Believe it or not, Arlington County has a working commercial farm.
The farm, which is located in a commercial building along Lee Highway, uses hydroponic technology to grow a variety of edible plants indoors. And it’s about to expand.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced this afternoon that Fresh Impact Farms will be getting a $30,000 grant — half from the state, half from the county — that will help it double production and create six jobs.
Fresh Impact, Arlington County’s only commercial farm, is banking on its restaurant customers ramping up purchases as vaccinated customers flock back to indoor dining. It also launched a direct-to-consumer Community Supported Agriculture program last year.
County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti hailed the business and its expansion.
“Governor Northam’s award to Fresh Impact Farms, Arlington’s only commercial farm, is an innovative way to celebrate unique uses of technology to help a small business pivot during the pandemic,” de Ferranti said in a statement. “I am thrilled that Fresh Impact Farms is growing and looking to the future of a sustainable food supply.”
More on the company’s expansion, below, from a press release issued by the governor’s office.
Governor Ralph Northam today announced that Fresh Impact Farms will invest $137,500, create six new jobs, and more than double production at its Arlington County indoor facility. Operating since 2018 as Arlington’s only commercial farm, Fresh Impact Farms uses proprietary hydroponic technology to grow a variety of specialty herbs, leafy greens, and edible flowers for sale to customers in the Greater Washington, D.C. metro area.
Like many companies, Fresh Impact Farms has pivoted its business model amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Seizing the opportunity created by more people cooking at home, the company initiated a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program targeting area residents. The CSA program, which focuses on leafy greens and home kitchen-friendly herbs, has grown steadily since its establishment in April 2020 and now includes smaller wholesale clients. Now, with vaccinations underway and the restaurant industry poised to rebound, Fresh Impact Farms is expanding, which will allow the company to resume supplying their restaurant customers, while also meeting new demand through their CSA program.
“Agriculture continues to be a key driver of our economic recovery in both rural and urban areas of our Commonwealth,” said Governor Northam. “Innovative, dynamic businesses like Fresh Impact Farms are demonstrating how exciting new opportunities can grow out of pandemic-related challenges. I congratulate the company on their success and am thrilled to award the first-ever AFID grant to Arlington County to support this expansion.”
This expansion by Fresh Impact Farms will include a second grow room, larger production facility, and an educational hub where, post-pandemic, customers will be able to see how their food is harvested. Over the next three years, the company expects to grow an additional 10,500 pounds of Virginia-grown leafy greens, herbs, and edible flowers for restaurant and CSA customers.
“Agriculture is Virginia’s largest private sector industry and the Commonwealth continues to be on the forefront of emerging agriculture technologies,” said Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring. “I am inspired by Fresh Impact Farms’ commitment to not only bringing fresh, local produce to Virginians, but also for its commitment to educate our community about how local food is grown.”
“2020 was undoubtedly one of the hardest years in recent memory for many people and businesses, but I’m heartened by the strength and flexibility the entire Fresh Impact Farms team has shown in our deep pivot to consumers and a CSA model to help us get to the point where we are ready to expand our business,” said Fresh Impact Farms Founder Ryan Pierce. “The support and generosity from the Commonwealth and Arlington County will be valuable as we expand our production and move towards a hybrid model of serving both the needs of restaurants and consumers. As the owner of a local food business, nothing gets me more excited than seeing the community come together in support of local food. The future is bright for urban agriculture and this grant will help us make an even greater impact in our community.”
