Shipping Containers being utilized for urban eatery at SteelCraft

Developments built out of shipping containers have been fairly popular over the past decade.  With a glut of shipping containers in certain countries due to global trade (it is not cost effective to ship empty containers back to their point of origin), there have been inventive ways to re-purpose shipping containers.  They are easy to move, stack, and retrofit due to their simple rectangular box nature.  Boxpark in London, England is one of the most well known shipping container developments, establishing itself as the first modern “shipping container retail mall”.

Today, more and more innovative uses are being created out of shipping containers.  One of the newest entries-to-market is SteelCraft, an outdoor food hall in Long Beach, California that opened in February.  SteelCraft may not be a new concept if you perceive it simply as a food hall, but the developers really focused on making it a social community hub for the surrounding Bixby Knolls neighborhood on the north side of Long Beach.  From the SteelCraft website:

Born of a desire to see people come together over food and drinks, SteelCraft unites local eateries with a communal dining space in Long Beach. Whether you come for the food, the drinks, or the people, there’s a place for you at the SteelCraft table.


SteelCraft central courtyard – Image credited to SteelCraftLB

SteelCraft has been built to connect seamlessly with the surrounding community, which has experienced gentrification as many young families have moved into the neighborhood.  The community has not historically had a central meeting place that could be used to socialize (such as a town square), something the developers have looked to capitalize on.  The development has been constructed from 10, forty-foot shipping containers, which totals approximately 3,200 square feet of space (based off of a standard 40×8 container).  The cost of constructing the urban eatery out of shipping containers was much more affordable than a typical bricks-and-mortar development, especially since a foundation and roof is not required.  Communal tables are integrated in a central courtyard where various events occur on a weekly basis.  Past events have included live music, pop-up retail shops, and soccer viewing parties.

I have been to Long Beach several times, and I believe that crafting a food hall out of re-purposed shipping containers is a great homage to the Port of Long Beach, which has been a major employer to the city over the past 100+ years.  I also think that outdoor food halls are going to become more popular, especially in regional areas of the Southern United States where weather is favorable year-round.  There are more opportunities for expansion, holding events, and reconfiguration of layout with an outdoor food hall, something that reflects the history of food clusters in South Asian countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Taiwan.

SteelCraft is also a great example of a suburban food hall.  Last September I profiled four different types of food halls, and SteelCraft fits well within the suburban food hall definition, especially focusing on local vendors and marketing to local residents.  The surrounding area is primarily single family residential with low-rise multi-family residential and low-rise office buildings nearby.


SteelCraft vendor – Image credited to LA Times


Belcampo takes on Farm-to-Fork, literally

In north California, outside the town of Gazelle, near the Oregon border, the story of Belcampo begins.  Belcampo raises cattle, chickens, pigs, turkey, sheep, and goats across 18,000 acres of land in an organic and sustainable manner.  All animals are able to graze freely in the pastures and is animal welfare approved.  20 miles down the road from Gazelle, in Yreka, California, Belcampo operates a 20,000 square foot food processing plant called “Belcampo Butchery”.  Not a typical meat processing plant that has a high level of automation, the butchery uses traditional hand-cutting methods which provides more skilled and higher-paying jobs to the local communities.


Belcampo Farm – Image credited to Modern Farmer

The meat is then delivered to seven Belcampo butcher shops and restaurants throughout California, including an outpost at Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles.  This allows the company to completely manage the entire process of farm-to-table, ensuring that all points of the process meet their high expectations.

Belcampo also runs “Meat Camps” throughout the year at their farm in Gazelle where “guests stay in luxury tents in our orchard, enjoy family style meals under the stars, and participate in open-fire grilling, basic butchery, and knife skill lessons to gain a thorough understanding of meat cookery.”  The cost is $1,400 USD per person (double occupancy, fork over another $600 if you want a tent to yourself), so it isn’t cheap.  But it’s cool and showing where the market is moving.  The June and September camps are already completely booked.

