Roel and Jennifer Harsta bring their vision for year-round fresh local produce and vertical farming to the Lowcountry
By Ellen Linnemann
The pandemic’s disruption on the supply chain was experienced in many ways, both worldwide and locally — including the pandemic’s impact on being able to secure fresh produce. So when local availability and local distribution issues with fresh food products alerted Roel and Jennifer Harsta to a growing need here in the Lowcountry, they decided to take action and “look up” for a solution, and they haven’t looked back since.
Roel and Jennifer are the co-founders and creators of Hardee Greens – an indoor vertical farm located in downtown Hardeeville, opening this quarter. Their first building, located at 45 Randall St. in Hardeeville, provides year-round fresh local varieties of herbs and greens. In 2,000 square feet they are able to grow 12 vertical acres and use less water than conventional farming. The vertical farm can produce 1,000 pounds of produce a week year-round – something chefs love because the taste and quality will be consistent year-round. In addition, since indoor vertical farming allows for year-round growing instead of traditional seasonal growing, Hardee Greens is able to enhance and extend the availability of these fresh local products while also being better for the environment.
“For years we were hearing local food industry professionals speak constantly of the quality of products being shipped in from other states and even other countries, with delayed and lengthy shipping after products were harvested, causing the final delivery product to be inferior and have a very short shelf life,” said Roel, who serves as the managing partner of Hardee Greens. “We started thinking about a way to meet this growing need – coming up with the idea that if products were able to be grown locally and available year-round, then we could enhance the local market by delivering truly fresh products such as herbs, greens and microgreens and extend their availability all year long.” Born in the Netherlands, Roel has a background in farming and farming techniques. He spent the last 21 years raising his family in the Lowcountry, giving him a deep love for his community and desire to see the area thrive.
The vertical farming growing process at Hardee Greens is versatile, with crops grown in a controlled environment that allows them to grow without pesticides and herbicides and protected from adverse weather like droughts, floods and storms. In addition, the vertical process allows them to save water and energy.
Together with his family, Roel created Hardee Greens as an answer to supply chain disruptions seen during COVID and a desire to help the community become more healthy, sustainable and independent. The idea for the business started as a dinner discussion among the Harstas and their three sons: Eric, 32, who manages operations; Chase, 22, a senior business major at USC Aiken and facilities technician; and Logan, 19, a sophomore business major at USC Darla Moore School of Business, who works in production at the farm. They started the business to run it as a family — using all of their strengths and talents – and are all fully invested in the company, having come up with the vision together.
“The supply chain disruptions brought on by COVID and still felt today inspired the thought behind vertical farming as a solution to make our area more sustainable and self-sustaining and less dependent on outside sources for food,” said Jennifer, who serves as CEO and whose passion for family and serving others has been a driving force behind Hardee Greens. “In addition to supply chain issues, we also were drawn to the idea of vertical farming as a response to larger issues, including the carbon footprint of trucking vegetables across the country, disappearing farmland and the prices and supply of products varying with altered weather patterns from climate change.” Jennifer also developed Hardee Green’s educational outreach program where students can get involved with Hardee Greens through field trips and hands-on learning experiences.
Noting that their goal is to serve and strengthen the community while working alongside area farmers — not as competition but as a complementary and collaborative addition to the local landscape — Roel and Jennifer are continuing with a vision to see local grocery stores stocked with fresh local produce instead of product flown or trucked cross country. In addition, the couple – who have been active members of the Lowcountry community for more than 21 years and have been very involved in a number of successful businesses and charitable causes–are excited about the growth potential for this new business.
“We are excited for our products to be in select Lowcountry communities, restaurants and grocery stores. We are partnering with the Town of Hardeeville to host the Hardeeville Farmers Market starting in spring 2023 to support our area’s farmers and producers,” said Roel, noting that growth plans include a larger operation. “What started as an answer to supply chain disruptions seen during COVID has truly grown into a business that can benefit so many people in the community, and we’re excited to keep growing in every way.”
- Collaboration and networking are key. “Opportunities abound in friendly conversations and a willingness to help one another,” Jennifer stresses.
- Know your team’s individual strengths so they can thrive in their roles.
- Be a lifelong learner, and embrace the advice and expertise others have to offer.