Virtual Learning Day for In-Person Students — “Due to inclement weather, tomorrow, Tue, Feb. 2, Level 1 students receiving in-person learning support will temporarily revert to distance learning, and the return date for Level 2 Career & Technical Education students will be Feb. 3, depending on weather.” [Twitter]
Limited Service for ART Buses — “Tuesday, Feb. 2: Due to ongoing inclement weather, ART will operate *Limited* service on Tuesday, February 2. All routes will operate regular weekday schedules, but delays are possible and some routes will detour. Additional alerts will be sent if conditions should change during the day.” [Arlington Transit]
More Snow Today — “Snow showers of varying intensity could continue at times into Tuesday. Bursts of snow reduce visibility at times and re-coat roads. Temperatures at or below freezing mean untreated surfaces will remain slick. Additional accumulation in the immediate area should range from a coating to a couple inches through Tuesday.” [Capital Weather Gang]
Arlington GOP Pressing for School Openings — “Whether the prime consideration is public policy, pure politics or (most likely) a combination of the two, Arlington Republicans appear to see an opening in forcefully questioning the county school system’s lackadaisical back-to-class efforts. Keeping students out of classrooms for months on end is ‘destroying the lives of our children – it’s just failing them miserably,’ Arlington GOP chairman Andrew Loposser thundered.” [InsideNova]
Food Program Changes Hands — “This month, the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) will transition ownership of its Plot Against Hunger program to the Arlington Friends of Urban Agriculture (FOUA). Since its inception in 2007, over 600,000 pounds of fresh produce has been donated to AFAC through the Plot Against Hunger program.” [Arlington Friends of Urban Agriculture]
More Capitol Rioters Who Stayed in Arlington — “Two more Kentucky residents have been charged federally in the U.S. Capitol riot that killed five people… According to the criminal complaint against Crase and Williams, the two drove to Washington with a third person, a witness not named in the complaint, and arrived at their hotel in Arlington, Virginia, just after midnight Jan. 6.” [Louisville Courier Journal]
Red Hot and Blue Pitmaster Dies — “Ernest McKnight, the pitmaster and executive chef who helped grow Red Hot & Blue from a Rosslyn, Virginia, barbecue joint to an international chain in the 90s, died of lung cancer January 17. He was 74.” [Eater]
New Metro Lost and Found Policy — “Starting March 1, DC Metro says the ONLY lost-and-found items it will help customers reclaim are wallets and electronics. Metro says the rest (see sampling in current list below) will be trashed or auctioned off.” [Twitter, WMATA]
Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. Monday Properties remains firmly committed to the health, safety and well-being of its employees, tenants and community. This week, Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1000 and 1100 Wilson (The Rosslyn Towers).
Thanks to changes brought about by the pandemic, Arlingtonians can now get farm-to-table produce delivered right to their door.
Tucked into an unassuming strip mall on Lee Highway, Fresh Impact — which we profiled in October — is the county’s only commercial urban farm. With no signage or disclosed address, Fresh Impact has been growing specialty ingredients such as edible flowers and microgreens for chefs in the local restaurant industry for over three years.
This past February, according to founder Ryan Pierce, the farm had its most profitable month yet. But a few weeks later as COVID-19 began to spread in the D.C. area, ultimately shutting down all dine-in restaurant service, Pierce said Fresh Impact lost every single customer.
“We were faced with a choice: do we shut it down and try to ride it out, which would have meant laying off our staff, or do we try to pivot to the consumer market?” said Pierce.
Pierce and his team chose the latter. For the first time since its inception, anyone local can order CSA — or “Community Supported Agriculture” — boxes on the Fresh Impact website.
Customers chose a price point between $12-25 a week, and in turn receive a box full of the farm’s Arlington-grown salad greens, herbs, and more delivered to their door. There is also an opt-in for no contact delivery.
“You have to understand — we didn’t used to grow these kinds of produce, and pivoting to the consumer delivery meant overhauling nearly everything in a less than two month period,” Pierce said.
In April, Fresh Impact launched a pilot five-week CSA box in collaboration with members of the Mothers of North Arlington (MONA) group.
“That went really well and we’ve had plenty of MONA members ask to renew, plus added public interest.”
As a result, Fresh Impact will roll out its second round of CSA boxes, beginning July 1. Preorders are available now online, and Pierce says it’s based on a first-come, first-serve basis. Once the boxes sell out, it’ll be eight weeks until customers can sign up again.
“Even though restaurants are beginning to reopen now, this crazy experience has taught us that Arlingtonians are really looking for a local way to source their produce,” Pierce said.
“We see chefs as great impactors of change in the food system, so we’re hoping to marry those two markets together where the chefs can buy local but we can also sell locally, directly to consumers. There’s absolutely a market for this out there, and we will continue this for the foreseeable future.”
Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.
If you’ve dined in D.C. at Jose Andres’ minibar, Johnny Spero’s Reverie, or Robert Wiedmaier’s Marcel’s, chances are you sampled produce grown in Arlington.
Tucked in an unassuming strip mall on Lee Highway, with no signage or disclosed address, Fresh Impact is under the radar of most Arlingtonians, but well-known among local chefs, particularly higher-end chefs.
