6 Questions with Andrew Abendshein of Acre in a Box
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 now we are sharing some of their stories with you!
Andrew Abendshein launched Acre In a Box in 2016 along with the help of his colleagues Ana Buckman, Drew Nunnally, and Julia Shur. With professional skills in information technology, marketing, and education with the four's combined passion for sustainability and local food, the team was inspired to launch their urban hydroponic farming business in downtown Houston, Texas, where they supply several farm-to-table restaurants with their hyperlocal produce. We recently had the opportunity to speak with Andrew about what it takes to start up an urban farming business and find loyal customers.
FF: How did you find customers to buy your produce?
In the beginning, before we purchased our LGM, we approached our existing connections to see if this type of produce would be something they would be interested in. Working with them on the type of crop and pricing we were able to have a footing in the restaurant business. As our first customer was in the middle of a remodel and behind schedule, we had to change our sales strategy. We then began cold calling a few restaurants and participating at the local farmers market. We had a few chefs come out for tours of the farm and from there were able to close the sales.
FF: What’s the most pressing issue in food and agriculture that you’d like to see solved?
Accessibility of fresh produce by all people, especially in poor neighborhoods. Lowering the cost of healthy fresh produce is a big one too. This will take time, and we still see the indoor model as the future for people in urban environments to grow their own produce. Texas this is one of the toughest places to try that model because we have access to cheap produce from Mexico and California. But people are getting more and more excited about learning where their food comes from.
FF: What is one small change everyone can make in their daily lives to make a big difference in our food system?
Less waste - learn how to shop for produce and understand how much you really need at home, how to cook without waste. At farmers markets, we talk with lots of people who just don't understand lettuce. It's crazy, but a lot of people just don't eat greens. We have pictures of the dishes we make with produce to show our customers.
FF: What’s the story behind your Freight Farms project?
We are a group of friends who were looking for a rewarding, creative, and to be at the forefront of a project that is new to the market. We all have full-time jobs and have been able to run our business on the side. It has taken a lot of hard work and put us all in a fish out of water experience. However, we have found a passion that we didn’t know was there. Plus it's incredibly rewarding to see the amazing results and of course our happy customers. We feel that running our own business is playing a key part in transforming the farming model.
FF: What’s the best piece of advice you can give to people interested in becoming Freight Farmers?
In the beginning triple the amount of time you think you will need and have some customers lined up. Being critical thinker helps, being handy is very important. We sometimes have to come up with little fixes to make sure things keep running smoothly. Having an output for your products is also important and can be a lot harder to line up than one might think. We are fortunate to have a farmer’s market close by where we can go when we have a surplus. Our farm is located in a very competitive market, and for our customers, price seems to be one of the major factors.
FF: Who do you sell to and how do you do it?
We currently only sell to restaurants. We work closely with our Chefs and have arranged standing orders throughout the week. We harvest three days a week and delivery early mornings. Chefs like that we are somewhat on call throughout the week, so they can always get the freshest produce and make up for a busy week. However, we have found that the restaurants don’t purchase as much as we would like. They use our premium product as something to add to their other produce. This is still an area we are working on and trying to find that right partnership.