In early 2009, EcoVeggies was founded by a group of entrepreneurs: Richard Charles, Kamal Kalra, and David Lowe. They had met while working at former Wall Street bond house, Salomon Brothers, and were drawn together by a common entrepreneurial spirit and vision. Their goal was to set up a new business venture that would be: successful, sustainable, forward-thinking, community-oriented, based on green technologies, and capable of contributing to urban renewal.
After researching potential options, they decided on urban agriculture as the best way to accomplish all of these goals. They focused specifically on aeroponics, a then recently-mainstreamed form of agriculture that makes it possible to grow healthy, pesticide-free veggies and greens on rooftops and in buildings. Besides providing city dwellers with access to healthy, locally-grown foods, such a venture would also bring good jobs to urban neighborhoods. With this vision in mind, they set out to develop a pilot project in Newark, New Jersey, the closest city to them and one that various groups and organizations were working to revitalize.
In March of 2009, work began in earnest on the EcoVeggies plans. Their research led the group to Dr. Edward Harwood, formerly an Associate Director of Agriculture at Cornell University’s Cooperative Extension, but more importantly a pioneer in developing innovative aeroponic technology. With Dr. Harwood in an advisory role, the EcoVeggies trio explored combinations of possible crops, sites, and technologies before eventually settling on the leafy greens market as their entry point, using equipment manufactured by Dr. Harwood and his team.
EcoVeggies’s subsequent involvement in a loose-knit group known as the Food Empowerment Network of Newark led to them being introduced to several key members of staff at St. Philips Academy, a private and independent school in Newark, who expressed enthusiasm about their enterprise. In a matter of 2 weeks, St. Philips Academy became the site of the pilot project for EcoVeggies. A growing unit manufactured by Dr. Harwood and his team was installed in the school’s fourth-floor science lab/teaching kitchen and, with the help of the students, started producing four varieties of leafy greens. The pilot project afforded EcoVeggies the chance to perfect the operational side of their enterprise while providing an educational opportunity for the students. It also provided an abundant source of fresh greens for their school lunches.
In July of 2011, as was pre-determined in the hosting agreement with St. Philips Academy, EcoVeggies turned over day to day operation of the growing unit to the staff and students of St. Philips Academy and remains in an advisory and support role.
The founders of EcoVeggies firmly believe that the ability to inexpensively grow a variety of vegetables locally and year-round has enormous commercial potential in the Northeastern U.S. leafy green market. They are currently working on expanding to a much larger facility and are seeking clients, including local schools, supermarkets, hospitals, and restaurants. EcoVeggies plans to start operating its production location by the end of 2013.