Founded in 2017, the company has grown over 300 different rare herbs, varieties of greens, and edible flowers based on the needs of the local restaurant industry.
“One of the primary reasons we located in Arlington was to be as close to D.C., and our customer base, as possible,” said founder Ryan Pierce.
“Being able to grow indoors, not only is it sustainable but our produce is free from pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides,” Pierce said.
At any given time, employees at Fresh Impact are maintaining between 30 to 40 varieties of produce depending on the season. Despite this, the farm still has room to grow and add more products.
“We’re hoping to sell out completely by the end of 2020, we want to get to where we simply can’t grow anymore,” Pierce said. “When that happens, then we’ll look at opportunities to expand our operations to other facilities and look to provide more local products to other restaurants.”
The company has grown primarily via word of mouth, through recommendations from chefs to other chefs. Everything is harvested and delivered to the restaurants on the same day to maintain maximum freshness.
When moving into a small living space, growing crops seems like a faraway possibility.
Local company Love & Carrots wants to prove otherwise.
As a part of Arlington’s “Urban Agriculture Month,” on Friday, October 11, Love & Carrots hosted a public tour of their ordinarily private rooftop garden at the Ten at Clarendon apartment complex, where they taught visitors how to successfully grow vegetables in their own homes or apartment buildings.
During the tour, Carly Mercer, director of garden programming for Love & Carrots, debunked common issues with urban farming, including a perception that it’s difficult to do well.
“A lot of it comes down to frequent watering, pest control, and maintaining a deep enough level of soil,” said Mercer.
Many urban gardeners who grow herbs out of their balcony, she said, plant them in shallow pots that, unbeknownst to most, require watering every one to two hours.
But growing plants on a rooftop also comes with its faults, Mercer added.
“We can’t grow crops on a trellis, so things like grapes are out of the question. And with heavier winds, we had to rule out heavier produce — a butternut squash once went flying off of a rooftop.”
Across the D.C. area, Love & Carrots creates garden spaces for schools, non-profits, residences, restaurants, and residential communities. Every other week, Love & Carrots gardener stops by to help maintain the plants. The company is growing as local interest in urban agriculture blooms.
Their space at Ten at Clarendon provides apartment residents with a monthly share of the produce, and every other week, a Love & Carrots farmer lays out fresh harvests in the lobby for all residents to enjoy.
Update on Park Shirlington Plans — Owners of the Park Shirlington apartments are “advancing plans to build 612 new apartments and townhomes on the property and renovate 105 existing homes. That adds up to a total of 717 units on the 16-acre site, located just south of the Village at Shirlington and adjacent to Interstate 395. The developers plan to build 189 new apartments in a first phase of the project, then subsequently build about 267 more apartments and 156 townhomes, according initial plans presented to Arlington County officials.” [Washington Business Journal, UrbanTurf]
First Responders Train Caps for ‘Violent Incidents’ — “We take great pride in providing high quality training programs to citizens so that they can help us save lives. Last week, @ArlingtonVA police and firefighters trained members of the @Capitals administration staff in how to respond to violent incidents.” [Twitter]
ACPD Stepping Up Patrols for ‘Joker’ — “Arlington County police said they are conducting extra checks around movie theaters in the county, but they also said that there are no known threats.” [WUSA 9]
Arlington Urban Ag Month — “October is ‘Urban Agriculture Month’ in Arlington! This year, Arlington County, Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE), Arlington Friends of Urban Agriculture (FOUA), Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC), and Marymount University are combining efforts to offer events throughout October.” [Mailchimp]
Arlington GOP Outreach Effort — “With control of the General Assembly at stake on Nov. 5, the Arlington County Republican Committee is taking a page from the outreach efforts of its counterparts on the Democratic side. The Arlington GOP is asking volunteers to write personal messages on postcards that are being mailed to Republican-leaning voters in key legislative districts across the commonwealth.” [InsideNova]
DESIGNArlington Nominations Open — “Arlington County’s biennial design awards program, DESIGNArlington, is accepting submissions for great design in architectural, historic preservation, landscape and public art projects through Tuesday, Nov. 19.” [Arlington County]
Nearby: New Development Opening Near Fairlington — “A new apartment complex is scheduled to open in the West End later this year, with a Harris Teeter and a Silver Diner location coming down the road. Array at West Alex is a mixed-use development at 3445 Berkeley Street — the very northwest tip of the city at the intersection of N. Beauregard Street and King Street, near the Fairlington neighborhood.” [ALXnow]
An urban agriculture group wants in on one of the most elusive spaces in town: Amazon’s new headquarters in Pentagon City.
