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How to Reduce the Eco-Footprint of Your Lunch: A Conversation with Cityblooms Founder Nick Halmos

How to Reduce the Eco-Footprint of Your Lunch: A Conversation with Cityblooms Founder Nick Halmos

By Molly Ressler

Here in Santa Cruz, it takes little effort to find a wide variety of locally grown produce all year round. For many communities across the US, however, eating locally isn’t an option. Nick Halmos, CEO and founder of Cityblooms is combining technology and innovative urban farming techniques to change this and bring locally grown food to the masses.

“At our core,” says Halmos, “we’re passionate about feeding a growing population and developing the technology that allows people who live in less geographically endowed locations to eat as well as we do in Santa Cruz.”

With nearly 100,000 acres in farmland, ranging from brussel sprout fields to apple orchards, Santa Cruz is no doubt an ideal place in terms of access to fresh food. We’re also ideally situated for attracting talent in tech with Silicon Valley just beyond the fertile horizon of strawberry fields. Halmos actually moved Cityblooms to Santa Cruz in 2011 for its unique location at the nexus of technology and agriculture.

“When we’ve needed agricultural expertise that we don’t have in-house, there are plenty of seasoned professionals in our community that have that expertise—we never have to go any further than Salinas. All of our tech has been designed and built having gone no further than San Jose.”

Halmos believes that Santa Cruz is poised to become a global leader in the agriculture technology movement. Cityblooms is undoubtedly a leader in this movement, offering data management services for commercial farmers in addition to building modular, computer-automated farming systems that can thrive in parking lots, warehouses, and other unconventional spaces. These micro-farms also use 90 percent less water than a conventional farming system and are free of harmful pesticides.

“I see food productions as a fundamental human need,” says Halmos. “We are in the midst of the beginning stages of what is, without drastic human intervention, an expanding global food crisis.”

This is a sobering thought. Our global population is going to exceed 9 billion by 2050 and the current amount of food we’re producing isn’t even close to feeding that many hungry mouths.

Fortunately, passionate entrepreneurs like Halmos are working on creative solutions to our food production dilemma. And he’s making headway. The Cityblooms modular farming system at Plantronics produces nearly 400 pounds per month of fresh vegetables with a footprint of only 600 square feet, supplying 500 employees with tasty, nutrient-dense greens every day at lunch.  

For those looking to have an impact on both local and global food systems, we asked Halmos for some practical advice. He shared with us three simple tips to reduce the eco-footprint of your lunch and the best vegetables to plant when you only have a few square feet to spare. (Hint: they’re small but pack a big nutrient punch.)

Eat Oranges in December and Peaches in July   

Halmos broke it down into three simple steps: Eat fresh, eat local, eat in season. “One of the reasons I like Santa Cruz is that people get this. We eat local and we eat things when they’re in season.” Halmos admits that we all cheat from time to time but we should try and remain conscious of the carbon footprint of our food choices. When you eat locally, you automatically discourage the importation of out-of-season produce that is often shipped from thousands of miles away.

Halmos acknowledges that many communities outside of Santa Cruz don’t have the luxury to turn down imported fruits and veggies but, of course, this is what Cityblooms is striving to solve through their modular farming systems.

Beyond reducing the eco-footprint of your lunch, Halmos encourages individuals to make small everyday choices that have a positive impact on the environment.

“I'm a big fan of picking off the lower fruit first,” says Halmos. “We can often make an immediate impact by picking up trash when we see it on the ground and choosing to use reusable water bottles. The biggest impact I’ve had is the sum total of the small low hanging fruit decisions I’ve made on a daily basis.”

Microgreens for Your Microfarm

Even though the abundance of agricultural land and farmers markets here in Santa Cruz makes it easy to buy your produce locally, Halmos encourages anyone with an interest to utilize whatever space they have at home (or at the office) to grow their own food.

“From a culinary perspective there’s no substitute for freshness,” explains Halmos. “And you only need a space as small as four square feet.”

And what should you grow on your microfarm? Microgreens, obviously. “They’re easy and quick and pound for pound they pack up to 15-20 times the nutritional benefit compared to more mature crops in the same category.”

Halmos especially recommends Brassica microgreens (kales, cabbage, and broccoli) because “the Brassica family is the king of the hill” in terms of nutrient density. “The glitch is that microgreens aren’t shelf stable,” says Halmos. “They don’t last long after they’ve been harvested so you have to grow them yourself.”

Cityblooms has several exciting projects on the horizon across the country and Halmos is hopeful that their modular farming model will spread throughout the inner cities and other food deserts in the US where people lack access to fresh, healthy food. By leveraging the power of technology to help monitor and manage their microfarms, Cityblooms aims to make food production feasible for a wide variety of companies, including those much smaller than Plantronics.

“Farming will always be hard work,” says Halmos, “but we can use the technology to create a farm that can be replicated across a number of geographic regions and that allows a smaller team to take part. The buy-in would be within the reach of a small business loan."

Learn more about Cityblooms on their website

Santa Cruz tech companies: Join Santa Cruz Works at santacruzworks.org/membership

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Molly (Lautamo) Ressler is a writer and content strategist based in Santa Cruz. Find more of her work at mollyressler.com.