“Tech meets agriculture.”
That’s how Peter Chapman, chief executive officer of the University of the Virgin Islands Research and Technology Park, described the agency’s first Catalyst Fund loan to a member client that he said would not only employ Virgin Islanders but help them grow fresh leafy greens and herbs, among others, right from their kitchen.
The loan recipient is Farmshelf, headquartered in Brooklyn-based, and which Chapman said established Farmshelf Labs, in the Virgin Islands.
Chapman did not disclose the amount of the loan and could not be reached for comment Friday night.
In the released statement, he said the company is set to begin hiring by month’s end, and would have up to eight full-time employees by December 2023.
The statement, released by RTPark’s spokesperson Aminah Saleem, noted that “farmshelf’s bookcase-sized, smart indoor farms empower anyone to grow leafy greens, herbs and flowering crops wherever they live, work or eat.”
The shelves are “small enough to fit into a restaurant or home and powerful enough to provide pounds of fresh produce every week.”
“RTPark’s focus on ag-tech is motivated not only by the need to diversify the regional economy, but also by a strong desire to increase local food production,” Chapman said. “The fact that the USVI imports about 98% of our food products is one obstacle to greater local economic independence and the stabilization of comparatively high food prices.”
Farmshelf designs the smart farms in Brooklyn, NY and manufactures them in Poughkeepsie, NY with a firm that employs U.S. veterans. Additionally, they provide a monthly subscription which includes seedpods, nutrients and remote monitoring of the units via dozens of sensors and cameras –everything needed to easily grow 60 different crops such as cherry tomatoes, butter lettuce, kale and arugula, according to the news release.
Further it noted that the St. Croix-based Farmshelf Labs, is thankful for the support of the Catalyst Fund and “will hire customer success, sales, marketing, plant science and operations employees” as early as next month and hire eight full-time employees by the December 2023.
Jean-Paul Kyrillos, Farmshelf cofounder, is quoted in the statement about visiting St. Croix for 30 years and how he became “deeply attached to not only the territory’s culture, community and natural beauty but its current momentum as an extraordinary place to do business.”
“My family decided to move here full time in 2020 and it became immediately apparent that part of Farmshelf should move to the territory as well,” Kyrillos said. “The USVI needs us and we need them, and I can think of no better place to grow a tech-powered business that will change the way communities feed themselves.”
Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. praised the partnership, noting that “we’re particularly pleased to welcome Farmshelf to our business community because their goals are closely aligned with those of our administration—expanding our resources to guarantee food security for our residents while using some of the latest technologies in the industry to do so.”
He added that “this step towards greater self-sufficiency in feeding not just our VI families, but the potential to expand this initiative in the region with even greater economic returns to our people is huge.”
According to the statement, the V.I. government is “excited about the opportunities that the RTPark’s Catalyst Fund provides to spur economic prosperity in the territory” with Chapman pointing to what can be accomplished with the support it provides.
“This is one of the first transactions to be approved by the loan review committee for the Catalyst Fund, which was established to support business ventures and real estate development projects of scale,” he said, praising the Bryan administration and the 34th Legislature “for ensuring that that we had the initial funding to capitalize this much-needed revolving loan pool.”
According to the statement, the fund “specifically provides patient, flexible gap financing for initiatives with the potential to create quality jobs in growth industries for Virgin Islanders and facilitate capital investment in the territory.”
Ronnie N. Johnson, RTPark’s chief credit officer, said “our first Catalyst Fund loan to Farmshelf will create new job opportunities and tax revenues, generated from the company and the individuals hired.”
“We also envision increased retail sales for goods and services flowing throughout the territory,” he added.