Lisa Merkle on Box Greens, Sustainability, and the Future of Hydroponic Farming

On this episode of The Barron Report, host Paul Barron sits down with Lisa Merkle, the co-founder and executive director of Box Greens. A former yoga teacher and holistic health coach, Merkle co-founded Box Greens in 2018 with business partner Cheryl Arnold. Box Greens offers urban South Florida access to hydroponic box farms filled with fresh leafy greens, herbs, and microgreens. Barron and Merkle explore the science behind hydroponic farming, the growing national interest in plant-based eating, and current adoption of agriculture technology in Florida.

“A big part of our mission is using the business as a platform to talk about sustainable farming practices,” says Merkle. Restaurants and individual consumers who use local sources for ingredients can trust that there is minimal to “no impact on the environment from the transportation of the food.”

Box Greens transforms old shipping containers into indoor hydroponic farms. Racks, an irrigation system, an HVAC system, and lighting are fully built into each container. No dirt is used—the plants are not placed in any soil, and absorb all necessary minerals from the water. Box Greens uses floating rafts to allow for a constant flow of recirculated water as farmers monitor the minerals and pH levels.

On average, a functioning container can produce about 600 to 800 heads of lettuce per week all year round, and a 320 square foot hydroponic farm yields the same amount of produce as a traditional 1-2 acre farm.

For Merkle, education is key. “One of [Florida’s] biggest economic industries is agriculture,” notes Merkle, “and it’s behind when it comes to adopting technology.” She has found that many people do not realize the lettuce they consume for lunch was likely harvested weeks ago in California, and has changed hands many times. “And in the process,” she adds, “it’s lost its nutritional value to a pretty serious degree, and flavor.”

Plant-based diets, to Merkle, are the future. “Leafy greens have the highest concentration of vitamins and minerals,” says Merkle. “Food for a lot of people comes down to access—both in terms of physical accessibility and price point.” And hydroponic farming is “an incredible opportunity to turn people on to plant-based eating.”

Check out the podcast above to learn more about how Box Greens began, using hydroponic farming with vegetables and fruits, and possible partnerships with local restaurants and research universities. And if you would like to keep listening, check out The Barron Report podcast on iTunes Now!

Produced by:

Paul Barron

Paul Barron

Editor-in-Chief/Executive Producer


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Adrianne Calvo on the Culinary Scene and Launching New Restaurant Cracked

On this episode of The Barron Report, host Paul Barron chats with acclaimed celebrity chef, author, and restaurateur Adrianne Calvo. Calvo opened her first restaurant, Chef Adrianne’s Vineyard Restaurant and Wine Bar, in Miami in 2007, and is opening a fast casual restaurant, Cracked, this month. She has competed in Chopped and Beat Bobby Flay, had her dishes featured in Gourmet and Bon Appétit, and she regularly appears on NBC's 6 In the Mix every Thursday. Barron and Calvo discuss keeping things fresh, building a menu, and the unique struggles women face in the culinary industry.

For Calvo, real estate is always “second on the list to your product.” Having made her first restaurant—located in a strip mall—a success, and started Cracked as an artisan-driven chef sandwich food truck, she argues that location is not everything. Having a compelling brand and consistent flavor is key. “People will drive as long as it’s a good product.”

Calvo notes that her experience is uncommon to most female chefs because she owns her business. Many women struggle to rise and are quietly, but swiftly blacklisted from the industry if they have a family. Even those who do rise have to struggle with the gender pay gap and earn less than a man for the same work.

“It’s a delicate dance, the restaurant industry,” says Calvo. “I was researching how many executive chefs are women in hotels. There’s a handful in America. They can’t go up the ladder. Men are at the top of the chain.”

Calvo does not think the industry is without hope. “Roles are changing,” she notes. Men are beginning to share the load of taking care of a family. However, as Calvo adds, “It’s not going to start in the kitchens of hotels—it has to start in society as a whole.”

Check out the podcast above to learn more about the Cracked menu, crafting a “league of exceptional chefs,” and her advice for the next generation of chefs. And if you would like to keep listening, check out The Barron Report podcast on iTunes Now!

Research by:

Paul Barron

Paul Barron

Editor-in-Chief/Executive Producer


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The Sylvester Brings a Non-Alcoholic Buzz to Miami

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In today’s overcrowded food and beverage market, bar owners often struggle to make their bar unique. And in South Florida, competition is fierce. New bars and restaurants open and close every day, and the only way to stay afloat is to offer high quality products that are truly different.

The Sylvester, located in the heart of Miami, aims to do exactly that. This season of REACH explores the unique stories behind the making of emerging and successful food and beverage businesses in South Florida. The Sylvester was just established this year, and is already making a name for itself in the city.

