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Babylon Micro-Farms

Modular hydroponic units help chefs grow fresh produce

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Fresh produce doesn’t always travel well. Delicate, perishable items like greens and herbs are especially vulnerable to damage during packaging and shipping, and they lose flavor during the stretch between picking and plating.

Babylon Micro-Farms, a Charlottesville-based startup making inroads in Richmond, wants to ease that burden for food service providers with automated indoor hydroponic systems.

Each clear, cabinetlike unit contains four shelves and sets of pre-seeded trays. Customers, who pay $600 a month for the all-inclusive service, select the produce they want and simply follow directions via the app, which alerts them when to transplant and harvest. Cameras inside each unit allow Babylon staff to identify any problems and adjust the settings accordingly from afar, negating the need for a horticultural expert on-site. Greens, herbs and edible flowers are currently available, and peppers, tomatoes and berries are coming soon.

“Some things may not do that well outside because they’re very susceptible to pests or to weather, but when you control their entire environment you can grow them very successfully,” says its chief operations officer, Marc Oosterhuis. “We’re growing it at the point of sale, at the point of consumption. People are really harvesting just prior to serving.”

Babylon installed a farm at Hatch Kitchen earlier this year, and the company is in discussion with Richmond restaurants, hotels and other food service providers in the area. A smaller unit for homes is also in the works. — Laura Ingles

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