A lot of local businesses will say their products are made “right in your own backyard!” as a euphemism for the relative proximity. When they say that at Urban Harvest, the urban farming startup founded by a Northeastern student, they literally want to grow food crops right in your backyard.
Vi Le, a Northeastern student studying business analytics, co-founded the business with James Allen, a University of Massachusetts graduate. They just started in May, and for now are renting a single yard in Everett that had sat empty before it became home to their small farm.
There, they’re growing a handful of leafy greens and some radishes. Vi and Allen harvest, wash, and sell their produce to three independently-owned grocers in Everett and the surrounding towns of Somerville and Medford. Their goal is to expand the business in the years to come to other backyards. They’re spreading the news by word of mouth, and have a place on their website where people with underused yards can volunteer the space for farming. In the meantime, they’re working on applying for funding to expand the business.
Shortening the time it takes to get the produce from the ground to your plate means the greens have a more intense flavor, Le said, and last longer in the refrigerator because they haven’t been traveling across the country in refrigerated trucks already.
“Growing up in Vietnam, I was used to going to markets where the veggies were harvested every day,” Le said. “When I came to the United States, it was really strange seeing all the produce boxed up. We wanted to create something that got us closer to the plants themselves.”
Le met Allen while they were both working at Apple part-time, and a friendship as well as a business partnership quickly took root. Urban Harvest grew out of that partnership, and Le plans to take the business model to Northeastern’s business accelerator, IDEA, for further development.
The garden in Everett is lush with lettuce, kale, arugula, mustard greens, and radishes. It’s studded with old CDs hanging from stakes that move and shine in the sunlight.
“Keeps the rabbits away,” Allen said, of the high-tech decorations. “They’re scared off by the reflections.”
Le and Allen chose crops that have a relatively quick life cycle, so they can grow and sell as much produce as possible during the season. They harvest greens every week, triple-washing, then packaging them for sale in the local grocers.
Inspired by their green thumbs, the homeowner has also started growing tomatoes, peppers, and bitter melon in planters that surround Urban Harvest’s plot.
Le and Allen have their sights set on becoming the go-to organic salad mix providers for large grocery chains like Whole Foods. But they’ll need more backyards, first.
“There are just so many people who have yards that they’re not even really using,” Le said. “This is a way to have delicious food, and make the most of the little green spaces in Boston.”