nutritious crops is important.
Maia Potok-Holmes: Ryan, thank you so much for chatting with me today!
Ryan Pierce: Sure, of course!
MPH: So, I’ll just jump right in. Fresh Impact Farms is such a unique and interesting business. Can you speak a bit about the impetus of the business and how you got started?
RP: Before starting the business, I had come across what’s called indoor controlled environment agriculture. There are many benefits of this type of agriculture, including reduced travel time (from farms to consumers) and significantly reduced water usage. I loved the idea that this not only lowers the carbon footprint, but allows farmers to control how crops grow and play around with flavors – which creates the most optimal product. I also recognized that Arlington has become one of the fastest growing restaurant markets in the country over the last ten years. There was a clear opportunity to grow crops that chefs in the area were having flown in overnight. So, we started out with a small pilot system to try and gage interest, and that moved relatively quickly. It came to the point where the pilot system couldn’t provide what we needed so we had to build out a much larger space to be able to better serve these restaurants – some of the best restaurants in the city.
MPH: And you use what’s called hydroponic technology, correct? What exactly is that and what are the benefits?
the soil and into the water table in the ground, and it doesn’t evaporate off of the surface of the soil. Our farm uses less water per year than the average US household to grow hundreds and hundreds of pounds of crops.
MPH: That's awesome. And, I know Fresh Impact Farms is housed indoors. In addition to hydroponic technology, how do you grow the crops, especially without sunlight? Is there a difference in how crops grow and taste indoors vs outdoors?
RP: A plant is a plant. It need to go through photosynthesis to produce vegetative flowering and growth, so that process doesn’t really change. What we do change is how the plant gets the light. We have specially tuned LED lights that give the plants the proper spectrum that they need to be the best version of themselves. We also use the exact type and quantity of nutrients that the crops need which brings out more flavor. That’s what we really strive for: bringing out the most flavor in a plant while ensuring that it still has high levels of nutrition. And, of course, that it looks fantastic as well.
MPH: Pivoting a bit… when the pandemic hit and restaurants closed, your business was clearly impacted, but you switched things up and started selling directly to the community. Can you speak about what that was like and how you’ve had to adjust your business?
RP: We had had our best month ever in February and were on our way to another really good month in March as the pandemic started to hit. We started to see word that restaurants might shut down and over the course of the weekend of March 13, 100% of our customers had closed their doors. So, we lost 100% of our revenue source over the course of two days. That was obviously a huge punch to the gut especially when the business was hitting its stride and doing so well. We had to decide whether we should push pause on everything and hope for the best or see if we can try to sell directly to consumers and the community and we made a decision as a team to do the latter. We had never marketed to consumers though, and most of them didn’t even know we existed, because our whole business was geared towards chefs and restaurants. We had to figure out how to target a market that didn’t really have a need for our current crops - they’re rare crops that most home cooks don’t use. We realized it
started to have a lot of requests for salad greens, so we started growing more of that. We’ve been at it now for 5 months and we’re growing. While CSA is not at the point where it’s paying all our bills, it’s allowed us to stay afloat, for which we’re grateful. If we had not pivoted in this direction there’s no way we would’ve survived. But we still have quite a way to go. We’re still only at about 50% of our previous revenue. We’re just trying every day to find new ways to appeal to the consumer base and make sure they’re happy with what they’re getting.
MPH: How does CSA work? You have an upcoming deadline, right?
choose which crops they want because we grow to order. Once we know how many CSA customers we have of each level, everything is planned out based on that information. We seed based on what has to go out the door which helps us to reduce food waste and ensures we have the right quantity. Additionally, we’ve recently partnered with some other local producers. That helps us to support other local producers and allows our customers a more seamless way to get products that would be far more difficult (or impossible) to source on their own.
MPH: Now moving forward, post COVID, what does Fresh Impact Farms envision for the future? Are you planning to continue with CSA in addition to working with chefs and restaurants?
RP: Because we’ve received this support from the community, we don’t want to turn our backs on them once the restaurants reopen. We fully anticipate continuing with CSA and finding more ways to supply the consumer market. The eventual goal is to have the capacity to supply our restaurants and the community, so we’re currently trying to expand into the upstairs of where we are right now.
We love working with chefs, but we also love working with the community. Being their local farmers gives us an immense amount of fulfillment and pride in what we do.
MPH: What would you say is the best way for the Lee Highway and Arlington community to support Fresh Impact Farms?
MPH: What’s one of your favorite things you sell?
MPH: Sounds Delicious! So, as a local business owner paving the way during COVID-19, what do you view as the value of shopping local?
RP: #1 thing I’d say is the ability to support local jobs. The local economy and the vibrance of that economy really depends on the support of the local businesses. That’s probably what I view as the most important thing.
MPH:One final question. What is your favorite part of working a Fresh Impact Farms?
kind of tells you that you’re doing the right thing and that you’re doing it for the right reasons.
MPH: Well, that’s it for me Ryan. Thank you so much for chatting with me, and best of luck to you!
RP: Thanks so much Maia. It was a pleasure to speak with you.