I recently had the pleasure to meet with Larry & Zhanna Hountz of City-Hydro at the ChefConnect in Baltimore.
City-Hydro is doing some remarkable things. Nestled in Fells Point, City-Hydro is a urban farm that specializes in growing microgreens. But before we deep dive into City-Hydro, let’s give you a little back story. The husband & wife team of Larry & Zhanna Hountz founded this company a few years ago. Larry, who in his past life was a successful IT executive and all around genius, was recovering from a devastating car accident that prevented him from returning to work. With time on their hands, Larry and Zhanna set out on a two year research mission to develop food that was free from any weird chemicals or harmful pesticides.
Where their research took them was microgreens. What are microgreens exactly? They are tiny vegetable greens that are older than sprouts but younger than your traditional “baby” green. They are becoming increasingly popular in the culinary world for a number of reasons. They pack a powerful flavor punch, one tiny handful of these little guys and you are taken on a flavor rollercoaster. A handful of carrot microgreens and you’ll think you’re eating a carrot when you’re just munching on some tiny leaves. After their flavorl value, chefs love them because they are incredibly aesthetically pleasing. With colors ranging from bright green to purple, microgreens can allow a chef to take plating to a whole new level. And most importantly, microgreens are incredibly healthy, a study in 2014 showed that microgreens possess five times more nutrients than their mature counterparts.
So after their two years of research and many experiments to see what would work and what wouldn’t, Larry & Zhanna figured out a way to grow microgreens in their home. Not only that, they figured out a way to grow microgreens without anything other than water and light. As a result their food is 100% organic, devoid of any harmful chemicals, and completely hydroponic. The Hountz’s figured out a way to grow “vertical” farms, which are basically metal shelf racks hooked up with LED lights and a simple hydration system that Larry devised himself. Larry Hountz has a remarkable outlook on his business, rather than being ultra secretive about his product and how he grows his microgreens, he welcomes you to learn how to do it yourself.
Why you ask? Larry’s background in IT may have some hand in it, coming from a programmer mindset, Larry prefers to view his business as sort of an “Open Source” business, which means the original source code is freely available. Well in this case, Hountz’s source code is how he sets up his vertical farms. He welcomes you to contact him so he can show you which materials you would need to buy to make your own vertical farm. His “Open Source” ideology works in line with his principal that his company should have a tiny if not zero carbon footprint. As a result of that, Hountz primarily works with local restaurants who live near him in Fells Point, in downtown Baltimore. Hountz has attracted a legion of followers amongst Baltimore’s most successful chefs. He counts the chefs of Myth & Moonshine, Charleston, Wit & Wisdom, 1010 Restaurant, and Fleet Street Kitchen as just some of his devoted fans and clients.
City-Hydro’s free spirit mentality is rooted in the belief that their company does not need to make an absorbitant amount of money to be succesful. The Hountz’s pride themselves on stating that their company only needs to make a certain amount of money which is not something you’d typically hear from a business owner. Rather, the Hountz’s are committed to delivering a quality product without exploiting their consumers. In fact, they will often give their product away at local farmers markets because they know once people try their product, they will want to give it a try. The Hountz’s are extremely giving and this has extended to cancer patients at Johns Hopkins University Hospital, he provides his product free of charge to those patients. Microgreens are a widely known anti-cancer food and City-Hydro jumps at the chance to help their fellow man out.
Since City-Hydro does not really sell its microgreens outside of Fells Point, they offer to build a vertical farm for you so you can grow the microgreens yourself in your restaurant or just in your home.
I could really write all day about these folks, they were truly passionate about what they were selling and it rubbed off. I sincerely encourage you to check them out and to learn more about microgreens.
You can follow them on Instagram @cityhydro.