source: Organic Grower
Robbie McClam has an odd idea of retirement. After a successful career in architecture and development, McClam found his attention drawn back to the agricultural interests that led to him to consider changing his field of study at Clemson University.
Inspired by the story of Will Allen, a South Carolina native whose work in urban farming and sustainable food production in Milwaukee led to a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant,” McClam decided to try something similar in his home state.
That led to the 2009 founding of City Roots Organic Farm in Columbia, S.C. The operation he runs with his son Eric has steadily become a state and regional go-to for microgreens for restaurant and retail customers and is poised for breakout growth with the construction of a new 73,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art greenhouse.
“I thought about changing my degree from architecture, back when I was at Clemson, to horticulture,” the elder McClam said. “I used to hang out in the greenhouses on weekends and all that stuff, but I never quite pulled the trigger. Just waited a couple of decades and then got there.”
Robbie McClam is quick to credit Eric — who also has an architecture degree, from Tulane University, and was recruited by his father to help start the farm — with City Roots’ growth.
“If it weren’t for Eric, we’d be just down here pulling weeds in one little greenhouse,” Robbie said. “He’s really made it grow. It’s been exciting and a very pleasant surprise. Looking at where we are now and what we see in the potential future, I’m really excited.”
That future includes increased distribution through in-the-works agreements with New York-headquartered Baldor Specialty Foods and the Atlanta division of Sprouts Farmers Market grocers. Currently a supplier to Whole Foods and US Foods along with local restaurants and chefs, City Roots has no shortage of customers — just limited space.
“Between the retailers that we’ve got some commitments from and the food service groups that we’ve got commitments from, we may fill out the whole greenhouse in year one,” Eric McClam said. “We thought it might take two to three years. It’s a good issue to have, and now it’s a matter of getting the greenhouse built and getting it filled with microgreens.”
The new facility, manufactured by Canadian greenhouse company Cravo, purchased online by the McClams and shipped in pieces from its previous owner in New Jersey, is the key to ramping up production. The greenhouse, which is around one-third complete on 90 acres a few miles from City Roots’ current location, will feature six 360-foot bays, each with 24 controlled growing zones, that will more than double the farm’s current 13-greenhouse, 30,000-square-foot footprint.