“How many times do you get an opportunity to build something from pure scratch?” Navid Ariaban posed this question to himself when Bowery Farming asked him to be the agricultural start-up’s director of build and launch in 2021. He had spent the previous seven years at EY, moving up the ranks in its Construction and real estate consulting practice.
During Ariaban’s first visit to one of the farms, he immediately saw that building with Bowery would be unlike any other builds he had ever worked on. He was blown away by the operations of its renewable energy and irrigation systems.
“At that point, I had been on a lot of projects, even a few nuclear power plants, so I was pretty hard to impress,” Ariaban says. “But I was absolutely mesmerized by the technology at the grow facility and how advance and meticulous these builds would be. I knew this was not your typical build.”
Bowery Farming produces primarily leafy greens in its 100 percent sustainable indoor farms. Its community-first philosophy aims to address global issues on the local level first. When presented with this opportunity, Ariaban received support from his mentors at EY, and then he plunged into the new challenge. “I said to myself, let me take that risk, or else I’m going to regret it someday,” Ariaban says.
When working on such complex projects at Bowery Farming, complications and problems are to be expected. Ariaban likens his team’s operations to an orchestra, in which all the elements work together rather than in silos. “If there’s an issue, I want my team to tell me quickly. One of my biggest sayings is, ‘Everything is solvable,’” Ariaban says. “I like to hear my team’s ideas first, and then figure out the best solution together. We are highly collaborative and transparent with the other departments.”
Ariaban emphasizes how grateful he is for his team members and attributes all their success so far to them. To name a few: Dorothea Tsang, one of the team’s senior project managers, has been fundamental to its work on the Locust Grove facility in Georgia; Magdalini Fliska, another senior project manager, is currently handling preconstruction activities for a future farm. Caolan Sleeper, the construction contracts manager, has overseen all the contracts throughout the process as well as Anton Rozich, Ariaban’s counterpart for the west region; Kamini Dunne-Rao, Senior Project Manager working on the Arlington, Texas, project; Chris Grimaldi, the group’s senior director of real estate; and last but not least the leader of the practice, Ted Speas.
Since joining Bowery, Ariaban has been involved in the construction of three facilities. One in Maryland in the city of Nottingham, and, more recently, the newly opened farm in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The facility in Bethlehem, right in the heart of the Lehigh Valley, is located on a former brownfield that used to be the location of a steel mill, which is currently dedicated to growing leafy greens. The third facility is in Locust Grove, Georgia, located just outside of Atlanta, and it is set to open in this year.
With each new farm, Ariaban and his team learn something new that they can bring to the next build, so that each facility build is better than the last. “We make improvements to efficiency, whether it’s light efficiency, irrigation water quality, or logistics,” Ariaban shares. “We’re also trying to make these builds faster and manage them better. That’s one of the biggest bottom lines.”
Ariaban and his team wisely consider many factors when choosing the locations of Bowery Farming facilities, not least of which is proximity to major cities. Bowery favors locations that will allow its employees to commute easily and without burning tons of gas—ideally close enough that public transportation would be an option.
The company also does its best to be close to cities to feed sizable populations with locally grown food. “Honestly, our lettuce tastes different than your regular lettuce that was grown in California,” Ariaban explains. “It’s grown closer to the city that we are selling it in, so the food is fresher, and it lasts longer. We aren’t spending as much on transportation, and it’s also better for the environment.”
Furthermore, Bowery Farming’s approach is centered on serving the community. Bowery partners with local food banks to provide fresh, healthy produce to food-insecure populations. “It’s making the world a better place, frankly,” Ariaban remarks. “I knew it was going to be very hard coming in, but it’s going to help change the industry, and now we’re starting to see some fruits of that labor.”
CMC Design Build has been providing architectural, engineering and construction services for companies in the food and beverage industries since 1989. From the site search through working drawings, permitting, and construction, our staff is responsible for maintaining value in all areas of our projects. To us, value means balancing the cost, quality and schedule of projects in a manner that affords our clients the best opportunity to maximize their potential for profit.