Nouveau Farms started with one little girl's strawberry obsession.
Richmonder Trevor Ferguson, a mechanical engineer with years of experience and two degrees, was struggling to find strawberries that were consistent in quality and price to feed his daughters’ insatiable taste for the sweet summer fruit. This sparked his interest in horticulture, and in 2016, he discovered just how much the globalization of the world has changed local farming.
“I learned that most of our produce is being engineered to travel long distances,” Ferguson told Inno. “Most produce travels at least 1,500 miles to get to you; that’s already three-to-five days if you're lucky. Greens and herbs lose 30 to 40 percent of their nutrient value within just three-to-four days.”
So Ferguson set out to find a better way. The result was Nouveau Farms.
The startup operation began in his basement as an experiment into hydroponics and has since grown into a dual-location working farm. The flagship location features an indoor hydroponic system that grows herbs, greens and microgreens, while focusing on sustainability with the use of renewable energy and plant-based compostable materials. Most of the greens are sold directly to customers.
As Nouveau Farms grew from a basement hobby to a commercial operation, Ferguson began dreaming of an outdoor farm of his own. He purchased seven acres in Varina and plans to turn it into an outdoor farm that features hydroponic influences. He envisions the farm eventually including a vineyard to grow wine and an event space that could be used as a wedding venue
Ferguson said the hydroponics system allows for efficient farming that lets the farmer tailor the nutrients and growing conditions specifically to that plant’s need, including temperature, light and humidity. This allows him to adjust the growth and flavor profile for the deal product.
“One of the biggest differentiators between us and other local farmers is our cost,” Ferguson said. “Organic farming is traditionally very expensive. Our focus here is to use technology and operations that drive down the cost to be comparable to that of imported goods.”
For now, Ferguson said he is working toward making the outdoor farm a place where customers can come in and pick their own strawberries or buy other Nouveau Farms crops. He hopes to have that side of the business operational by 2021.
“Our goal is to eventually have a farm where the family could make a whole day out of coming to pick strawberries, buy freshly pruned greens that were cut right there in front of them, mix and mingle with the community, all while enjoying a glass of wine,” he said.
As the original hydroponics-based location continues to grow its base products, Nouveau Farms plans to begin offering a delivery service that will deliver freshly harvested produce to customers’ front door within 24 hours of picking. Ferguson expects this service to begin this fall. Additionally, he is pursuing certification with the USDA that would allow him to sell his hydroponic-grown greens in local grocery stores.
“I think people need to become a little more aware of what goes into the food that's being produced,” Ferguson said. “When they support local farmers, it allows all of us to scale and grow our operations such that we can continue driving the costs down low."
"I really believe that if local farmers were given the opportunity, with support from the local community, we could get to the point where we're giving you a considerably better product at the same price as the imports coming in," he added.
Author: Megan Corsano