Fishers company hopes to end hunger one square foot at a time
By Chris Bavender
I love where I live. A charming 1925 brick duplex with arched doorways, hardwood floors and a fenced in yard for the pups to run freely. The only drawback - there isn’t any place for a garden.
But, a Fishers company is helping frustrated gardeners like myself grow fresh produce within fingertips reach inside. From a kitchen countertop to a spare room to a garage, Aggressively Organic can solve your gardening blues.
“You buy a nine pack and grow what you want in one square foot. The more you harvest, the more you grow,” said Jonathan Partlow, founder and CEO.
The hydroponic growing systems don’t require dirt or sunlight. Instead, they grow in cardboard flower pot sized containers using water, nutrients and LED lamps. You pick what you want to grow - from squash to tomatoes to lettuce or even strawberries.
Better and Simpler
The 49-year-old Partlow, a Frankton native, started the company at Launch Fishers in August 2017 with one simple goal in mind - to end food insecurity.
“Really it was how to cut the price and save the planet. How can we provide a sustainable food supply chain that is hyper local and not subject to catastrophic or political forces,” he said. “I wanted to find a better, simpler way to have access to food at all times in the house.”
That thought drove Partlow every day. He started testing systems, turning down countless job offers along the way (he has a Masters in Informatics and several other degrees). When something didn’t work, he “undid” the last thing and tried again. He got down to minimum water usage and no pumps and, to his surprise, the plants grew faster and healthier than expected.
“For six years I became completely obsessed with my starting goal of being able to feed 100 a people all their proteins and veggies etc. for less than $1,000 a year,” Partlow said. “Over time the mission changed and evolved. I think more is possible than I even first thought.”
Now housed in a 40,000 square foot building in Fishers, Aggressively Organic plans to grow 500,000 plants a month - or six million a year - in just 10,000 square feet. The company’s name came from his 15-year-old son’s friend.
“She saw the room where we were growing things and said that’s just not organic, that’s aggressivley organic,” Partlow said. “I believe most of our brilliant ideas come from kids - you learn more from kids because they see things differently.”
Kids such as kindergartners at Brooks Elementary School who grew plants with the Aggressively Organic system and then donated them to the Hamilton County Harvest Food Bank.
“The food bank brought in kids from other schools to do the harvesting and they harvested off them for nine to 10 weeks,” Partlow said.
And, when Partlow says the plants can be grown anywhere, he isn’t kidding. His 17-year-old son’s VW van is equipped with solar panels for a mobile farm. A yacht builder is constructing space in his yachts, while a luxury train company wants to grow the plants onboard in order to serve fresh salads. They’ve even been grown under a coffee table, using two-side tape to hang the lights.
“You can do this anywhere in the world - that is whole point. When we went to New Orleans for a produce show for Indiana Grown we put plants in the back of van with the lights on and they grew while we drove there and while we were there,” Partlow said. “When we left they grew on the way back and we continued to harvest and eat off them for a month.”
Currently, Aggressively Organic is working with several small restaurants to provide plants and has 42 locations mapped out across the world to have a presence in the next three years. The company is currently in talks with Italy, India, Australia, the UK, Canada, New Zealand, Scotland and Brazil.
Aggressively Organic will also offer a membership service through Aggressively Fresh Farms.
“We will do all the growing for you and you take it home and harvest and when you bring back an empty one we’ll give you a full one with whatever plant you want,” Partlow said. “For every one purchased, we will grow a system for a local food bank. That is giving back to the community as best we can.”