The Arlington Friends of Urban Agriculture (FOUA) have formally submitted a request for less than 2% (or 1,000 square feet) of the upcoming HQ2 campus to become a urban farm space.
“We believe Arlington is poised to become a national leader for urban agriculture, and the Metropolitan Park project offers an opportunity to showcase Amazon’s and Arlington’s commitment to sustainable, biophilic (integrating the natural world into the built environment) development,” the FOUA board wrote in a letter to HQ2 stakeholders this month.
FOUA said in exchange for dedicating space for the farm, Amazon and the community will reap the rewards of:
- Aesthetically appealing, biophilic focal point event space for movie nights, public or private receptions, exercise classes, etc.
- STEM plant lab for K-12 research
- Public demonstrations of growing sustainable techniques & methods
- At-scale food production for distribution to local food banks.
- Incubator for urban agriculture-focused startups
- Encourage public interaction with local food systems.
Amazon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
There has been growing interest in urban agriculture in Arlington, advocates say, and Amazon could help spread it to an area where there is little land available for growing fruits and vegetables.
“We really think Amazon’s commitment to creating an environmentally-sound campus provides an opportunity to create a public amenity that would benefit everyone,” said Matt McKinstry, a FOUA board member.
FOUA wrote the proposal in light of the upcoming Site Plan Review Committee meeting for HQ2 on Monday, September 23.
An urban farming movement growing across the country already is “booming” here in Arlington, supporters say.
“There is absolutely a boom,” said Rebecca Carpenter, founder of Arlington startup Sprout which installs backyard gardens and trains people in how to grow their own produce. “I feel like it is everywhere across the country but I feel it more so in Arlington because folks here are pretty health conscious, progressive.”
Crops can be grown in urban environments in several ways, including rooftop gardens, vertical farms, and green walls. In Arlington, officials say community gardens are one of the most popular methods.
There are 379 Arlington residents who grow fruits, vegetables, or flowers in community gardens, and another 628 on waiting lists, according to Urban Agriculture Coordinator Kim Haun of the county’s parks department. That’s after the county added space for 150 more gardeners over the last three years.
“More and more people are realizing the benefits of urban farming,” said Haun. “It creates a sense of belonging, just check out a community garden on a weekend, the gardeners are family.”
Fertile Soil in Arlington
Officials told ARLnow that a combination of demographics and development opportunity make the county fertile soil — so to speak — for community gardens, and green roofs. And beekeeper Brad Garmon said these same resources made the county an ideal home for bee businesses. Either way, everyone who spoke with ARLnow reported increases in the number of people seeking agricultural training and resources.
“I would say it’s definitely been an increased interest. We’ve witnessed our membership levels increase substantially over the past year,” said Matt McKinstry, a board member of the Arlington-based Friends of Urban Agriculture (FOUA.) He said 100 new people joined the organization last year, bringing membership totals to around 500.
“Millennials, the 20 and 30 somethings, are becoming aware of food production and the effects of industrialized agriculture,” said McKinstry. “And they’re curious to understand where their food comes from and how they can both support their local economy and as well as find healthier food options.”
According to program leader Kirsten Conrad, there are 230 people in Arlington certified with the Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Program — up from the usual cohort of about 200 people.
“I think there’s a much better understanding of the value of the native plants and supporting our birds and insects,” said Conrad of the changes in recent years.
Community gardens in Arlington have blossomed over the past decade: from the Glebe Community Garden, which is assessable for gardeners with disabilities, to the Walter Reed Garden, which is tended by senior citizens and teenagers, to the Reevesland Learning Garden, which teaches Ashlawn Elementary students about growing lettuce.
Haun with DPR said there is no data on the number of private homeowners or businesses who have their own plots, but the county is aware of 57 private plots throughout Arlington that people use to farm crops for the Arlington Food Assistance Center, which collected almost 100,000 pounds worth of locally grown fresh produce for its food bank.
Carpenter says people are also growing produce in their backyard — and increasingly, in their front yard too.
“If you do want to grow edibles you do have to get strategic about where you want to plant them,” she said. “And the front lawn is usually the best place to do that.”
