BINGHAMTON, N.Y. - A startup that began inside Union-Endicott's Tiger Ventures is ready to move to new locations while it expands its production 100-fold.
AgZeit is a year-round organic indoor farm that got its start 2 years ago inside the former Linnaeus W West School in West Corners.
AgZeit says its growing method is superior to traditional farming because it doesn't use herbicides or pesticides and it's better than indoor hydroponic farming because its plants are grown in soil, eliminating the need to add minerals and other additives to the hydroponic water.
General Manager and Chief Information Officer Jim Dutcher says all AgZeit uses is seed, soil, water and light.
G.M. Jim Dutcher says, "We grow the equivalent of 5 seasonal acres. Because we grow indoors, we grow very rapidly from seed to first harvest in 30 days and we get subsequent harvests thereafter. We produce the equivalent of somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 pounds of food per year."
AgZeit has been using students from Tiger Ventures, UE's alternative innovation school, as interns to assist with harvesting and conducting soil testing.
The kids also do market research, help with sales and conduct experiments.
The operation grows a combination of leafy greens, such as spring mix and kale, along with herbs like basil, oregano, rosemary and chives.
Sophomore Seth Corbin says he appreciates the opportunity. "I enjoy agriculture a lot more than I thought I would. AgZeit has given me more of a hands-on experience that I needed because I'm not very good when it comes to school stuff."
AgZeit already sells its product to a number of local restaurants and independent grocers and is having trouble keeping up with demand.
Whole in the Wall restaurant on Binghamton's Southside has been purchasing the spring mix to use for all of its salad greens.
Whole in the Wall founder Eliot Fiks says his restaurant has been sourcing locally since it opened in 1980. He says the AgZeit spring mix is a superior product. "There's no comparison, it's so much fresher. It lasts for longer. There's not labor time spent going through things that are not up to par because it's all up to par."
Fiks says the Whole in the Wall recently ran a test batch using AgZeit basil to make its pesto sauce which is packaged and sold in stores in the Eastern United States.
He says the color was more vibrant and tasted every bit as good as the basil they typically get hydroponically or from Hawaii.
The plan is for AgZeit to take over as the restaurant's sole provider of basil.
The business has received $2 million from the state's Greater Binghamton Fund to add to $10 million in private investment to establish indoor growing operations in the hearts of Endicott and Johnson City.
Dutcher says AgZeit plans to move in 2 months and have its first crop in 3.
Once fully ramped up, the goal is to employ 100 people growing over 2 million pounds of food each year.
Dutcher says AgZeit still plans to maintain a presence at Tiger Ventures.