Detroit’s urban farmers have proven to be some of the most innovative people in the city. They’ve reclaimed vacant lots and learned how to bring fresh, nutritious food to neighborhoods in need of it.

Artesian Farms of Detroit's Lettuce Harvest

Artesian Farms of Detroit’s Lettuce Harvest

Now two new ventures continue that innovation by introducing vertical farming systems into the city’s mix, the Detroit Free Press reported. One, known as Artesian Farms of Detroit in the Brightmoor district on the far west side, has begun to grow vegetables in a hydroponic system – trays filled with water and nutrients – stacked up to 14 feet tall. The other, known as Green Collar Foods, set up its vertical racks last week in a corner of Eastern Market’s newly renovated Shed 5. It uses an aeroponics system, in which nozzles mist a thin, watery film on the roots of plants suspended in air inside trays.

Growing plants indoors inside cities has been done for a long time in various places around the world, including in the RecoveryPark project on Detroit’s east side. Now adding vertical racks greatly increases the production capacity of any given project by taking advantage of vertical space.

“It doesn’t necessarily take a huge building,” Ron Reynolds, one of the partners in Green Collar Foods, said last week at Eastern Market. “You don’t have to go to the city and say, ‘I’d like that 50,000-square-foot building.’ Effectively in 400 square feet you can have three stories up. So a lot of the buildings begin to open up for viability.”

Co-owners of Green Collar Foods from left: Ray Quatrochi,58, Ron Reynolds,44, and Daniel Casanas,29 inside their vertical farming space in Shed 5 at the Detroit Eastern Market Friday. (Photo: Jessica J. Trevino DFP)

Co-owners of Green Collar Foods from left: Ray Quatrochi,58, Ron Reynolds,44, and Daniel Casanas,29 inside their vertical farming space in Shed 5 at the Detroit Eastern Market Friday. (Photo: Jessica J. Trevino DFP)

These vertical growing systems typify how urban farming has undergone rapid innovation in recent years. Practitioners around the world have learned to wring increased production from seemingly barren urban sites to bring fresh, nutritious food to city residents.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack visited Detroit recently and said that growing food inside cities could become an important part of regional food systems in a world beset by drought and other issues. Detroit, he added, is known far and wide as one of the centers of that movement. “I think it’s real and I think it’s a great complement to the agriculture that takes part in other parts of the country,” Vilsack said. “We face a very interesting challenge of feeding an ever-increasing world population when the land available for production will likely shrink. We have to have new and creative ways to produce the food to feed our people.”

Artesian is the creation of Jeff Adams, a neighborhood resident who spent most of his career marketing automotive products and then spent a decade fund raising for nonprofits. A few years ago, he was inspired by Detroit’s well-known west-side urban farmers like Riet Schumack and Malik Yakini. “I was looking for entrepreneurial opportunities that could employ neighborhood people,” he said last week. “The whole urban garden thing really piqued my interest.”

He bought an empty industrial building in Brightmoor last August. It had been empty since 1998. He installed a system of vertical racks designed and produced by Green Spirit Farms of New Buffalo, Mich. Known as Vertical Growing Stations, the units are 14 to 16 feet high utilizing specially designed lighting that provides the right type of light at the right intensity for a good growing environment.

Each VGS can hold approximately 1,200 to 2,400 plants depending on the produce to be grown. With about 6,000 square feet of space in his building, Adams has enough room to install 40 of the vertical racks, which he estimates is the equivalent to about 20 acres of field growing. Adams can harvest 17 crops per year of a mix of salad greens including several types of leafy lettuce plus spinach, kale, and basil.

For somebody who was trying to solve as many problems as possible, vertical farming seemed to offer the best opportunities. “You look at what it means for our city – transforming blight, employing local people, and then you look at how it affects the environment,” he said. “This system can grow produce year round and uses about 90 percent less water than what is used where our big agriculture belts are in California and Arizona.”

He hired a local Brightmoor woman, Yvette Martinez Evans, to work full time helping him tend to the plants. “I thought it was great because I always liked growing stuff in the outdoors,” Evans said last week.

Unlike the vast majority of community gardens in Detroit, Artesian Farms is a for-profit entity, an L3C organization known as a social enterprise, where the profits go to support community needs. Initial funding for the project was provided by Impact T3 Investment Fund, Skillman Foundation, Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation and the Scott Brickman Family Trust.

Adams plans initially to distribute his produce in local farmers markets, but he’s working on an agreement with the Whole Foods chain to sell his salad greens in the company’s stores in metro Detroit. “This will turn a pretty significant profit once it gets operational,” he said.


Source: Miami Herald

Several green building trends emerged over the past 12 months that will impact commercial real estate in the United States in 2015, according to Doug Lawrence, founder and managing principal of 5 Stone Green Capital—Bainbridge, an institutional real estate company.

Lawrence serves on the investment and natural resources committees of the University of Connecticut Foundation and the advisory board of Rutgers Business School.

Here’s what he foresees for emerging trends in green real estate in the year ahead.

1. Aging baby boomers and Gen X, Y and Z will continue to move to cities, requiring more affordable housing—and expecting it to be green.

