HOUSTON – Rural farming in America has changed drastically in the last 50 years. Since the early 1900s the number of farms has dropped more than 60 percent, while the average farm size has grown by nearly 70 percent. But, located in Acres Homes in north Houston is Verdegreens, a small sustainable farm with big hopes for changing the future. Business partners Dave Philo and Kyle Wiebe shared what makes their farm different and in many ways better than traditional farms.
“We’ve really proven what we can accomplish on one acre of land. We have a mix of hydroponics and no-till soil, and this kind of farm can easily be replicated all over the place,” said Wiebe. “It’s well worth the investment.”
Verdegreens was founded by three restaurant industry veterans, a winemaker, a chef and restaurateur, who each bring their own unique skills and experiences to the farm.
“At one point, I had a lot to do with the wine buying at a restaurant...that led to an 11 year career in winemaking,” said Philo. “That sort of translates very nicely to this work because in some ways there’s a lot of parallels making sure that the stage is set for these beautiful lettuces to grow.”
For Philo, Wiebe and the third partner Billy Trainor, Verdegreens was a way for them to take a step back from the final dish and get a better understanding of the ingredients that go into it.
“We were looking for a way to get closer to the food and understand where it’s being produced and how it’s being produced,” said Wiebe. “Eventually, we’d [like to] go and start another venture and open a restaurant and be able to serve this local food to Houstonians.”
For now, the trio is focusing on the farm and perfecting the way they grow a myriad of produce ranging from lettuces to herbs to microgreens.
“Hydroponic farming uses about 90% less water than conventional farming. The water system itself is recirculating, so we don’t have any wastewater or runoff water. It allows us to grow plants much faster and much healthier,” said Wiebe.
After building up business with the Houston restaurant scene and hitting the farmer’s market circuit, Philo, Trainor and Wiebe were dealt a blow during the pandemic. Luckily, they came up with an out-of-the-box idea.
“At the time, about half of our revenue was split between farmer’s markets and restaurants. So, an idea that we just sort of kicked around was offering some sort of produce box,” said Philo.
The idea bloomed into a booming venture, which was no surprise with the green thumbs at Verdegreens. Consumers can browse the Verdegreens website and choose from offerings like a single head of living lettuce to various sizes of farm boxes that include a variety of fresh local produce.
“We definitely have the person at the end of the process in mind when we harvest and sell things,” said Philo.
The Verdegreens team believes that traditional farming will soon become a way of the past with the development of more sustainable farming methods like hydroponic and vertical farming.
“This kind of farming and farms like this, which are postage stamp size, I hope expand,” said Philo. “I do believe in the future we’ll see a lot more farming like this, not just here but everywhere.”
Wiebe, who has 15+ years experience as a chef, shared how to bring the farm to table with an easy, delicious and healthy vinaigrette recipe made all the better with fresh local ingredients.
HONEY GRAPEFRUIT VINAIGRETTE
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup seasoned rice vinegar
- ¼ cup grapefruit juice
- ¼ cup honey
- Zest of 1 grapefruit
- 1 shallot (peeled and finely minced)
- Salt and pepper
- Add minced shallot and grapefruit zest to the seasoned rice vinegar
- Pickle for 30 minutes
- Add the remaining ingredients and blend to combine
- Season with salt and pepper to taste
To connect with Verdegreens click here.