Last month, I shared how the world-famous roof-to-table Bell Book & Candle eatery sports New York City’s most successful and longest-running hydroponic farm. Chef John Mooney and partner Mick O’Sullivan feed an 80-seat restaurant with their vertical aeroponic Tower Garden® farm, which is now in its fourth year of producing chemical-free, highly flavorful fruits, vegetables, and herbs.
The extraordinary success of the Bell Book & Candle restaurant and Tower Garden® farm in Manhattan has created international interest, and has restaurant owners and chefs asking, “How can we do this here?”
Chef John and Mick have had many opportunities to expand their success, and they recently chose our nation’s capitol as their next roof-to-table endeavor.
While many restaurants greenwash with a few pots of herbs or a small garden bed, they don’t achieve the skyrocketing success of John and Mick because—very simply—the food just isn’t getting from garden to table. What the restaurant industry is beginning to learn is that customers can no longer be fooled by good marketing and a “show” garden. They now know and understand what locally grown food is, and they want it on their plates every day.
Mick says it best: “I seat repeat customers every night because they know and can taste they are getting the best from us. If they weren’t, there are hundreds of other choices just down the street in Manhattan. Our repeat customers are loyal because they enjoy the experience each time and, more importantly, we have a real farm on our building that actually produces healthy herbs and vegetables!” A Future Growing® farm produces massive amounts of vertical food with extraordinary flavor and does not slow down. The farms get repeated results throughout spring, summer, fall, and even into winter, year after year!
I had a chance to sit down with Mick and Chef John in Manhattan, and here is what they had to say about their new project in Washington, DC:
Chef John and Mick, why did you choose Washington, DC?
What better place to launch our second roof-to-table farm than our nation’s capitol! We were looking for partners that truly understood Chef John’s passion for responsible sourcing of local food and believed in this vision that has created genuine success for Bell Book & Candle.
Mick, tell me a little more about this new project.
We are going to save much of the details for our opening this fall, but I can tell you that this new eatery will be an even bigger success that what we have accomplished in Manhattan.
Our new roof-to-table farm will be 50% larger and, because of the higher parapet walls, we can grow our Tower Gardens® much higher than in Manhattan!
Chef John, what is the most important learning experience you take from the Bell Book & Candle farm to your new rooftop?
The vertical farm itself is an amazing machine, but each year we learn how to fine-tune the crop cycles with the seasons. For example, we discovered the heirloom varieties that grow best in our region. After four years, we have really learned how to maximize every inch of our rooftop and have watched our food purchases dramatically decline compared to other restaurants in the area.
Like Manhattan, Washington, DC is a city that leaves a huge carbon footprint on our planet: food travels thousands of miles to get to the typical restaurant table. At this new farm, we count only 100 footsteps, from roof to table. More importantly, we are growing on what was once dead rooftop space with 90% less water and NO chemicals.
Mick, tell me more about what you and Chef John learned about eliminating the use of chemicals and how that works.
We learned in Manhattan that bugs, both good and bad, do make it up to the rooftops of a busy city. During our first year in business, Future Growing® created a program that incorporates an army of good bugs into our farm. Every three weeks during the heavy pest season—mid-May through August—we release special microscopic beneficial insects specifically designed to combat the harmful bugs in our region. The best thing about this army is that they work 24 hours a day and require no pay or benefits from our company! During the warmer months, these guys are doing their job keeping the farm totally free of food-eating bugs. As a result, the produce stays clean and, more importantly, free of harmfully chemical sprays. This is good for our customers and good for our local environment.
Chef John, I know you are not dishing out the entire scoop on your new place right now, but can you tell me a little of your concept and vision?
Our menu will revolve around meeting customers’ needs with local, organic and sustainable food, and overall responsible procurement. The menu will be seasonal and heavily influenced on production from the aeroponic rooftop Tower Garden® farm. The food will be original, and we will have the best-tasting and freshest plates in the city.
Mick, do you feel this is the future?
It is not only good business for us, but it is the future and is a necessity if we are going to live healthy lives and sustain this planet for the generations to come. We are excited to be pioneering this movement, and we are seeing an explosion of similar farms across the city and country!
It was great talking with you both and we look forward to the excitement of your grand opening!
You can learn more about Chef John and Mick by clicking here.
Founder and CEO, Future Growing® LLC