Off the Cuff

How One Man’s Midlife Crisis Spawned a New Industry

Off the Cuff

Wanted: Large, flat rooftop in sunny location. CEO seeks 100,000 square feet of roof space for vegetable farm.

It may sound unlikely, but if you have the real estate, Paul Lightfoot, CEO of BrightFarms, will grow cucumbers on your roof. And tomatoes and spinach and parsley and kale and peppers, even. Brightfarms finances, builds and manages large-scale hydroponic greenhouses on or near supermarkets and other retailers. The retailers agree to a long-term contract to purchase the produce at fixed prices from the company, which harvests the crops and delivers the produce.

The benefits to the consumer, according to Lightfoot, are fresher, healthier produce, grown without chemical pesticides, and with a reduced carbon footprint. How so? That limp lettuce you just bought may have have traveled more than 1,000 miles by truck to reach your local grocery, BrightFarms claims. Now imagine if that same lettuce was growing right above your head. You might actually want to eat it instead of staring at it wanly as it rots in the fridge.

In addition, BrightFarms claims that its customized greenhouses use a fraction of the land and water that would be used in conventional farming. By way of example, compared to BrightFarms tomatoes, those cultivated on a mass scale require seven times more land and ten times more water. Modern Agriculture contributes an estimated 20 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases.

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“This is really the first time that I felt like my job has a soul to it, it has so much purpose and meaning, that this is what I want to do forever,” Lightfoot told “Off The Cuff.” A former lawyer, Lightfoot decided to take time off from his firm when his father died in 1998. He didn’t return. Instead, he ran a software company for 10 years, but the commute and lack of “soul” led to a midlife crisis, he says, and BrightFarms was born.

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“One really important piece of advice that I’d give to any entrepreneur is that you’re likely to work pretty hard, so make sure you choose something you enjoy doing. Otherwise it would seem like drudgery, which is no way to go through life,” Lightfoot said. “Destinations are critical to give you a path and to give you motivation, but you have to have a good journey to be a happy person.”

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