9 Questions with Phil Hatcher of Very Local Greens
One of the best things of being part of the Freight Farms team is talking to our farmers and hearing about their successes, customers, and challenges as they pursue a variety of container farming ventures. They are a wealth of information, so we're sharing some of their stories with you!
We caught up with Phil of Very Local Greens to learn more about his farming business in Nova Scotia, Canada!
Freight Farms: What’s the story behind your container farming project?
Phil Hatcher: The story for me is more or less about change, opportunity and lifestyle. I’ve been a serial entrepreneur and tinkerer my whole life. Before this venture, I worked in the film industry for 18 years, which was a nice match for someone who likes to problem-solve. Within that industry I wore many hats: location scouting major feature films by foot, air and boat, creating fog banks, blood cannons, or windstorms as a special effects technician, driving “A” list celebrities and film executives.
However, the coolest job is the one I have now, which is husband and father to my wonderful wife and two healthy, smart, young boys. It was really my family that brought me to make a change to my lifestyle and seek out a new challenge. When I first saw Freight Farms, I thought, “Hmmm, can this work in Nova Scotia?”. I took a closer look and figured out it could, so here I am! I couldn't be more excited.
FF: Sounds like you've had an exciting career! How did you find out about Freight Farms?
PH: I’m always looking for a new opportunity and a new challenge. I first discovered Freight Farms when I saw a video about the Square Roots project in Brooklyn that highlighted the technology and capabilities of the Freight Farm.
FF: What reaction do you typically get from people when you tell them what you do for a living?
PH: It kind of goes like this… They say, “Hey, so what's new,” and I say, “I bought a farm.” “You bought a what?” “A farm.” “Where?” “In downtown Dartmouth.” “Huh? How? Where?” “Yup, a 40-foot farm to grow lettuce, herbs, and greens.” This is usually where they say, “I’m confused,” so I take out my phone or laptop and show them some photos, and then the reaction is “Holy *^$%, that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen; such a great idea, tell me more!!"
FF: Wow, we’re so glad you’re getting such great responses! Have you started thinking about which individuals, groups, and communities you want to reach?
PH: I would like to see our crops both feed and educate people. We are striving to be true to our name: Very Local. We’re located in the downtown core of the city and want to have our crops showcased by the best chefs in town. Once we can become established, we hope to showcase our growing method and use it to work with schools and groups to show everyone where their food comes from and why buying local is important.
FF: So, what kinds of crops do you plan on growing in your container farm?
PH: I’m excited to truly be chef-, and customer-, driven. Our environment in Nova Scotia is seasonal for traditional farming and delicate leafy greens are the most difficult to maintain at a high quality year-round. We have an amazing farm and food community in Atlantic Canada, we have world class local chefs and restaurants just a short walk from the farm, all of which we hope to have as our clientele.
We selected a number of different lettuce varieties both mini and full head, a super fun, colorful variety of greens and some "go-to" herbs, all based on chef recommendations. I personally would always want some mini-Butterhead lettuce, wasabi arugula, and sorrel in a few towers!
FF: What was the most challenging part of becoming a Freight Farmer and how were you able to overcome it?
PH: Honestly Freight Farms made it very easy to do this. There was a massive amount of support and documentation. The challenges associated with this are that same as when starting any “new” business: pulling the trigger and trusting your gut that your financial projection will be as you hope.
FF: What does local food mean to you?
PH: It means better taste, better quality, and the ability to know what you are eating... all while supporting local businesses.
FF: Are there other urban agriculture initiatives going on in your area? How have they impacted the lives of people in your community?
PH: We have community gardens and a large number of restaurants and markets that support and buy local. We hope to be part of a community that teaches kids the value and importance of local farms and where food comes from.
FF: Last but not least, what’s the best piece of advice you can give to someone interested in becoming a Freight Farmer?
PH: My advice would be to talk to other Freight Farmers. Knowing that there are units worldwide, and a community of farmers all working with the same technology is exciting. Also, stay focused on the main business model you develop. There are so many directions and avenues that a Freight Farm can take you which can be distracting. First make it work, then work on the 100 other ideas you have to knock it out of the park.
Since this article was originally published in April 2018, Phil has already expanded! He added a new farm to his operation December of the same year.
Phil has also achieved his goal of bringing his produce to restaurants all over Dartmouth, NS!