Every time someone moves to the East Coast, they invariably complain about the Mexican food. Understandably. It is, in a word, lacking. For me, however, it’s the strawberries. I’m from California, went to school in the central valley and since I moved to New York City, I haven’t found a good one. Heck, I’ve spoken with East Coast natives who swear strawberries are a trash fruit. Clearly the words of someone who has never eaten the fruit freshly plucked from a field in Watsonville.
The “urban farmers” at Bowery have been working to change that. When I visited a farm in Kearny, New Jersey last year, the company let me try a few samples, which they’d been engineering to find the perfect “recipe.” The results were good. Not Watsonville’s size-of-a-croquet-ball good, but good. More importantly, the placement of the company’s farms means the berries don’t have to travel great distances to their destination — a benefit for carbon footprints and end quality of the fruit.
The firm announced that its first berries are available for purchase in limited quantities as a “duo-pack” in select New York City retailers, including Eataly, Tom Colicchio’s Craft and José Andrés’ Leña and Spanish Diner. I should mention, before we go any further, that in spite of the roughly four years of experimentation that’s been going on behind the scenes, this is still early days — hence the “limited edition” nature. Think about it as a fruit drop, if that helps.
Pricing is something I brought up a lot in my interviews with various Bowery folks. I firmly believe that vertical farming is going to have to — at bare minimum — compete with organic produce pricing to make a meaningful dent in the market. The duo-pack, which weighs a combined 8 oz., runs $15. Now, if you’re a Michelin-star chef, perhaps that’s not a deal breaker, versus the $50 strawberries we saw not that long ago, but a quick search on Fresh Direct puts a 16 oz. pack of organic Driscoll’s strawberries at $6-8.
In limited quantities, novelty is no doubt a selling point. Bowery doesn’t have much competition in the world of vertically farmed berries right now, so there’s definitely an appeal in being among the first humans to see what the hype is all about. And the duo-pack includes different cultivars for a kind of taste test. On the right are the smaller wild-style berries and the left are the larger garden. I’m just going to cut and paste Bowery’s descriptions here, because I haven’t tried them yet in their current form (apparently I’m getting a pack tomorrow) and when it comes to writing about food my word is no good:
Garden Berry: Intense and zesty, Bowery’s Garden Berry is the quintessential summer strawberry in one potent bite. Perfectly balanced between citrusy and sweet, these juicy yet firm ruby red berries are ideal paired with delicate whipped cream or in a bright arugula salad with a peppery vinaigrette.
Wild Berry: Unexpected and concentrated in flavor, Bowery’s Wild Berry is petite and poppy, ideal alongside sharp cheddar, dark chocolate, or in a bitter cocktail. It is a softer, smaller, and punchy berry that packs a ton of bright, floral flavor.
As we noted, Bowery also recently acquired agtech robotics firm Traptic to help scale its strawberry production.