Lykes Bros., one of the oldest and largest agribusinesses in Florida, is putting a big bet on the future of farming as it invests in Brick Street Farms, an urban farm and market in St. Petersburg.
Lykes is making a “significant” investment in Brick Street Farms, the two companies announced at a news conference Thursday. The amount of investment was not disclosed, but a news release described it as “multi-million dollar” investment. Lykes will take a 20 percent ownership stake in Brick Street Farms because of the deal, Mallory Dimmitt, vice president of strategic partnerships at Lykes, told the St. Pete Catalyst.
Brick Street Farms will use the investment to accelerate the expansion of Brick Street Farms hubs, an all-inclusive onsite farming and retail shopping experience in urban cores, said Shannon O’Malley, founder and CEO. The company has self-contained, environmentally sustainable THRIVE containers that will be placed in each hub. Each hub will grow between 16 to 20 acres of farmland on one-third acre lots.
The first new hub will open in St. Petersburg’s Warehouse Arts District in late 2021, with an expansion to Tampa in early 2022 followed by more hubs on the east coast, O’Malley said.
“We are the future of farming, and our new investors have the perfect expertise to help us take our successful business model in sustainable farming to feed more people healthy food,” O’Malley said.
The two companies first connected in November at the Florida-Israel Agriculture Innovation Summit, hosted by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said Nikki Fried, Florida Department of Agriculture Commissioner.
The collaboration meets several goals, including feeding people in urban locations, fighting urban food deserts and food insecurity, bringing farm-to-fork produce closer to people and bringing cutting edge agriculture technology to everyone.
Brick Street Farms is a hub of innovation and creativity and is the only female-founded and led company in the vertical farming industry, said St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman. He also highlighted the work of the company’s non-profit Desert Farms Foundation.
“Not only is Brick Street Farms working to make us healthier by providing us some of the best and freshest food around, but through its 501c3, Brick Street Farms is working to end food deserts through the Tampa Bay area,” Kriseman said.
Every urban environment struggles with food deserts, said Tampa Mayor Jane Castor.
“The problems that occur from those food deserts are often times for many communities insurmountable. This is a solution to so many problems,” Castor said.
She also praised the company’s business model. It is financially successful by providing produce to a number of restaurants, Castor said.
While an urban focus might seem like an unusual fit for company like Lykes, which owns hundreds of thousands of rural acres throughout the state, “We know from our experience that innovation is what moves the agriculture industry forward,” said Dimmitt, who will join the Brick Street Farms board of directors.
“In addition to innovations in sustainable production and the technology it uses, the job opportunities and related job training and skills are key to Florida’s future and to our health and wellness,” Dimmitt said. “What could be better medicine than high quality nutrient dense greens grown close to the consumer where they have direct access, all while creating community.”
Brick Street Farms, at 2233 3rd Ave. S., was founded in 2016 by O’Malley and her husband, Brad Doyle. Read more about O’Malley in St. Pete Catalyst‘s Hustle profile.