6 Questions with Zach Bain of Lowell Lettuce
One of the best parts of being part of the Freight Farms team is talking to our freight farmers and hearing about their successes, their businesses, their customers, and their challenges. They are a wealth of information, so we wanted to share some of their stories with you!
Zach Bain of Lowell Lettuce launched his urban farm in the summer of 2016 in Lowell, Massachusetts, and is growing mini-head lettuce, kale, wasabi arugula, and salad mix year-round. Zach is an urban farmer, entrepreneur, and marketing consultant all rolled into one. We recently spoke with him about his experience as a freight farmer, his thoughts on the food system, and his advice to people thinking about becoming freight farmers.
Freight Farms (FF): What’s the most pressing issue in food and agriculture that you’d like to see solved?
Zach Bain (ZB): As communities, we need to build the infrastructure that will support local producers and help them compete with big, conventional farms. No one got into small farming because the money was good, and it can be tough to invest in infrastructure and equipment like refrigerated trucks or to hire a person to run the logistics of a complex distribution system or any of the other systems that allow Big Ag to grow and sell huge volumes of cheap produce. In order to compete, we need to develop more support structures, locally and regionally to keep small farms competitive and financially sustainable.
I see the continued development of food hubs and cooperatives as a significant step. But to really succeed, we have to get folks from all parts of our local communities to buy in and join the local food revolution.
FF: What’s the best part of being a freight farmer?
ZB: An LGM gives a new hydroponic farmer the chance to launch their business VERY quickly. The learning curve is much shorter than if you had to start from scratch, because the FF team (and previous customers) have tested and tested the system. This lets you focus on building your market.
It’s also great because you don’t have to stress (too much) about your land situation, since, as a semi-portable, self-contained farm, if your land-lease situation changes, you can move it down the road.
FF: What’s the story behind Lowell Lettuce?
ZB: I’ve always loved growing things, and I’ve always wanted to run a farm. It was a dream, though, and one I’d put off for the future. After finishing graduate school, though, with some time to contemplate “my future” I realized if I kept putting it off I’d live to regret it. After getting to know Freight Farms, I realized a container farm would be a solid step toward my farm business dream.
I was further thrilled to launch the farm in Lowell, a city that my great Grandfather launched his first business in back in the 1920s, and add hydroponic production to the city’s already exciting urban farm scene.
FF: What’s the best piece of advice you can give to people interested in becoming freight farmers?
ZB: Network, network, network. The agriculture and small farm community is amazing, and there is so much wisdom and experience being shared openly. I always smile when non-farm people ask me about my competition because I don’t think small farmers and growers look at each other like that. The market for food is as big as the population (everyone eats, right?), so there is no need to fight. We’re all trying to make a decent living feeding our communities.
Don’t be afraid of your fellow farmers, even if you don’t think you have anything to learn from in-ground, organic producers, you’re wrong. You’ll make some great friends, learn a ton, and you never know who will connect you to your next great customer.
FF: What reaction do you typically get from people when you tell them what you do for a living?
ZB: Smiles; mostly smiles. Only two percent of the US identifies as farmers, so it’s very likely most people don’t know any farmers, hydroponic or organic or otherwise. We’re practically unicorns, and most folks are pleasantly surprised when you tell them. Once I explain that my primary farm is a shipping container, their smiles transform as their jaws drop.
FF: What are your plans for the future?
ZB: This spring I’m launching Lowell Lettuce’s sister farm: a one-quarter acre market garden in the town over from Lowell. I’m working with New Entry Sustainable Farm Project and their incubator farm program, and I’m very excited to break ground once the snow melts.
Lowell Lettuce is also continuing to add new markets and explore new opportunities, and I’m very excited for what 2017 has in store for both of my farms.