Pivot Perfect

On March 1, Governor Ralph Northam recognized Arlington small business Fresh Impact Farms and announed that they would become the recipient of Arlington’s first ever Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development (AFID) Fund grant from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS). Fresh Impact Farms will invest $137,000, create six new jobs, and more than double production at its Arlington indoor facility. Operating since 2018 as Arlington's only commercial farm, Fresh Impact Farms used proprietary hydroponic technology to grow a variety of specialty herbs, leafy greens and edible flowers for sale to customers in the Greater Washington, D.C. metro area.

Until early 2020, Fresh Impact Farms was the domain of rare culinary herbs and edible flowers supplied to D.C. metro area chefs, some of whom had Michelin stars. Located at the back side of a retail strip shopping center on Lee Highway, the farm entrance looks more like an afterthought than an opening to a culinary wonder world. But overnight, in the face of a pandemic, restaurants closed and the word of mouth, chef to chef, specialty farm faced a radical drop in customers. Realizing the need to shift quickly, Fresh Impact Farms created a new client base of customers, most of whom had never heard of the farm.

Not every business can change its product line and customer base on short notice. Some can't change at all. But with a long range plan to sell direct to consumers, the time was right to take action. Replacing the quick growing indoor custom greens and edible flowers with varieties more familiar to consumers, Fresh Impact Farms implemented a well established farm to table model known as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Signing up for weekly greens harvested the day before delivery, the new customers got a taste of fresh micro greens, herbs and leafy greens never found in a grocery store. For one thing, without the typical time and distance from grower to market, the greens had distinct aromatic flavor. A new version of word of mouth, helped by social media, took hold. By the end of 2020, Fresh Impact Farms reached its growing capacity and stopped taking new CSA customers.

Now, with the state Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development (AFID) facilities grant that includes a matching fund from Arlington County, an expanded facility is underway, right in time for a new ongoing subscription model of weekly shares. Using state of the art technology and hydroponics, Fresh Impact Farms is pioneering sustainable urban agriculture, unique commercial space use and a potential model for other areas of Arlington where access to fresh greens is limited. Although agriculture is Virginia's top industry, this is the first AFID grant to a business in Arlington. We hope it won't be the last.

Topic: Creative Economy
 
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