From emerald green lettuce to cascading tomatoes, there's a cornucopia of vegetables growing at Uriah's Urban Farms in Tampa. But it's how they're grown -- and how local chefs are using them -- that has foodies buzzing.
David Smiles, aka "Farmer Dave," has invented a system to provide not just fresh, but living produce to restaurants all over the Bay Area. It's an off-the-wall idea that ultimately went on the wall of a windowless warehouse.
Smiles calls it iVertical farming, and he has two patents pending. He's growing more than 40 different plants, from herbs to eggplants.
"We're up to over a dozen different herbs, close to a dozen lettuces, close to a dozen greens," he explained. "We're testing our first tomatoes, four types of peppers, squash."
Everything he grows starts out as a tiny seedling before being moved to the wall at precisely the right moment of the 30- to 45-day growing cycle.
"We try to time everything just right so when the plants are going in they just take off," he continued.
His customers are a growing list of popular Bay Area restaurants, including Copper Fish on South Howard Avenue, where a snip off their wall is the beginning of a culinary creation.
We watched as Soho Restaurants' culinary director cut what he needed to make a salad with herbs.
"The chefs come out here. They clip it. They take it back, clean it and then it's on the table," Tom Moloney said. "The guests' expectations when they see it and the servers talk about it, it kind of excites them to actually see something come off the wall."
Uriah's Urban Farms restocks every restaurant wall twice a week. Smiles says they get live, fresh produce without the work of a garden or a shipment from thousands of miles away.
"They don't have to water it. They don't have to provide any light for it," he said. "We deliver it at its peak freshness, at its optimal yield. All they have to do is harvest it and prepare it for their customers."
Smiles says this is just the start. He intends to grow his business beyond restaurants. He also has a goal of becoming the first farmer with net-zero water usage to grow his produce, recycling water the plants give off.
"I really hope to make a global impact, to provide people in these developing countries access to their own fresh, nutritionally dense produce, which can change lives in a big way."