Where does an edible algae grow in Brooklyn? "Sort of in a cross breed between a brewery and a vertical farm," says Jonas Guenther, CEO and co-founder of a very specialized food startup at the Brooklyn Army Terminal (BAT).
That startup is We Are the New Farmers and their product is spirulina, a "micro-algae similar to seaweed, but smaller," says Guenther, that's "packed with nutrients, vitamins, minerals and is an excellent source of antioxidants." Also "it's great in smoothies," he says, and "it has as much protein as chicken."
In April 2019, Guenther and his two co-founders brought their spirulina-growing startup to BAT's food manufacturing community. Since then, they’ve been growing at the modern industrial campus on the Brooklyn waterfront.
The Right Space
Making their home at BAT was an easy decision for Guenther and his co-founders when they were looking for a space to build out their prototypes in late 2018.
"We visited BAT and knew it was what we were looking for. We were looking for a place that would be easy to start with," Guenther recalls. "A place where we could develop our technology, set up our first farm... a place that was almost ready to go and that offered flexibility and scalability. BAT was all of that."
We Are the New Farmers has about 1,250 square feet in BAT's Food Manufacturing Hub, a collection of food manufacturers taking advantage of the 55-acre campus's variety of spaces, amenities, community, and supportive management.
"BAT offers a lot of space," says Guenther, "but we were also very interested in the food community; having other food manufacturers around to ask for help, ask for advice, to potentially collaborate with... those were the main things we were looking for."
That community is fostered by BAT's management, New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), which operates the campus on behalf of the City of New York. NYCEDC's management of BAT reflects its mission: to grow and retain businesses and jobs in New York City.
Growing Something Special in NYC
In spirulina, We Are the New Farmers is producing something unique in the agriculture world, not only for its health benefits, but for its sustainability.
"It's incredibly carbon-efficient to grow this kind of the protein," says Guenther. "The agriculture industry is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. Our technology allows us to produce the same amount of protein as a plant-based source like soy, using seven times less CO2. That's a cornerstone of our entire business."
And beyond the warm-water tanks in their space at BAT, just being a part of the NYC food community is proving invaluable for Guenther's unique startup.
"The entire ecosystem of food manufacturers is very open, very helpful," says Guenther. "We've learned about regulations, food safety, the licenses you need. And in terms of marketing, partnerships, and collaborating... we can walk into restaurants here where chefs are very open to new ingredients and give us honest feedback."
Guenther has gotten a lot out of starting and growing in NYC and isn't shy about offering advice to other food manufacturers looking to do the same: "Be open. Reach out to people. Don't hold back with your problems, but also try to help other teams. Understand yourself as part of a network, as part of a community."
In response to COVID-19, We Are the New Farmers will donate 20 percent of its revenue in the coming weeks to support NYC-based nonprofit ReThink Food NYC, which upcycles excess food to distribute meals to those in need. Learn more here.