Last week we left off right after our time at Robbs. To read part two last week or part one click their respective links.
We moved on from Robbs in the spring of 2016. It was a confluence of factors that led to that decision but we felt at the time at least that the timing was right.
In October of 2015, we won reSETs Impact Award Challenge which came with a $20,000 purse. It was always our goal to use that money to help us find a place in Hartford and at the time we thought we would be moving into the same building as reSET. We were in negotiations on a lease, and knew that running a place in Hartford and one in South Glastonbury would be too much to take on.
We also had catastrophe strike that spring when we had a huge wind storm that ripped the greenhouse plastic off of the greenhouse and destroyed it beyond repair. So we had a decision to make, should we dump a bunch of money into a system that we thought we’d only use for a few months at most before Hartford, or cut our losses and use this as the impetus to shut down Robb’s system.
Little did we know that not only would we not end up in the reSET building, we wouldn’t even end up in Hartford and it would be 18 months before we actually signed a lease.
The attempt to move into Hartford was definitely a lesson in planning that we will never forget. The reSET space wanted more than we could justify for the square footage and didn’t have as much space as we truly needed to operate profitably indoors. We continued our search around Hartford and ended up finding a space we really liked on Walnut St. in the North End.
However, the space was not move-in ready and it became clear that the space was not going to be ready anytime soon as the City had its own problems and was not going to be quick about permitting and offering resources to speed along the process.
We spent over a year trying to make Hartford work but after a year with no farm, we realized that we had to take action elsewhere. Not having a farm was hurting us in many ways. Of course, there was the loss of the produce revenue but that we were able to manage. What hurt us more is the fact that we lost our showroom. Our systems and services for schools and non-profits helped us get through that period, but the loss of the farm resulted in making it much more difficult to close deals. We didn’t have a place where we could take prospective clients, show them the commercial scale of aquaponics, show them a thriving system and instill in them the belief that we could handle their needs.
The farm accomplishes that for us. Our clients walk in, they see the small-scale systems up close, they meet the team and then we take them out to see the farm and that’s where the wow factor comes in. We were farmers who weren’t farming and it was hurting us in all areas of the business as a result.
So we began the search for a space in other towns and after a few weeks we landed in Meriden at 290 Pratt St. This space had all the makings we were looking for. It was cheap, namely due to the fact that there was a lot of work to be done to make it farm ready. But the landlord was willing to match our budget for improvements. In addition, the space was energy efficient, the building has a solar installation on the roof and up to 30% of our power draw would be from solar power. The place had already gotten upgrades for energy efficient windows as well so it would help us with keeping the space fish and plant friendly. Plus the building has a bunch more unused space for us to expand when the time is right.
This space would also allow us to house our research systems. In 2016 we won a grant from the USDA Specialty Crop Block program to research various vertical farming methods against standard farming yields for lettuce. The grant had its own timetable that was agnostic to our problems with finding a space. Meriden was going to allow us to meet our timeline but also allow us to wall off the research from the main farm while still be able to showcase it to the public.
We also brought on a new team member during this time. Andrew Ingalls, who helped the team write the grant and then was brought on to head up research and operations as the company’s COO. You can read up on Andrew’s journey to Trifecta here. His alumni magazine just profiled him for the work he’s doing within the aquaponics industry!
We closed the deal on the Meriden space in March of 2017. We thought we’d have our farm up and running within three months. And like all our best-laid plans it would take at least double the time we had anticipated. There was a lot of work to get our blank canvas of a space into a farm and food friendly condition.
We’ll cover the buildout of our Sprout Food Hub in the next installment. We’ll also see what the next five years look like for Trifecta Ecosystems.