How Artisan Growers wants to modernize centuries-old farming practices
While technological advancements and modern conveniences have helped make agriculture more connected and improved efficiency, the process is still very similar to what’s been happening for years. Produce is grown at a large farm somewhere, distributed across the country and sold in large batches. But what if restaurants and other businesses could get specialty ingredients originating from anywhere in the world in their own backyard the same day they’re harvested? That’s what Columbus startup Artisan Growers is offering the city’s already exciting food scene.
“We’re an indoor hydroponic vertical farm right here in Columbus growing fresh, exotic ingredients from all around the world for restaurants in Ohio,” said co-founder Andrew Herczak. “We’re getting much better yield than traditional farms, we have more consistent seasons and we’re also able to grow a whole variety of plants that aren’t available in many regions. We have many more capabilities than an area farm.”
Hydroponic farming isn’t just about modernizing and interesting ingredients. The process fixes many of the issues with traditional farming. For instance, co-founder James Hu estimates that 20 or 30 percent of typically farmed produce goes to waste, in addition to not lasting as long or being as fresh. The hydroponic method also helps to save water. From their warehouse home in Columbus’s Milo-Grogan neighborhood, Artisan Growers can improve all of those areas while offering unique products like microgreens, edible flowers, specialty herbs and almost anything else a client could ask for. And with Columbus’s growing roster of exciting eateries, the possibilities are endless.
“Our method solves a lot of major logistical issues in traditional farming,” said Hu. “In traditional agriculture, you need hundreds or even thousands of acres of land and you’re shipping things from California or Nevada on a truck. It gets there in two or three days and you call that ‘fresh.’ Then distributors have to make the choice of where they take it. At Artisan Growers, we can grow almost anything in the world in any climate or temperature while using less water to directly supply our community.”
For Artisan Growers, the first order of business is bouncing back from the pandemic as restaurants return to something like normalcy. But as their method catches on in Columbus and beyond, they believe they’re at the beginning of a food revolution. From specialized ingredients to farms in any location, growing produce could look much different in a decade.
“There is a lot of impact we’re trying to make on a lot of levels,” said Herczak. “We’re bringing fresh, local produce to the community and we’re able to provide restaurants the exact ingredients they need. I’m originally from Poland, so in my own case I’d love to bring some of my own native ingredients here to Ohio. Looking way down the line, space travel is kind of the Super Bowl of hydroponics, being able to grow on a space station or on Mars. Farming is an old field, but hydroponics is new enough that someone fresh out of college like us can still make an impact.”
Artisan Growers’ co-founders met while fencing at OSU and broke up much of the startup’s work between Hu’s business expertise and Herczak’s interest in agriculture. While they admitted it was “tricky” to start right out of college, which was exacerbated by the pandemic, the pair have found their footing by surrounding themselves with the right mentors and professionals. And in an industry on the upswing, Hu said Columbus is the perfect place to introduce their blend of efficiency and niche ingredients.
“Columbus is an ideal place for us, not just because we went to OSU,” he said. “We’re one of the fastest growing cities in the country and we have a booming restaurant industry that is local rather than all large chains. Columbus is on that precipice of Michelin Stars or James Beard Awards. We were listed in the New York Times as a food destination and there are cool restaurants everywhere. We want to be a catalyst to boost Columbus into that next level.”