Ben Potts, the bar director for The Sylvester, co-founded the joint with Chef Brian Nasajon after quitting a “miserable” job in investment banking.

“I quit my job without having a plan,” says Potts. His goal was to craft drinks that were truly innovative. “Non-alcoholic beverages are what we’re trying to push and highlight.”

In addition to typical alcoholic drinks, The Sylvester offers kombucha, an extensive coffee list, tea, and wellness water and cocktails infused with CBD. There are even a few mushroom elixirs on the menu.

“We’re trying to push the envelope from a cocktail perspective,” adds Potts. The goal, for him, is to allow customers to “reap the benefits of a medicinal product in a food and beverage setting.”

The bar is designed to look nostalgic and “very distinctly” Miami. With vintage wallpaper, retro stylings, and a wide selection of board games, the place immediately feels welcoming and familial.

Check out the full episode to learn more about the bar and some of the recipes behind the unique drinks available at The Sylvester!

How To Use Infused Spirits to Have a Cost-Effective Bar Program

On this episode of Smart Kitchen and Bar, our resident master mixologist, Oscar Castaneda, shares with us ways to use infused spirits, like St. George Spirits’ Green Chile Vodka, in order to have a cost effective bar program. The key here will be to create cocktails that are approachable for your customers.

“An infused vodka is going to give you the ability to play more with the flavor and the layer[s] of the drink…” says Castaneda. “You have to make sure that… at the same time it’s not going to turn your guest experience away.”

The intention for this upcoming drink, named Georgia Mule Twist, was to use a familiar drink like the Moscow Mule and use ingredients (like the peach and apricot syrup) that would play along with the hot and sweet pepper infused vodka to make an approachable yet unique drink. It’s served on a tumbler or copper mule glass and garnished with lime and mint.

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This next drink was inspired by today’s featured spirit which is a mix of a traditional spirit like vodka and the infusion of sweet and spicy ingredients to give us a modern blend of flavors. Oscar calls this “old school and new school.”

He proceeds to mix all his fresh squeezed juices to create a balanced sour base for the Georgie Kick cocktail, then he adds a maple reduction and egg white and gives it a heavy shake. What really makes this cocktail stand out is the cilantro meringue that was browned with a cook torch.

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Check out the Smart Kitchen and Bar episode to learn tips about how to make these drinks scalable for your beverage program!

How to Use Classic Cocktails For Inspiration To Create A New Drink With A Popular Spirit Like Rum

On this episode of Smart Kitchen and Bar, our resident master mixologist, Oscar Castaneda, shares with us how to take a different approach with a popular spirit like rum, featuring Mount Gay® Rum. The Black Barrel rum used in this episode features complex aroma notes of spice, toasted wood, and fruit. It has a bold spice taste balanced with oaky vanilla and sweet caramel.

“Rum is something that might be a little bit too sweet and what I usually suggest as an operator and as a mixologist is: Don’t fight it, try to work with it!” says Castaneda.

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Old Fashioned cocktails are traditionally made by muddling sugar with bitters, adding whiskey and garnished with a citrus rind. Using that process as inspiration, Castaneda figures out how to incorporate rum into the classic cocktail for his first drink. Named Twist On An Old Fashioned, this drink will help you wow those guests who are looking to be adventurous. This cocktail will surprise anyone who tastes it, as it branches out of its classic presentation to become its own creation.

TWIST ON AN OLD FASHIONED

  • 2 oz. Mount Gay Rum

  • Dash of Pineapple Juice

  • Orange Zest

  • Dash of Walnut Bitters

Served as an Old Fashioned in a short, round, tumbler-like glass with a cinnamon, brown sugar, and nutmeg rim. It is topped with whipped cream (made out of almond milk, line, lemon and cilantro) and garnished with an orange peel, cinnamon stick, and topped with a black cherry.

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This next drink was inspired by the classic drinks that you would normally think of when someone says rum. Our master mixologist wanted to make a drink that was a little lighter and refreshing, but still maintained the tropical vibe that characterizes rum drinks.

“We are going to use the same ingredients but in different layers to create almost like a new age of a Piña Colada,” says Castaneda.

TROPICAL TYPHOON (New Age Piña Colada)

  • 2 oz Mount Gay Rum

  • 1 oz Coconut water & allspice

  • 1/2 oz Pineapple Juice

  • 1/2 oz Orange Juice

  • Dash of Cinnamon

  • Dash of Base Cherry Juice

Garnish drink with two lime slices and orange zest.

Check out the Smart Kitchen and Bar episode to learn tips about how to present these drinks in your beverage program!