What are the take-aways for a concept such as Belcampo?  A highly-controlled process of farm-to-fork, where a single entity grows, processes, and cooks the food you eat.  Restaurants have already shown in recent years that they prefer to establish strong relationships with local farmers.  I expect to see this more and more, even if not to such a large-scale as Belcampo.


Belcampo Grand Central Market – Image Credited to


Food Hubs Continue to Build Momentum

I have covered food hubs in several blog posts over the past year.  The State of Michigan has been one of the early adopters of food hubs, but as they become more mainstream and prevalent, they are spreading across North America.  The idea of a food hub is to create a central distribution point for the sale of farm-grown produce, including fruits, vegetables, meat, and other items which is produced by local farmers in a region.  The food is then sold to grocery stores, restaurants, schools, hospitals, added-value manufacturing facilities, or distributed further afield to other states or provinces.  Basically, it acts a central location dedicated to selling local product.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a food hub as a:

“centrally located business management structure facilitating the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution and/or marketing of locally regional procured food products”

One of the biggest benefits of a food hub is it takes the distribution concerns off of the producers.  Many farmers have difficulty reaching certain distribution networks and are unable to always sell their crops.  A food hub acts as an sophisticated aggregation point that has the distribution networks in place.  This relieves producers of having to concentrate efforts on distribution, rather focusing more of their efforts on production.

One of the more interesting ones I have been following over the past year is the Food Hub recently established in Worcester, Massachusetts.  A city of approximately 185,000 residents has set-up a regional food hub that has three core areas:

  1. Aggregation, distribution, and marketing services
  2. Workforce development culinary training program
  3. Commercial kitchen incubators

The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts has been tracking the establishment of the Worcester Regional Food Hub, which is a great case study for other municipalities to understand the implementation required for a food hub.  For a stable base of buyers, many of the “first customers” have been institutional uses such as schools and government facilities.  It will be interesting to track and see how Year 1 (2017) goes ahead for the food hub.


Worcester Food Hub Pilot Announcement – Image credited to Worcester County Food Bank

What I can say regarding this specific example is that the Regional Environmental Council and Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce have really put in the effort to do this right.  Rather than setup a food hub right away, two years of planning and trials were conducted to ensure that the concept was correct, the location was optimal, the funding was in place, and the right people were ready to run the operation.

Urban Farming for Property Tax Breaks

It has been interesting to read on the initiative that the State of California has been pushing forward regarding regarding farms in urban areas.  Property owners are being provided incentives to turn their blighted/greyfield sites into urban farms.  In return, the property owners are taxed at the same rate as irrigated farmland ($11,000/acre), much much lower than what they would be if a vacated building was sitting on the property.

The benefits are double sided.  Not only does the property owner get a large tax break; communities are able to turn a blighted property into a green space in the city that has the ability to provide hundreds of pounds of produce to local residents and restaurants.  Once the property owner is ready to redevelop the site, they are then taxed at typical municipal rates.

The requirements for a property owner are:

  • City or County must have a minimum of 250,000 residents
  • Property must be 0.1 to 3 acres in size
  • No dwellings on site
  • The property must be used as a farm for a minimum of 5 years to qualify for the tax break

I could see property owners being hesitant to go forth with this endeavor due to the 5 year minimum.  Real estate property markets are continually changing, and locking a site in a dense urban area could be difficult from an investment point of view.  There are likely many sites though that will not feasibly see development occur in the short term; this is where property owners could be very calculated, saving money on property taxes while looking to benefit the local community.

Read more about it at SFGate

Pizitz Food Hall Opens in Birmingham

Five months ago I discussed the highly anticipated Pizitz Food Hall at The Pizitz development in Birmingham, Alabama.  The mixed-use development is anchored by a progressive food hall that brings forth many new international concepts that are new to consumers in Alabama such as Korean, Jewish, and Ethiopian.

