CINCINNATI, OH (January 08, 2015) – Waterfields, a social mission-driven startup that currently sells premium microgreens to dozens of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky restaurants and caterers, has launched a research and development greenhouse space in collaboration with Diamond Oaks.
Diamond Oaks is one of the career campuses of the Great Oaks school district, located on Cincinnati’s West Side. The Diamond Oaks campus offers a variety of career track programs, including culinary arts. Jim Hansel, a special education teacher who used to teach horticulture at Diamond Oaks, helped forge the deal with Waterfields co-founder Sam Dunlap and Diamond Oaks administration. Waterfields will operate one of Diamond Oak’s grow areas in their on-site climate-controlled greenhouse.
Waterfields began operating in November of 2013 with a mission of revitalizing some of Cincinnati’s most hard hit neighborhoods such as Lower Price Hill, where they launched in a now USDA GAP-certified warehouse space. Waterfields aims to capture underutilized and underappreciated resources in Cincinnati’s urban core, then able to provide livable wage jobs and wealth creation opportunities to local residents.
According to Dunlap, Waterfields will use the greenhouse space to operate a 540 spot hydroponic system for testing new specialty leafy greens. “We have about 40 types of lettuce that we are going to experiment with”, said Dunlap. “We are going to be growing things with unique leaf shapes, specifically looking for both aesthetics and flavors. For example, amaranth is an atypical leafy green that we’ll be playing with.”
Waterfields also sees the potential for relationships where a chef would work with the Waterfields team to come up with some custom and unique products for their restaurants. “I’ve heard of it more in the meat world, where they may be feeding their pigs specific things to get certain flavors out of their meat,” explains Dunlap. “I think we have the potential for that kind of relationship, hosting chefs out at our growing sites.”
Waterfields will not be selling any of the products grown from within Diamond Oaks. Instead, the leafy greens will be used for sampling with chefs, Diamond Oaks’s culinary program and as Dunlap and Hansel hope, the cafeteria. Diamond Oaks will also use the Waterfields space directly with their class programs.
In their first full year of operation, Waterfields has built connections with many local chefs, some of which they would now consider friends. “Todd Kelly at Orchids, Jackson Rouse at The Rookwood, Mike Florea at Maribelle’s, Jose Salazar at Salazar’s, Jason Rose and Arik Messerschmidt at Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse”, said Dunlap. “We didn’t start out that way but it is how the relationship has evolved over time”.
“We rely on our customers for culinary expertise; many of them we really consider to be partners,” Dunlap continues. “It helps us get out in front of other growers.” By figuring out what crops the chefs desire and gaining some commitments to buy, Dunlap believes Waterfields will be able to hit the ground running when Waterfields leaps into a larger commercial greenhouse space.
Waterfields is a social mission-driven startup that hydroponically grows premium microgreens and specialty produce year-round, selling locally to leading restaurants and caterers. With a growing line-up of products, Waterfields delivers powerful and unique flavors, textures and colors to plates all across the Greater Cincinnati area. Waterfields leverages local capacity to realize healthier and more prosperous neighborhoods through employment of local residents at livable wages to generate rooted wealth in struggling urban areas.
Diamond Oaks is one of the four campuses of Great Oaks, one of the largest career and technical education districts in the United States. Great Oaks has provided career development, workforce development and economic development services to individuals, business, industry, labor, communities and other organizations in southwest Ohio since 1970.