Clayton Mooney didn't set out to farm, even though he grew up on one.
Instead, he and Clayton Farms co-founder Danen Pool wanted to design and build growing equipment to advance the indoor farming industry.
"We saw ourselves as wanting to become the John Deere for indoor farming," Mooney says.
A model farm was part of their Ames, Iowa, headquarters, to show potential customers what was possible with their setup. When the pandemic hit, the two were presented with "an opportunity."
"At that moment, we said, 'We have to do something to keep the lights on.' So we decided to test the direct-to-consumer fresh food subscription service," Mooney says. "And thankfully, it took off."
Their indoor model hydroponic farm was producing fresh leafy greens, microgreens and tomatoes that landed on doorsteps just hours after harvest. The popularity of the service led to rapid expansion in Iowa, and soon they had eyes on the closest metropolitan area: the Twin Cities.
Last summer, Clayton Farms (formerly Nebullam) converted a former Edina office building to an indoor farm, installed plants and had its first harvest in eight weeks. Mooney says they had hoped to have 300 subscribers by the end of 2022; they had 500. Growth projections are months ahead of schedule, he says, and could reach capacity by June. There are talks of a second Minnesota farm.
Subscribers can choose from a dozen crops, ranging from lettuces and greens to microgreens and vine crops, like tomatoes. There's very little they cannot grow, he says, and the list constantly evolves thanks to quarterly polling. Sunflower shoots (hardy like pea shoots but much sweeter) are the most recent addition; butterhead lettuce and peppery arugula are the most popular. There's a waitlist for cherry tomatoes and romaine. Prices range from $6.50 for a hefty order of microgreens to $8.50 for a head of lettuce that serves four. Flexibility is key, Mooney says; orders and delivery frequency can be adjusted between billing cycles. (Sign up at mn.claytonfarms.com)
"Being able to support almost 700 subscribers in the area with healthy food year-round — that's been a dream come true," Mooney says. "At the same time it keeps me paranoid for how well things are going."