The Pizitz Food Hall has been having a soft opening over the past week, but the most intriguing concept for myself is Reveal Kitchen.  Reveal is a restaurant incubator space created in partnership between the developer Bayer Properties and REV Birmingham.  Tropicaleo was chosen as the first entrant to Reveal Kitchen and will be dishing out authentic Puerto Rican food.  Reveal Kitchen will have a new tenant every four-to-six months which will allow local culinary entrepreneurs who don’t have a high amount of capital to try and test new concepts.  If they are successful during their stay at Reveal, they can try to grab a permanent spot at Pizitz Food Hall, or lease a retail storefront nearby.

It will be interesting to monitor the Reveal Kitchen space over the next few years and see the success of the incubated companies.


Reveal Kitchen at Pizitz Food Hall – Image credited to


Urban Food Hub Developing in North End of Detroit

The idea of an Agri-Hood in the past has always been a suburban context.  Agri-Hoods have popped up around the United States over the past few years, most of them still in the planning or construction phase.  I have viewed Agri-Hoods as America’s new “golf course community”, where houses on large lots meander between green areas, ponds, orchards, vegetable gardens, and greenhouses.  Instead of a Par 3 behind your house, you might have a grove of apple trees.  Agri-Hoods are a fascinating idea, however two major issues have come up so far:

  1.  Agri-Hoods perpetuate urban sprawl that has plagued North American cities for the past 70 years.  The low density nature of Agri-Hoods mean that they are entirely car dependent, and they are not likey to have public transportation as an available mode of connectivity.
  2. In current Agri-Hoods, the amount of agriculture in comparison to residential is minimal.  Some Agri-Hoods feature less than 10% of agriculture in comparison to residential.  “Greenwashing” becomes an issue since developers are capitalizing on a trend to sell real estate.

In Detroit, the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI) is creating what they call America’s first urban Agri-Hood on a 3-acre development site.  MUFI is a non-profit organization that “engage members of the Michigan community in sustainable agriculture”.

The  Agri-Hood in this context is very different, where an agricultural community hub is being built on the North Side of Detroit to generate urban renewal and provide sustainable healthy food to the local community.  A dilapidated three-story building will be re-imagined as a Community Resource Center that will include operational space for the non-profit organization, along with multi-purpose rooms for culinary and agricultural education, and industrial kitchens for business incubators.

MUFI Community Resource Center - Image credited to MUFI

MUFI Community Resource Center – Image credited to MUFI

Across the street from the Community Resource Center is MUFI’s 2-acre urban farm that has already produced over 50,000 pounds of produce for the local community.  This food is distributed to households in a 2-mile radius through a “pay-what-you-can” model, local markets, restaurants, as well as churches and shelters.

While I’m not sure if this should be classified as an urban Agri-Hood just yet, it definitely is a Food Hub, where produce is grown and then distributed in an organized network throughout Detroit.  The development concepts display a small orchard and vineyard on two other properties behind the urban farm, so the tentacles of an urban Agri-Hood are spreading.  This is a great case study that demonstrates how culinary uses can be used to positively generate urban renewal, all while feeding the local population.

Check out the MUFI website to see the site development plan and read more about this exciting project.

MUFI Urban Farm - Image credited to MUFI

MUFI Urban Farm – Image credited to MUFI

Food Security and Food Halls

CityLab published an excellent article last week that discussed the Pizitz Food Hall and how it can assist in overcoming the food desert in downtown Birmingham.  I profiled the Pizitz mixed-use project  a little while back, with its culinary component being a food hall and restaurant incubator.  What I did not realize, are the surrounding issues that downtown Birmingham has faced over the past several decades with feeding its local residents.  The food hall, restaurant incubator, and a brand-new Publix grocery store located a few blocks away will remedy some of the concerns that people have faced with local food security.


