“It was going to be the largest commercial greenhouse within a city that was ever built,” said Mark Chambers, director of sustainability and energy management for the District’s Department of General Services. The BrightFarms project was his “baby,” and a darling of former mayor Vincent Gray’s administration, too.
Ensconced in the project were all the aspirations of an urban farming movement that aims to bring the food supplies of cities closer to their population centers.
But, after trying for nearly two years to overcome the types of obstacles that plague too many of these ventures — pollution concerns and a prohibitively high cost of business among them — the company opted last year to build its greenhouse in Elkwood, Va., 60 miles from the city.
Lightfoot, 45, said the decision didn’t come easily. “Nobody tried harder” to keep the project in the District, he says. But it wasn’t the first time that one of the New York-based company’s projects originally slated for an urban center had settled for a location outside the city instead. Now, doing so has become a mantra, rather than a mistake, for the firm that Fast Company named among the “Top 10 Most Innovative Companies” in the world.