Alan Joaquin – 20 for the next 20



Each year, Hawaii Business selects 20 emerging leaders who have already made big contributions to Hawaii and are expected to have an even greater impact over the next two decades. Let us introduce you to the Class of 2013.

Alan Joaquin

Photo: Courtesy FarmRoof®

President: Farm Roof
Age: 38

Alan Joaquin traces his entrepreneurial spirit to his days at Kaiser High School, when he borrowed $1,457 to buy a weed wacker, leaf blower and hedge trimmer.

“I started my own business mowing lawns in Waimanalo,” he says. “Soon I got bigger projects leading to a contract to maintain the grounds at the Ihilani Spa & Resort.”

His business grew, as did his interest in environmental protection, hydro mulching and erosion control.  At age 20, Joaquin installed the vegetation at the Hualalai Four Seasons Resort golf course on Hawaii Island, and soon became a large commercial contractor earning $4 million a year in contracts. By the time he was 30, he employed 40 people and the company was unionized.

“At that point, I decided I was going to do what I wanted to do since childhood,” says the son of a U.S. Secret Service agent. “I switched gears and became a pilot.” He took off to flight school in Arizona and landed a job with Aloha Airlines.

Oddly, that career led him back to landscaping. As a Hawaiian Airlines pilot, a job he still holds today, he had a revelation.

“It dawned on me one day looking down over all these roofs I’m flying over every day,” he says. “I thought, ‘Why don’t we do urban agriculture on rooftops?’ ” He began researching the idea, inspired by a recent addition in his life.

“Alan got involved because of his newborn son. He wanted to ensure his children would have good food to eat,” says state Board of Agriculture chairman Russell Kokubun, who met him through their work on a recently installed rooftop farm at Castle Medical Center. “There are new opportunities now to grow our own food in an urban setting, and what Alan is doing really sets the pace.”

Joaquin says Farm Roof has a commercial focus since the company, technology and concept hasn’t hit the economy of scale to enter the residential market yet. He’s interested in establishing community farms on rooftops in Kakaako and will be working with Kokubun on a proposed project at the State Capitol.
His dream is to someday fly over the Islands and see many rooftop farms.

“I know it won’t happen overnight, but the biggest thing that rooftop farming brings is people get engaged and say, ‘Wow! Let’s use a rooftop to grow food.’ There’s so much potential for positive change,” he says.


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FarmRoof® on America Now

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FarmRoof turns Black Roofs into Green Roofs

HONOLULU, Oahu (HawaiiNewsNow) – Wasted roof space, it’s everywhere, but what can you do with it? How about an urban rooftop garden? Malika Dudley has details on this new patented modular technology.

A farm on your roof?! It’s possible. “The idea stemmed from wanting to grow food for my own family. So I started tinkering with the technology on the ground but then I saw opportunities with all the wasted space on rooftops to take advantage of that so I took the modular technology and applied it to rooftops,” said founder of Farmroof, Alan Joaquin.

“Farmroof” as the company is called turns urban rooftops into sprawling organic gardens. They install the technology themselves and provide the water and nutrients necessary to grow delicious produce. “There are other rooftop farms across the US but most of those are just dirt on top of a roof so it’s very heavy and a lot of maintenance,” said Alan. This system is quite the opposite. Modules are filled with organic compost and natural fibers, set on top of an aeration core which provides drainage and keeps everything cool.

“It’s all very neat, very clean, very lightweight. The water that runs off is free of any mud or contaminate and it’s just a very simple and effective system,” said Alan. So effective that it grows ten times more food per square foot than a conventional organic farm and uses only 10 percent of the water.

“It’s a timely thing. There are two trends that are really blossoming the local vort trend eating local sustainable food and also green building constructing buildings that have a small carbon footprint and have a low environmental impact so farm roof plays on those two trends,” said Alan.

Urban rooftop gardens are particularly successful for large industries like restaurants, hotels and hospitals. The return on investment is pretty good, around three years. Alan explains, “and of course you have the environmental benefits of cooling the building down below and the aesthetic beauty of the farm roof. It’s nicer to look at greenery instead of black roofs. There’s a lot of ways that the system pays for itself. Anywhere there’s flat wasted roof space and there’s a need for local, organic and seasonal food a farmroof can be installed.”

