Paul Hamilton Converts Parking Lot Near His Lafayette Square Restaurants into Urban Farm

By Heather Riske
In Food

Paul Hamilton is bringing the farm-to-table concept to a whole new level. The owner of Vin de Set, Eleven Eleven Mississippi and PW Pizza doesn’t have to go far to find fresh lettuces, kale, tomatoes and peppers—he’s converted a parking lot near his restaurants into a ¼-acre urban farm.

Photo courtesy of Paul Hamilton

Photo courtesy of Paul Hamilton

The effort is also an exercise in cost efficiency. Hamilton quotes figures showing that in 2014, the cost of fresh produce in the U.S is expected to rise 3.5 percent—the largest increase in the last three years.

Co-owner Wendy Hamilton says the idea started with building a small greenhouse at their home to grow herbs and vegetables during the winter months. Soon, they decided to grow a larger amount of organic produce right next to the restaurant.

In addition to converting asphalt into green space, Paul Hamilton also started growing vegetables and herbs in aeroponic towers located on the patios of the restaurants two years ago. Last year, they converted the patio at Eleven Eleven into a winter greenhouse, where they continued to grow produce in the aeroponic systems through the winter.

Paul Hamilton (L) is shown during the spring when the garden was planted. Photo courtesy of Paul Hamilton.

Paul Hamilton (L) is shown during the spring when the garden was planted. Photo courtesy of Paul Hamilton.

“The tower systems save space and grow lettuces in a soil-free environment, which makes for a very clean harvest, but the volume needed to have any real significant cost savings for our operations is limited,” says Paul Hamilton.

The garden is growing lettuces, swiss chard, kale, cauliflower and squash, among other vegetables—all of which are heirloom, started from seed. This year’s harvest includes more than 600 tomato plants, 400 pepper plants, 100 squash plants and 15 100-foot rows of greens.

The chefs have also selected several fall crops to be planted in this month. “We chose several winter squash varieties—brussels sprouts, frisee, kale and chard—which should do well as the temperatures cool off,” says Ryan Buettner, Executive Chef of Vin de Set.

Each restaurant is keeping a log of the produce used to track the overall savings and help prepare for next year in terms of how many seeds to plant.

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