Paul Lightfoot set out to provide “healthier, fresher, tastier food” when he established BrightFarms in 2011. Today, BrightFarms continues to revolutionize the food industry with its dual mission to improve the health of Americans and reduce the environmental impact of growing food.
His inspiration for BrightFarms was personal, the CEO recalls.
“I had become increasingly concerned about what I myself was eating. At the same time, I realized there was growing consumer demand for local, healthy produce and saw opportunities to exploit that demand.”
But opportunities to meet consumer demand for healthy, local produce have often been stunted by agriculture policy. “Ag policy is heavily weighted to the benefit of those who grow commodity crops like corn, soy, and wheat,” Lightfoot says. “Ag policy doesn’t take into account commodity agriculture’s harm to our environment, especially damage caused by agricultural runoff, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions.”
As he built BrightFarms’ three greenhouse farms, Lightfoot also cultivated his employees. “Most people who join BrightFarms didn’t come to us just to find a job but because they strongly believe in our mission and our values,” Lightfoot says. “We work hard to create a culture of transparency; for example, we release our financial data to all of our employees. And we pay all our employees a living wage.”
BrightFarms’ emphasis on caring for its employees has become an important part of its brand. “Supermarkets have reacted very positively to our social mission,” Lightfoot says.
Lightfoot also points out that, even though his company is a triple-bottom-line business with practices that care for people and the planet, BrightFarms’ farms are still turning a profit.
“With our vertically integrated supply chain, we have fewer costs from seed to shelf, so we can have higher on-site costs and still have better operating profits,” Lightfoot explains. “With such a structural advantage, it is possible to care for the environment, care about your employees, and be profitable.”
In the future, Lightfoot plans to expand well beyond BrightFarms’ current greenhouse farms, and become a nationwide distributor of local, delicious, healthy and sustainable produce.
“Millennial families want food that is authentic and healthy,” he says, “and they want it to have less impact on the environment and deliver more benefit to the local economy.”
An individual producer can’t do it all, however. To address longstanding agricultural policies that work against responsible producers, Lightfoot wants mission-driven agriculture companies to work together and push back against the entrenched food system.
“We need to respond to market demand from growing demographics and change the food system to reflect these new trends,” Lightfoot asserts. As part of ASBC, BrightFarms and others with a healthy mission will help change policies to reflect the growing power of sustainable businesses.