By Bonnie Azab Powell
They’re the bane of urban and suburban areas alike: the vacant, boarded-up K-Marts and Home Depot Expos, squatting like concrete cowpies amidst a landscape of weedy parking lots. But where most people see blight and a waste of space, San Francisco Bay Area entrepreneur Gene Fredericks sees opportunity: to grow food. Lots of food.
Neither a farmer nor a foodie, Fredericks is a technology veteran who’s designed several large, complex network and software systems, working with Apple, Getty, Google, Kaiser, and others; he previously founded Edison-West and ran it for 15 years. And now he’s trying to raise money to launch his latest venture, Big Green Boxes, which he thinks will bring a new, high-tech, sustainable approach to Feeding the City.
Q. What is Big Green Boxes, exactly?
A. It’s a new business that will transform unused warehouse space into year-round indoor growing centers. We’ll use hydroponics and aquaponics, along with advanced low-energy lighting techniques and vertical growing methods, to produce the very freshest leafy greens for local consumption regardless of climate.
Our goal is to be a sustainable and profitable business that provides tasty, preservative- and pesticide-free fresh food, grown in the community for the community; that creates new jobs; revives some neglected real estate; and offers some pretty interesting educational exposure to green technologies.
Q. How’d you get the idea?
A. Living in the East Bay [across from San Francisco], I saw so many empty vacant warehouses and wondered what could be done with them and for the community at large, especially in light of the recent economic downturn. The idea of growing food came to me. I spent a few months investigating the technology, economic feasibility, and societal desirability of doing indoor growing. I got such an amazingly positive response on all fronts that I decided to put together the team that could pull it off.
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