GROWING UP AT BRICK STREET FARMS
While you are sleeping, an array of lettuce, kale and fresh herbs is growing in portable climate- controlled pods with the aid of nutrient-infused water and LED lights. Indoor farming 24/7/365 is right here in Tampa Bay’s back yard.
From seed to harvest, Brick Street Farms in St. Petersburg is sprouting to maturity faster than its owners ever imagined. What was conceived as a mom-and-pop herb farm has become a staple for local restaurants and health-conscious residents.
Each month Brick Street harvests the equivalent of six acres of hyper-fresh produce that stays in season year-round, owners Shannon O’Malley and Bradley Doyle say, thanks to what they describe as a “portable, controlled environment that minimizes and eliminates waste,” and that uses no pesticides or dirt and much less water than traditional farming requires.
The married couple, who live in Crescent Heights, are using their IT backgrounds and expertise with modern software applications to redefine the local food supply. After a lengthy period of transforming a run-down property in the heart of the Grand Central District into three up-cycled container growing facilities, Pinellas County’s only commercial indoor hydroponic farm was up and running last October. Due to the outpouring of support since then, Shannon has been able to leave the corporate world to tend the farm full-time.
While Brick Street has yet to celebrate its one-year anniversary, expansion plans already are in the works. Shannon, 35, the proclaimed dreamer of the two, looks at their property and sees upwards of 14 additional containers. Another portable will be installed with a fully functioning kitchen designated for area chefs. A new, gated walkway will lead guests under string lights illuminating a courtyard seating area for catered events. She predicts additional farm containers will be installed by the end of the year and the full expansion will be completed by close of 2018.
The farm has participated in several community dinners in St. Petersburg, with plans for more. Partnering with the restaurants gives Brick Street an opportunity to pair its produce and herbs with local menus, Shannon said. In December Brick Street and the Reading Room on Central Avenue collaborated on a farm-to-table experience for diners; in February Rococo Steak on 2nd Avenue South hosted a four-course dinner “under the stars.”
Brick Street firmly believes in working with like-minded local businesses including Brick & Mortar, Stillwaters Tavern and BellaBrava. The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg added a Brick Street Farm salad to its menu with an Asian Spring mix harvested exclusively for the resort.
Jeffrey Jew, executive chef at Stillwaters, partnered with Brick Street in January. “After taking a tour of the harvesting process, water system and climate-controlled containers, we began harvesting our kale plants with Shannon and Brad,” he said. “They are willing to harvest (and do the leg work) for any variety of plant to accommodate our restaurant’s needs.”
The farm has more than 250 vertical towers providing space for about 4,500 plants that started as non-GMO heirloom seeds and are grown under high-efficiency red and blue LED lights.
“We run the lights 18 hours a day, which lets us grow about 40 percent faster than traditional farms, says Shannon. “We can go from seed to harvest in about six to seven weeks,” Shannon said.
With such an expedited growing cycle, Brick Street is able to supply mass amounts to restaurants and chefs in the area, as well as stock the refrigerators of locals.
Heads of Bibb, butterhead and romaine lettuce grow along with a variety of kale, basils and Rainbow Swiss Chard. Brick Street also dabbles in pea shoots, marigolds and various other plants to provide the widest range for their clients.
“We are growing leafy greens and herb varieties that you can’t find at the grocery store or even most of the local farmers markets,” says Bradley, 37. “Our lettuce heads look more like oversized flowers full of vibrant colors.”
There is an advantage to harvesting within hours of delivery or pickup, but what might be most compelling for Brick Street Farms is its ability to respond to an increasingly on-demand world. Consumer desire for ingredients that are out of season have driven the massive food transportation system that exists in the United States today; often, buying local means giving up on consistent, reliable supply. It’s the classic wanting what you can’t have -- unless you have a climate-controlled farm down the street. Lucky for us, we do.
Brick Street Farms has an online menu showcasing its selection of produce and herbs, and consumers can pick up products at the farm, 2001 2nd Ave. S in St. Petersburg, from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays. -727-310-5775; brickstreetfarms.com.