Central Avenue in Columbia Heights, Minnesota, looks like many urban business districts—strip malls and buildings dot both sides of a busy thoroughfare—with one exception. Tucked away in the basement of a one-story plaza, fresh herbs flourish in nutrient-rich water under grow lights that mimic the sun’s energy. There you’ll find lifelong friends and business partners Andrew Rescorla ’10 and Joel Love ’10 tending their hydroponic herb farm, Urban Greens.
Hydroponics is a method of growing food that relies on water instead of soil. “We’re trying to grow the highest quality herbs in the world, with the highest performing team in the industry,” says Rescorla. How they accomplish that goal matters to both of them at least as much as the goal itself.
“Our location is part of our philosophy,” says Rescorla. “You can only get to it by the alley. People have no idea it’s there.” Committed to using what already exists, the former engineers utilize what used to be storage space to grow herbicide- and pesticidefree herbs on three levels. To further limit their carbon footprint, Rescorla and Love purchase wind energy credits to run their LED grow lights. They also utilize a water system that recirculates and reuses water.
“It’s always been very important to us to fix our little piece of a broken food system, which is just pouring gobs of pesticides on plants to maximize yields and do whatever it can to keep costs down. That’s not our model,” says Love. “We want to grow food that we’re proud of, that we’re eager to have our friends eat straight out of the farm.”
Rescorla and Love first met as kids on a soccer field in their hometown of Zionsville, Indiana. They both attended Calvin, majoring in civil engineering and mechanical engineering, respectively. After graduation, Love took a job at Westinghouse in Pittsburgh, a firm specializing in nuclear energy. Meanwhile, Rescorla and his wife, Laura Price ’10, attended the University of Minnesota to earn master’s degrees. Then after two and a half years developing water and sanitation systems in Ecuador and Ghana, the couple returned to Minneapolis. “We were asking, ‘What next?’” says Rescorla of that transition period. The question ultimately led to Urban Greens.
“After Calvin we were always daydreaming about business ideas,” admits Love, though their early ideas never gained traction. Aquaponics, a closed loop system that cultivates both plants and fish in the same water, especially interested Rescorla. An early trial in Love’s Pittsburgh attic led the pair to settle on a similar, but more economical, farming method: hydroponics.
Love relocated to Minneapolis and the entrepreneurs spent a year learning their trade in Rescorla’s basement, reading blog posts, watching YouTube videos, and dreaming up a business model. “There was a lot of flailing about, but also a lot of study, a lot of experimentation,” says Love.
In its infancy, Urban Greens sold fresh greens to friends and family, then at farmers markets. For a few years, Rescorla and Love even offered a home delivery service. Now, they primarily sell wholesale to grocery stores.
It seems there’s little the lifelong friends don’t share; and now, as new fathers, they share the experience of early parenthood, too. Work-life balance matters to both of them, and running a farm can sometimes be a family affair. They both credit their wives, Laura and Rachel, with offering endless support.
As their herbs continue to reach more tables around the Twin Cities, Love and Rescorla remain committed to creating something of value within their community, a goal that stems from their commitment to Christ. “We deeply hold our faith as the real foundation of our identity, not just a framework or perspective,” says Love. Faith influences all aspects of their work, from how they treat their employees to what motivates them. “We imperfectly practice our faith every day,” he acknowledges.
Under a purple glow, herbs headed for produce aisles fill a former storage space with an earthy aroma—it’s the unique way two former engineers, turned farmers, cultivate good in their corner of the world.