Before he founded his own vertical farm right in his own apartment building, Adam Green’s journey through college was, as he calls it, “a winding road.” He started out at Drexel University in his native Philadelphia before he transferred to Syracuse University in Upstate New York, where he changed his major “three or four times.” Green then transferred again — this time to Temple University, back home in Philadelphia — and graduated with a degree in vocational development.
“When I was at Drexel, I was a film major,” he says. “Then I guess it went from being a screenwriter and not falling in love with the film industry so much, so I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to write fiction novels, so I became an English major. Then that didn't work out.” At Syracuse, he got the "science bug" – and switched to geology – before majoring in phycology when he transferred to Temple.
It was at Temple that horticulture got onto Green’s radar. Along with his girlfriend, who majored in horticulture, Green started shopping at farmers markets in Philadelphia and volunteering at Backyard Eats, an urban garden company in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood, in 2017. Today, Green has launched his own business — AGreen Farms — a hydroponic indoor farm in Philadelphia growing microgreens, herbs, edible flowers and more.
“I think that college is kind of now become, for a lot of Millennials, a place where you find what you don't want to do — and that's kind of what it was for me for sure,” Green says. “By finding out what I didn't want to do, I found out what I was most passionate about, and that was food.”
After he transferred to Temple, Green wanted to switch to horticulture as a major. But due to his previous majors, he was unable to take the requisite sciences classes. When Green graduated last May he sought out any growing experience he could. He says he applied to pretty much “any indoor farm that was a moderate success in the country.” Only one got back to him: Farm.One, a New York City specialty crop producer whose primary customers are restaurants in the Big Apple.
“When I went there I had a really great sales manager in Wilson [Gibbons] and he showed me the ropes of what it's like to walk into a restaurant unannounced with a bunch of rare and exciting products, and I was just totally bitten by the sales bug,” he says. “It was funny that I wanted to be a paid farmhand at Farm.One and they didn't have a position open, so I took what I could."
Green returned to Philadelphia in August and started applying for jobs at different farms in the area, but without a horticulture degree or science background, no opportunities presented themselves. But after a conversation with his dad Bill, a career entrepreneur, AGreen Farms was born. Initial funding came from Bill.
“We had been talking about me starting my own farm for a few years, but we wanted to get, obviously, as much experience before I took such a daring venture on, for sure,” he says. “Things just fell into place; the timing was just kind of right.”
Mapping out a business plan
Philadelphia — like New York — has a burgeoning restaurant scene where chefs crave locally-grown produce for their restaurants, Green says. It helped that his father had helped finance restaurateur Michael Schulson. Schulson had just opened Giuseppe & Sons, an Italian restaurant, and needed microgreens. And like that, AGreen Farms had its first customer.
“With my time at Farm.One, the specialty herbs started to excite me, and the edible flowers started to excite me, so it's really the unique flavors and the strong flavors that really interested me the most. They became items that I was pretty good at selling because they're so hard to access for chefs while also being local and of really high quality,” he says.
Green estimates that if he were able to add other notable area chefs and restaurants to this client list — a process that’s already begun — the farm would be set up for long-term success. As the business begins, professional chefs and some hospitality establishments are the clientele Green is after.
To get the farm itself built, and Brandon Merrill was hired as farm manager. Merrill previously worked for Oasis Biotech, a Chinese-owned corporate growing company, and urban farming company Gotham Greens.
“We're totally giving him a ton of creative freedom, and that's why we got him on board to build this farm and not wait until the farm was built and then him say, ‘You know what? I wouldn't have done it this way,’” Green says.
The 5,000-square-foot growing space — outfitted with “bare bones” technology to keep costs down — is in Green’s apartment building. The company that owns his building, Post Brothers, was willing to lease him the space (and allow the farm to be built) in part because of an existing business relationship with Schulson. Green adds that, as opposed to other potential farm sites that wanted him to sign a five-year lease, Post Brothers allowed him to sign a more flexible lease. The plan is to prove the concept, take on investment and move into a bigger growing space to continue growing the company.
“It's going be a grind for sure, and it's not going to be easy," Green says, noting that he'll have to focus on getting the right people in place, building a great team and working hard. “We're going to be developing relationships with chefs that we haven't met and have connections with, by walking into their restaurants three days a week and knowing what products they're already purchasing from distributors from across the country, and just bringing it to them more locally, more fresh and with better quality."