Pizitz Food Hall – Image credited to Bayer Properties

My favorite part of the article is whether grocery stores or food halls can actually bring more awareness to eating healthy and local:

But will this crack downtown Birmingham’s food desert problem? There’s certainly excitement in Birmingham over these new arrivals, but researchers are “far from consensus” on how to alleviate food deserts, says Michele ver Ploeg, an economist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. One commonsense approach is to give the green light to initiatives that aim to promote public health by bringing fresh and healthy food into a community at an affordable cost. Supermarkets are often the go-to intervention, since they tend to be fairly affordable and offer a range of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats.

But the influence of supermarkets on healthy eating is less clear. In 2014, a study in Philadelphia found that increased access to grocery stores did not ultimately result in healthier eating habits; meanwhile, a study in Pittsburgh found that a supermarket did promote healthier eating habits, but not because people were actually shopping there. As Laura Bliss reported for CityLab, the entire neighborhood’s eating habits improved regardless of whether residents switched to shopping at the new grocery store.

Food halls play an even fuzzier role in eliminating food deserts, as a relatively new phenomenon that operates somewhere between a restaurant and a market. Ver Ploeg points out that restaurants may help fill gaps in a food desert, but their prices may curb accessibility for those in lower income brackets. Meanwhile, prepared foods are mostly not eligible for SNAP benefits. It’s worth noting, too, that many of Birmingham’s lower-income families now reside in neighborhoods outside of the downtown core, in areas that remain without either a grocer or a food hall.

There are no concrete answers from an academic point of view, but these are trends that are sometimes hard to quantify, especially since healthy eating habits can require a very long transition timeline.  What I do believe is that providing local residents with a wide-array of food choices along with proper education will ultimately be an added benefit to society, ultimately creating healthy and sustainable communities over the long-term.  Residents require choice.  Not just an organic produce market, and not just McDonalds, but everything in between.

I’m a big believer in the idea of a food hub, especially for cities that have to deal with large swaths of food deserts.  The concept that residents are able to learn, eat, and purchase good within the culinary realm, all in one place is highly important.  And much of the time, it won’t be induced by a grocery store moving into a neighborhood or a cool taco shop (as much as I love cool taco shops).  There needs to be a local grassroots component to increasing food access and healthy eating choices. Which is why in the case of Birmingham, it is great to see that REV Birmingham, an economic development agency is so involved in attempting to ensure that the food movement stays local, and for locals that require food accessibility, and entrepreneurial opportunities.

Now, I understand that the idea of a food hub is just in its infancy and it is still very difficult to make sense of it from a financial sense for a private developer.  But the idea of a food hub that contains the components of a food hall, grocery store, education, food distribution, incubator, commercial kitchens, among other items is something that public officials should get excited about from a community building standpoint.  One way to counteract financial risk is to not have all components within one development.  We need to be INNOVATIVE.  What if a city planning department is able to create a new zoning typology where culinary-related land uses and developments are given preference and receive certain incentives?   Are there other policies out there that governments can take advantage of?

Getting back to Pizitz, I do think this is a great step in providing economic stability to an area that has obviously gone through great upheaval.  The addition of the food hall, incubator, and grocery store will add much needed vitality to a once struggling neighborhood that was considered a food desert.  Now lets see how it performs once it opens in December.



TOD building re-purposed for Food Hall in Denver

Most food halls that are in re-purposed buildings end up being single entity developments.  Ponce City Market in Atlanta bucks the trend, as do some other urban projects.  Zeppelin Developments in Denver is re-purposing a former art campus in the RiNo neighborhood (which moved to a new location) into a retail market, food hall, and office building.  Definitely a Culinary Oriented Development.

According to “BusinessDen” , Zeppelin Station will have a 25,000 square foot culinary-based market on the ground floor, with 3 levels of office above that will total 75,000 square feet in total.  The food hall portion will have new local concepts such as tacos, ramen, and a Montreal-style bagel shop.

