Something's growing in Tribeca...
Tucked away on a side-street in Tribeca, something is growing… Actually, a whole FARM is growing. Under the impression that farms are an outdoors thing? THIS IS 2018 PEOPLE, THINK AGAIN! Farm.One is revolutionizing modern-day indoor farming with herbs, edible flowers, microgreens and exotic items from all over the world, produced all-year round. From Moringa leaves to Jambu, the infamous “toothache plant” from Southeast Asia- that leaves your mouth numb for minutes on end (but it’s actually kind of exhilaratingly fun!)- Farm.One is growing it all. This place gets EXTRA BONUS points in our book, ’cause they’re doing it all in an eco-friendly fashion. One sustainable practice? Orders are personally delivered via bike or train. Amazon shmam-azon.
by CHLOE.: Introduce yourself.
RL: Hi! I’m Rob, CEO and founder of Farm.One, the chefs’ farm of the future. In our indoor vertical farms in Manhattan we grow edible flowers, rare herbs and microgreens to-order for chefs, with around 200 different products growing at any one time.
bC: What inspired you to start Farm.One?
RL: Before Farm.One I was CEO of a startup in Japan for eight years. I made the classic startup mistake of throwing myself too far into my work, and had become quite unhealthy and a little overweight. I left the company, and radically changed my diet – focusing on plant food. I started to feel amazing from what I was eating, and resolved to start something related to food and fresh ingredients.
While studying plant-based cooking at one of Matthew Kenney’s culinary schools in LA, I came across rare ingredients at the farmers’ market like Papalo, a Mexican herb with an unusual citrus-y aroma. I was hooked, and determined to figure out how I could grow these kind of amazing things in a city like New York. In early 2016 I hired an experienced grower and we set up our first high-tech farm inside the Institute of Culinary Education here in downtown Manhattan. A year and a half later, we now have two farms, and serve restaurants with a combined total of 14 Michelin stars, including 2-starred Atera, the restaurant our second farm shares a building with in Tribeca.
bC: Why do chef’s love what Farm.One has to offer?
RL: Outside of a few select items in summer months, chefs at high-end restaurants in New York are flying specialty produce in from hundreds if not thousands of miles away. So when we bring them something that was cut that morning, grown just a few blocks away, the reaction is immediate, with wide eyes and excited faces all round. Our flavors are powerful and fresh, and we have a crazily-wide range of ingredients. Chefs like Ronny from Atera say “it’s like having your own herb garden right outside the kitchen.” Chefs bring their teams in all the time to see the farm and taste, which is amazing fun.
bC: Talk to us about the environmental benefits of Farm.One?
RL: We use hydroponics (a method of growing plants in a water-based nutrient solution, instead of soil) and LED lighting (an efficient, low-power lighting technology) to grow our crops. Hydroponics is very efficient, often using up to 95% less water than a traditional farm. We repurpose under-used urban spaces (our second farm is in a basement) and we deliver only locally, using bikes and subways. So our “food miles” are minimal – normally we’re just 20 minutes from our customers. We use no pesticides, instead introducing beneficial insects to control any pests. Our packaging is all re-usable or compostable, so we are close to zero waste as a business. People also love the fact that our operation is transparent – you can visit us and see exactly what’s going on, rather than us being some mysterious farm at the end of a long distribution chain. This is why we think vertical farming is a key part of the future of agriculture.
bC: What is one of the most rewarding things about starting Farm.One?
RL: The love and enthusiasm people have for our farm is infectious and inspiring. It’s always such a pleasure to show people around, and introduce them to brand new flavors. Their jaws literally drop sometimes as they smell something new. Sometimes we invite people like perfumers into the farm, who have a completely different reaction to chefs, and bartenders.
bC: Where do you see yourself, and your business in 5 years?
RL: We’re gearing up to build new locations in the US. In five years time, we hope to have 20+ farms across the globe, all serving their local restaurant customers. Every week we get dozens of emails from far-flung places asking if we want to build a Farm.one there — from Sydney to Malaysia to Ireland. So we know we have fans ready to help us achieve our vision! We’re also always experimenting with growing new varieties, and we’ve already grown about 600 different plants. So in five years I hope that number is at least over 1,000, and we can continue to surprise people with rare, flavorful herbs and amazing-looking edible flowers.
bC: What is a piece of advice that you live by?
RL: The motto of Life Magazine: To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, to draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.
bC: What’s your favorite dish at by CHLOE.?
RL: Avocado Pesto Pasta. It’s even more fun to eat than it is to say. I could have it every day. It doesn’t even make sense that it has avocado in it, but it does and it makes it smooth and delicious. I always really appreciate the chiffonade on top. Like, if you are in a rush for lunch and something has chiffonade-d herbs… it makes you feel like you have 45 seconds more in your day because someone put some effort in. But I also can’t leave without a chocolate chip cookie.
bC: What does “Eat well. Eat with purpose.” mean to you?
RL: Farmers give love with their produce. When chefs cook for someone, it’s also an act of love and kindness. On the flipside, when you eat, you’re making a choice about what purpose and intention to accept into your life. Are you accepting love? Or something less than that? Every meal is a chance to welcome the right things into your day.
Emoji that best describes you??
Favorite place on earth? The Gibb River Road, Australia
Top 3 restaurants (excluding by CHLOE. of course!)? Atera, Double Zero, I also have to say the vegan menu at Eleven Madison Park is far better than the “normal” menu and 100% worth the $492,290.80 price (drinks not included)
Favorite food? Roasted Potatoes
Top 3 favorite fashion brands? Native Shoes, my ex-girlfriend’s Helmut Lang cast-offs, Farm.One chef jacket.
Early bird or night owl? Early Bird!
Choice super hero power? Ability to resist roast potatoes.
Go-to workout? I’m training for a triathlon right now, so Peloton is my savior. Robin Arzon is a motivator extraordinaire!
Juice or smoothie? Smoothie!
3 objects you can’t live without? Vitamix. Panasonic Oral Irrigator (sounds weird, changed my life, will change yours if you open your heart). Cordyceps Mushroom Powder.
Whatcha readin’? The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman