Magic City Innovation District: A Hub for Green Tech & Sustainability
At Metro 1, we are community-shapers. Place-makers. Opportunity-creators. Commercial real estate is not a term extensive enough to encompass the heart of what we do. We’re beyond simply selling and leasing; every decision we make is about elevating South Florida in all aspects — culturally, creatively, financially, and most importantly, doing so sustainably. As the first company to create a green building resource center in South Florida, sustainability has always been at our core, which is why we see Earth Month as more than just a celebration, but a constant benchmark. Throughout the years, we’ve put our money where our mouth is, working with multiple businesses rooted in sustainability and green technology, such as The Cobblers, Prosper Tech, and Tropic Microfarms. We sat down with Lisa Merkle from Box Greens, a company we recently secured a space for at Magic City Innovation District — Little Haiti, to learn more about the impact their business has on our planet and community.
- In your own words, explain what Box Greens does?
Box Greens is an indoor vertical hydroponic farm based in Magic City Innovation District — Little Haiti. We grow a variety of leafy greens with and are currently researching other categories of produce with the hopes of eventually providing beets, carrots, radishes, mushrooms, and strawberries. We’re considered a controlled-environment agriculture facility, which means we grow our produce economically, environmentally, and sustainably. Our customers get clean, ready-to-eat products delivered that don’t need to be washed and are free of pesticides, chemicals, etc. What we’re developing is something really flexible and modular with incredible potential to impact the whole industry.
- It is important to note Box Greens is not only family-owned, but also woman-owned! How did you get started with the business?
Cheryl is my sister and business partner. We grew up in Miami, but I left and lived in New York for about 20 years before coming back to start the business together. I originally worked in the fashion industry but after experiencing burn-out, decided to become a yoga teacher and certified health coach, where I grew a deep understanding and appreciation of the mind, body, and spirit. Cheryl worked in food distribution and after watching a video about shipping containers being turned into indoor farms, we started doing research and learned the unique benefits of sustainable farming. From that point, there was no looking back!
We teamed up with a brilliant engineer that had experience building these grow systems all over the world and he helped us design our first indoor farm in Little Haiti. Shortly after, we brought Zak the Baker onboard as our first client. We had great success and received incredible feedback, eventually needing to expand our space. In October 2020 we teamed up with Metro 1 and they helped us find our current space at MCID. I never imagined I’d be able to live and work in Little Haiti, so it’s really special that Metro 1 was able to secure this spot. It’s an incredibly diverse neighborhood, where the culture is palpable, and there are people from all over the world creating and living together. We chose Metro 1 because we felt their mission and vision aligned with what we were doing and we feel it has definitely worked out.
- What inspired you to develop a business rooted in sustainability & green technologies?
Learning that there’s a way to grow a lot of healthy food while maintaining positive interactions with the environment was our biggest inspiration. Coupled with Cheryl’s expertise in food distribution it just made sense to take this opportunity that’s so robust, and create something we feel good about every day. We know we are not perpetuating harmful practices and filling landfills.
We are waking up every morning knowing that Box Greens is creating something that’s valuable — something that’s healthy for the planet and the community — and putting it out into the world. What’s better than really healthy and delicious food?
- How is your business contributing to sustainable & renewable practices that will help restore and maintain our planet?
90% of all lettuce is grown in either California or Arizona, meaning that it has to be transported across the United States. This is problematic because it has a negative impact on the environment — as transporting agriculture significantly contributes to greenhouse gases — and because the product deteriorates in nutrition and quality while it’s being transported. All in all, hydroponic farming uses less room, less water, does not disrupt wildlife, yields produce much more efficiently, and does not require the need for any chemicals. Offering greens that are locally grown in a way that’s kinder to the environment and are better for our health is kind of revolutionary.
The World Wildlife Foundation recently published a study in favor of indoor farming. If we expand the use of indoor farms, fields that have been mono-farmed for years, making them void of healthy soil, have an opportunity to be re-wilded and lower the carbon footprint humans are leaving on our planet.
- How is your business contributing to the neighborhood/urban landscapes that you are a part of?
Simply put, Box Greens supplies our community with fresh, clean produce that’s locally and sustainably grown. Consumers have the ability to purchase the product directly through our website and at farmers markets. At certain markets customers can even use food stamps and other assistance programs to purchase produce, helping to eliminate food deserts in local communities. Through the Urban Oasis Project, we have made it possible for our customers to purchase a container of fresh greens for a neighbor in need. Lastly, we don’t have any food waste. Any surplus is sold at local farmers markets and surplus beyond that is donated to Food Rescue, a local organization that takes excess food and delivers it to underserved communities.
- What sets you apart from other businesses of your kind?
We’re all about growing vibrant food in community, with community, and for community. It’s important to us that we remain sincere about growing food in the communities where it’s distributed, employing the individuals from within the community, expanding the movement of indoor tech farmers, and making our food accessible. For example, we are lucky to work with and provide greens for some of the best restaurants in Miami, like Boia De, Zak the Baker, and Mamey at the Thesis Hotel, but we are also distributing products to individuals in neighborhoods that are food-insecure, making produce available to multiple groups across our landscape.
- How does the product you grow in a small urban space compare to traditionally grown agricultural goods?
Water is a scarcity, and it’s not something that’s usually talked about. Hydroponic farming uses 95% less water than traditional farming. With perfect temperatures 365 days a year and the replacement of soil with a nutrient-rich water solution, produce grows very quickly without chemicals or fertilizers, and many external factors, like weather, are not a detriment. In a 4,000-square-foot space, we’re able to produce 2,000 pounds of lettuce per week, which would take 20–50 acres if it was being grown using traditional farming practices. Essentially, we’re able to grow a lot more food with a much smaller footprint.
Box Greens is revolutionizing not only the farming industry, but also the Miami community — and we could not be happier to have helped them find the perfect property to do just that. If you’re looking to start fresh or expand, the space you choose plays a crucial role in your business’ reach and success. Whether you need to stay close to home, seek an abundance of square footage, or are venturing into a new market (and everything in between), we’ve done it before, and we’ll help you do it too. Visit our website at www.Metro1.com to get in contact with someone who can help get you started.