Zeppelin Station - Image credited to 303Magazine

Zeppelin Station 1st Floor Layout – Image credited to 303Magazine

Steps away from the 38th Street RTD station, Zeppelin Station will have excellent transit access in the growing district of trendy RiNo (River North).  It is considered Denver’s art district, where a large cluster of creative companies have clustered, whether it is art, marketing, branding, software, and tech.   The food hall will definitely appeal to the primarily 20 to 40 age demographic of the RiNo district, especially during lunchtime.

Zeppelin Station is demonstrating that you don’t need a large-scale food hall to garner interest.  I would actually say that many of the most popular food halls are smaller in scale, such as Pine Street Market in Portland.  These food halls are “right-sized” for the local market, and are able to have a strong stable of tenants rather than going “BIG” and ending up with higher-turnover.

The project is expected to open in October 2017.

Zeppelin Station Exterior - Image credited to Dyna Architects

Zeppelin Station Exterior – Image credited to Dyna Architects

Michigan Continues to be a leader in Food Hubs

During this past summer, I profiled how food hubs in Michigan continue to get national attention for their growth and entrepreneurship. See Urban Farming and Food Hubs in Michigan.

I was reading recently how Michigan State University (MSU) Center for Regional Food Systems has continued to research food hubs and their viability in local and regional markets.  Food hubs are great in theory, but private business must be convinced that it can be a viable business model that does not rely on large public incentives and grants.  The West Louisville FoodPort was unable to become shovel-ready when a major anchor pulled out of the project, sending the entire ROI out the window.

MSU defines a food hub “as businesses or organizations that actively manage the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of source-identified food products”.  From a survey that MSU conducted, some interesting stats emerged:

  • 95 percent of Michigan’s food hubs are experiencing an increase in demand of their products and services;
  • Food hubs three largest reported customer types were restaurants, small grocery stores, and kindergarten through 12th-grade school food services;
  • 74 % of food hubs reported that the majority of their customers were located within a 100-mile radius.

I find the second point the most interesting, since we typically think of local farmers markets supplying primarily to end-user customers.  These food hubs are much larger in scale, being distribution centers for local farmers, food processors, and other agri-businesses.  It would be interesting to know if the majority of food hubs also have a wholesale option to walk-in customers.

The infrastructure needed for a food hub is simple enough, a distribution centre with offices.  Where it gets interesting is the possibility to grow a food hub into more than just a distribution network, which is what the West Louisville FoodPort attempted to do.  A modular design that would allow other uses to grow off of an established food hub could be financially viable since it would phase over time.  These uses could include a farmers market, education, cafes/restaurants, etc.


Washtenaw Food Hub in Lansing, Michigan – Image credited to treetownmurals

Where do food hubs go from here?  I believe the concept is still in its infancy, but just how food halls have overtaken North America, the idea of food hubs are spreading quickly.  It takes only a few major success stories to provide case studies/best practices for others to follow suit.


“The Grow” Agrihood to move ahead with development

In July I wrote about “The Grow”, a planned Agrihood in Orlando, Florida.  The project faced opposition from community groups due to the size and scale of the development, but I was more worried about how it was positioned.  As I had stated, less than 1% of the entire development was planned for agricultural uses.  Ultimately, The Grow looked more like a typical suburban community than a residential community based around agriculture which is how it was spun.

According to the the Orlando Business Journal, The Grow’s rezoning and regulatory plan was approved by the county in September and the developer can now move into the design stage of the project.  It is expected that shovels could be in the ground by end of 2017.

At this point, the developer has increased the amount of potential agricultural uses on site.  What was a 6-acre farm has now turned into a 9-acre farm and community barn, 20-acre community park, plus the addition of community garden plots spread throughout the development.  There is also talk of various sustainable features incorporated into the development.  I believe this is a positive step towards making The Grow an actual Agrihood, rather than simply a marketing spin.


The Grow Conceptual Sketch – Image credit to: The Business Journals