CREPredictionNo1U.S. cities are growing faster than the suburbs. Baby boomers will need urban housing that supports their health and community needs, but so will the younger generations flocking to live in urban environments. As a policy matter, this means cities will be pressured to create housing that serves a wider range of income and age demographics. Affordable housing is likely to be the target of municipal agendas throughout the country.

Green multifamily really wins within this demand picture. The ability to reduce overall operating expenses through green technology, therefore also reducing occupancy costs for tenants, should improve residential affordability. Green multifamily properties featuring optimal health designs will become increasingly attractive. These would include better air filtration systems to reduce dust, pollen and airborne pathogens that may trigger asthma; more daylighting to improve natural vitamin D production; and antibacterial countertops and doorknobs.

Expect multifamily vacancy rates to continue to fall for affordable and seniors housing sub-sectors. Absorption rates will remain solid for new multifamily construction. The 18-to-34-year-olds seem psychologically predisposed to green housing and, thanks to tight lending standards and high student loan debt, this group will not be seeking single-family homes in the near future. Thus, multifamily demand looks pretty good for 2015, and green multifamily will be the likely winner with the younger generations.

2. The anti-climate-change voices will yell even louder.

CREPredictionNo2Some naysayers will stop arguing that there is no increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) in our atmosphere. Instead, they will argue that increasing CO2 is good for the global economy because CO2 is necessary to increase agriculture. Under this theory, more CO2 in the atmosphere would mean a golden age for crop production. Green real estate investors will continue to reduce their carbon footprint under the belief that doing so increases profitability and is good for the environment as well.

3. Renewable technology, particularly solar, will continue to fall in price and improve in efficiency.

CREPredictionNo3Solar panels that can convert up to 70 percent of the sun’s light spectrum into electricity (from gamma rays to X-rays) are already in beta testing. This could be a game-changer for real estate owners, especially in the multifamily and industrial sectors, as well as for those with properties in dense urban environments in high-cost electricity states.

The cost of solar energy could fall below that of fossil fuel-generated electricity per kilowatt hour, even with the drop in oil and/or gas prices. As technology improves, real estate managers will explore new ways to provide energy to tenants and users at more efficient prices.

4. Urban resiliency and climate change will become topics for deeper discussion among policy-makers.

CREPredictionNo4Following rising average sea levels in a wide range of American cities—from Los Angeles to Galveston, Texas to New York and Boston—and more frequent and more damaging storms, cities are becoming very focused on hardening essential infrastructure.

The real estate industry may see new building codes that emphasize sustainability, as well as resiliency.

5. Utilities companies and smart developers will form partnerships for distributed generation.

CREPredictionNo5It’s getting harder and harder to build new power plants, yet we have more people for whom to provide electricity; meanwhile, business demand for electricity is increasing as the economy strengthens. U.S. power plants are not only aged, but also use incredibly large amounts of fresh water for cooling. Moreover, some experts predict that as much as 10 percent of coal-fired electricity-generating plants in the United States may be shut down over the next few years. More demand, coupled with fewer production resources, may spur real estate owners and power companies into an alliance.

The concept of distributed generation, wherein solar-powered rooftops are used to create renewable energy that feeds the grid, will become more attractive. In this way, the utility company will gain a production source to feed growing demand without having to go through nightmarish public hearings to obtain the production increase. Meanwhile, the real estate owner may see a new revenue stream, or at least a reduction in energy consumption. All in all, partnerships between developers and utility companies may reduce overall operating expenses for garages, public areas, elevators and other electrical hot points.

6. The sharing economy will continue to grow.

CREPredictionNo6Sharing economy enterprises are thriving, particularly in urban markets. Think office sharing, or even These phenomena are no longer fads, and they are changing how we think about office space, hoteling and more.

Many experts assume that the more we share, the less stress we will have on the environment, but it may still be too early to tell whether that’s true.

7. Food production will become more urban and commercial buildings’ rooftops will increase in value.

CREPredictionNo7It’s becoming less profitable to truck a tomato from California to New York and, due to the increasing demand for locally-grown produce, the term “farm-to-table” has become embedded in our vocabulary. The demand for food that is grown without pesticides, fungicides or other chemicals is increasing. We already see grocers like Whole Foods establishing hydroponic farms on their rooftops. Such production reduces transportation costs and improves produce freshness and variety. Other grocers, including Safeway, have gone green by deploying solar arrays and other renewable energy technologies on their stores’ rooftops in order to reduce peak-demand electricity charges. Large rooftops will therefore continue to find new value as non-traditional tenants begin to use them in new ways.

8. Mortgage finance and insurance organizations will consider green standards.

CREPredictionNo8As the government-sponsored entities Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae continue reviewing and improving their standards for green buildings, other mainstream lenders and insurance companies will catch up with the trend. Insurance companies will see green buildings as a way to reduce risk. Lenders will potentially see lower volatility in net operating cash flows. As the capital markets go green, so will more building owners and investors.

The Dow Jones Sustainability Index is proving that green business outperforms the non-green Dow Jones Industrials Index. Green building will mimic that outperformance and, as a result, gain momentum in 2015.


Source: NREI