US (OH): Growing in the heart of Columbus, supplying multiple restaurants

James Hu once dreamed of becoming a chef. Andrew Herczak had always planned to attend medical school. Today, the pair are co-founders and operators of Columbus Artisan. Growers, a vertical farm specializing in the cultivation of exotic microgreens. So what caused their change in course? The story involves The Ohio State Buckeyes, a little bit of weaponry, and a whole lot of research.

“The idea started after I did a project at OSU about food scarcity,” said Hu. “We were tasked with figuring out ways to produce and deliver crops more efficiently.” A lifelong foodie, Hu felt especially connected to the work and continued studying alternative farming forms even after the class had ended. This led him to hydroponics, an agricultural technique that involves growing plants with a water-and-mineral solution instead of soil. It takes place in a controlled warehouse environment where crops are stacked vertically and don’t require pesticides.

And as a fast-growing city—both in population and food prowess—Hu thought Columbus would make a perfect destination for a vertically-stacked, hydroponic farm. But due to the “huge capital requirements” of standing up a full-scale farm, he envisioned a hyper-local operation instead; one that only served restaurants right here in the Central Ohio area. In 2018, he approached Herczak, then a fellow OSU varsity fencing team member, about the idea. “He was immediately interested,” said Hu. 

And serve the community they have—quite literally. Columbus Artisan Growers now supplies ten popular local eateries, including The Refectory, Lumin Sky Bar, and Hoof Hearted Brewery. Hu and Herczak personally hand-pick and deliver their harvests every week. “When traditional farmers talk about fresh, they usually mean two or three days on a trailer. We talk about fresh in a matter of hours,” said Hu.

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