Meet Arlington’s Only Commercial Farm
Fresh Impact Farms grows big flavors in a tiny back-alley space.
If you’ve recently dined at Caribbean Grill or Gharer Khabar on Lee Highway, you were probably unaware that you were just a few doors down from the only commercial farm in Arlington—and a super high-tech one at that. Tucked into a 1,000-square-foot back-alley space in the same strip mall, Fresh Impact Farms is a hydroponic farming operation that grows boutique crops of herbs and edible flowers for some of D.C.’s finest white-tablecloth restaurants.
Its founder, Ryan Pierce, isn’t a farmer. Rather, he’s a cloud computing and data analytics expert who had an idea for a new and different kind of urban agriculture—specifically, plants that could be grown sustainably, without pesticides, in a controlled environment, with flavor as the top priority. After developing a prototype system in 2017, he invited noted chef Robert Wiedmaier (Marcel’s, Mussel Bar & Grille) to taste his first yield. When Wiedmaier said the herbs needed more intense flavor, Pierce accommodated. The farm’s computerized, climate-controlled system allows factors such as LED light exposure, nutrient formulas and water PH to be tracked and tweaked for each plant to achieve custom flavor profiles that meet chefs’ specifications. Even the leaf sizes can be customized.
“He’s been very methodical and wants to do everything right,” Wiedmaier says of Pierce. “I’m buying everything—bachelor’s button flowers, marigolds, dragon flowers, thyme, tarragon—whatever he brings to me.”
Fresh Impact’s business model is dependent on the high-end restaurant market. Those bachelor’s buttons (an edible type of cornflower), for example, cost 50 cents apiece, so four of them on a plate could raise a dish’s price by many dollars, with markup.
Pierce sold his first crop in January and hired farm manager Darryl Glotfelty, a former Peace Corps volunteer with a degree in agriculture. Together, they now grow 40 to 45 kinds of herbs, flowers and microgreens at a time, many of them rare or from heirloom seeds. That includes 27 types of basil alone, plus esoteric varietals like shiso britton, ice plant, sweet mace (Mexican tarragon), pipicha (a spindly Oaxacan herb), chamomile, chervil, stevia, wasabi, angelica, hyssop and pineapple sage.
At the time of this writing, the farm had six chef clients (including Wiedmaier) and were in talks with several others in the greater Washington area.
The herbal wonderland is not open to the public, but Pierce says Fresh Impact plans to sell its products online in the future.