This is because front lawns typically have more sun, are flat, and have easy access to a hose. Still some challenges remain: mature trees can make some yards too shady to grow crops, and hungry deer can cause conflicts.
While growing plants in one’s yard is perfectly permissible, a movement earlier this decade to spur the growth of another form of urban agriculture in Arlington came up short: proposals to allow backyard hen raising in more Arlington yards were largely shot down.
The backyard hen issue was taken up by an Urban Agriculture Task Force, led by John Vihstadt before he was elected to the County Board, and which later formed FOUA. Despite the hen proposal stalling, some of the task force’s short-term recommendations, presented to the Board in 2013, have since been implemented, including:
One company looking to take advantage of all the buzz around native plants and insects is Charlottesville-based Commonwealth Bee Co.
“Fowl running at large” is a local ordinance that doesn’t get used much nowadays, but it was enforced following an unusual incident near Columbia Pike over the weekend.
An animal control officer was called to an address on S. Barton Street on Saturday evening for a report of a runaway peacock. After a brief search, the officer found and captured the rogue peacock — and located its owner, who was issued a ticket for the aforementioned “fowl running at large” violation.
The peacock and its owner may have an even bigger problem than the “at large” charge, which is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $100.
The Animal Welfare League of Arlington, which runs the animal control program, said they notified the county zoning department — which enforces the county’s prohibition on keeping fowl in most residential yards — about the incident.
Flickr photo by Sadie Hart
Parade Now Scheduled for March 10 — The Clarendon Mardi Gras Parade has a new make-up date. After being postponed due to snow last month, the parade was originally rescheduled for St. Patrick’s Day, March 17. However, “the Arlington County Special Events Committee determined that ACPD resources would be over-stretched were the parade to be held on that date,” according to a press release. “A poll of the Parade Participants led to the decision to reschedule for March 10.” [Clarendon Alliance]
Urban Chicken Issue May Be Clucked — Those who want to raise chickens in their backyards in Arlington are losing their last ally on the County Board. It was Chris Zimmerman, who left the Board early last year, and Walter Tejada, who’s retiring at the end of this year, who were the primary supporters of urban hen raising in Arlington. As for those seeking the two available County Board seats this year, per County Board member John Vihstadt: “Any attempt to introduce poultry into the 2015 campaign would quickly lay an egg.” [InsideNova]
Christian Dorsey Officially Announces Candidacy — Christian Dorsey has officially announced his candidacy for County Board. In doing so, he also announced endorsements from Del. Patrick Hope, Schools Board member Abby Raphael and Commissioner of Revenue Ingrid Morroy. “We must become an engine of innovation to provide maximum value for the resources our taxpayers provide,” Dorsey said in his announcement. “Many of our taxpayers are facing stagnating wages… We must attract investment so that our growth is sustainable and includes opportunities for all.” [Christian Dorsey]
Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick
Arlington Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street) is now lending gardening tools to Arlington residents, and all they need is a library card.
This morning, the library held a “vine cutting” to open the toolshed on its east plaza, next to its community garden. The shed, built from cedar for free by Case Design, will be open for lending from March through November on Wednesdays, 5:00-7:00 p.m., Fridays 3:00-5:00 p.m. and Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to noon. Borrowers must be residents of Arlington County and at least 18 years old.
“We want people to dig in and get their hands dirty,” Arlington Central Library Manager Margaret Brown said.
Brown was joined by Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette and Board member Libby Garvey at the toolshed’s unveiling. Brown said the library was inspired to develop the toolshed and its neighboring vegetable garden — with produce going to the Arlington Food Assistance Center — through Fisette’s sustainability initiative when he was Board chair in 2010. The plan and location for the shed was developed by the Urban Agriculture Task Force last year.
“I really think the library has done a great job of taking some of the big picture ideas the county has,” Fisette said, “and to find ways creatively… to further goals of the county and the [Urban Agriculture] Task Force.”
Fisette donated a shovel he was given from the groundbreaking of Virginia Hospital Center’s new wing in 2001. The other tools, available for borrowing immediately, are:
- Bow rakes
- Bow saw
- Bulb planters
- Dandelion puller
- Four-tined soil turner
- Flat blade shovel
- Garden hose
- Hand rakes
- Hedge clippers
- Hook and ladder
- Long-handled shovel
- Pick axes
- Post hole digger
- Seed spreader
- Walk smoother