When Shannon and Jimmy Sbarra talk about “The Farm” it’s not a patch of land up in Tumalo beholden to seasons or traditional agricultural methods. You can find the Volcano Veggies farm downtown on Second Street.
Bendites have been enjoying leafy greens from their indoor aquaponics system since last year, when they also won the concept stage prize at the Bend Venture Conference and we featured the company as one of our first #50startups. Their module is a unique closed system where an army of tilapia produce fertilizer for the plants. Growing inside, they don’t need to worry about pests, use any kind of pesticides, or fret about snow.
The winnings from the BVC and a group of new investors helped fund the development of the second module prototype, which successfully increased productivity and energy efficiency, and still kept costs low compared to competitors.
“We have hit the optimal growth rate to make this a profitable business, and we are currently focused on bringing new products to market and making this scale,” says co-founder Jimmy Sbarra. Volcano Veggies also became the third aquaponics farm in the world to be certified organic and this designation opens new markets and potential for growth.
This summer, they’re expanding their product offerings to include kale, basil, mint, and cilantro. While their subscription service and sales at local markets are increasing, they’re now also offering a CSA (community supported agriculture) share where people can get regular deliveries and support the company’s growth with an annual membership. In the future, they plan to vary the greens by including spinach, arugula and other varieties of lettuce and add options for strawberries, cucumbers, and tomatoes.
Their current success wasn’t without some challenges, including some literally bad seeds. But the duo feels they are well on our way to raising $250,000 through equity, convertible notes, traditional financing, and CSA memberships. They’re also are considering a kickstarter campaign, a community public offering (CPO), or maybe both. A CPO would allow non-accredited investors to participate. “This time around, we aren’t begging for charity from potential investors. It’s truly an opportunity to be involved in an exciting startup that has real potential to earn profits and make the world a better place,” says Shannon Sbarra.