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Kamehameha Schools 125th Anniversary

FarmRoof® is proud to be a part of Kamehameha Schools’ vision for a healthier and more resilient Hawaii.  Interested in hearing the latest radio spot about Kamehameha Schools’ commitment to new and innovative technologies?  Hear it now - CLICK HERE

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KITV4 News – FarmRoof Blessing

An organic rooftop farm above an auto dealership?  The future of our food system may be right on top of us.  FarmRoof, a privately help corporation based in Waimanalo, Hawaii, highlights their patent pending technology atop this urban building.

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Innovation Winner at the 2012 SmallBiz Success Awards

Innovation Winner:

A tour around FarmRoof University, the testing ground for a new and innovative farming system, is a rich lesson in the possibilities for urban agriculture. A concrete slab that imitates a roof is covered in long, mesh tubes filled with a proprietary blend of soil and bursting with greens. They are not just any greens, but nutritionally dense foods like heirloom kale and various Asian lettuces.

FarmRoof got its roots after Alan Joaquin, president and founder, happened upon a study that concluded that rooftops could be used for growing food crops if the weight could be distributed properly. “I thought to myself, if the biggest challenge is weight, I can address this,” says Joaquin.

A walking encyclopedia of agricultural knowledge, Joaquin began his career as a young landscaper and built his first hydro-mulcher at the age of 17. He has combined his formal background in aeronautics with a knack for tinkering in order to engineer agricultural innovations and systems ever since. The FarmRoof system utilizes some of his previous designs combined with new technology to create a rooftop solution to a growing demand for feasible and affordable space to grow crops. While food is the primary goal, other benefits to rooftop farming include better insulation (which saves energy), more water catchment and a prettier space.

Joaquin says the crops grown on rooftops are harvested and sold, primarily through Whole Foods, where they frequently sell out, and FarmRoof’s community-supported agriculture subscriptions. In fact, FarmRoof provides delivery to businesses and organizations that promote the CSA subscriptions.

Teresa Davis, the life-balance coordinator at American Savings Bank, says the bank subscribes to the CSA and promotes the service as part of its wellness program for employees.

“It’s delivered to our doorstep and it’s less expensive than going to the grocery store,” she says. “FarmRoof bends over backwards to provide great customer service for us. They’ve been really easy to work with and have an outstanding product.”

Joaquin envisions a better way for cities to use urban space and become more self-reliant by producing some of their own food needs. “What we’re doing now is proving a model that could be replicated in other parts of the world,” says Joaquin. “We’re creating a turn-key, sustainable business that focuses on a triple bottom line of people, the environment and the economy.”

- Tara Zirker

To learn about the CSA, go to the website and click on “Join Our CSA”

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Ingredients Hawaii Trailer

INGREDIENTS Hawaii from Super 8 Cowboys on Vimeo.

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Honolulu’s First Urban Rooftop Farm

By Martha Cheng

In Brooklyn, I visited a rooftop farm that overlooked the Manhattan skyline. Honolulu’s first urban rooftop farm is on top of an auto dealership in Kakaako.

It’s the juxtaposition of urban and rural that makes farm roofs so exciting. The reality is, we’re not all cut out for rural life, but with rooftop farming, we can bring a little bit of the agrarian into town. At a glance, rooftop farms make sense: utilize unused space to grow food. But there are challenges: irrigation, heat (10 minutes on top of AutoMart, and everyone was sweating), the weight of plants and soil and maintenance. Alan Joaquin, founder of FarmRoof, the certified-organic system on top of AutoMart, thinks he has it figured out. He’s also the founder of Wiki Garden and has adapted the modular, lightweight garden-in-a-sock system for roofs. From his test plot on top of Sweet Home Waimanalo, he sells produce to Whole Foods. On top of AutoMart, he has 38,000 square feet of rooftop to grow kale, arugula, Asian mustard and other rooftop-hardy plants, which he plans to offer to the neighborhood via a CSA.

Construction of 680 Ala Moana, an affordable housing development, also began last week (the day after the FarmRoof blessing), and rumor is it will also boast a rooftop farm. Kamehameha Schools, as part of its 15-year Kakaako master plan, is currently developing the neighborhood with an eye toward arts and culture and sustainability. (It’s a sign of the times when Kamehameha Schools, which previously sought a 28-fold rent hike on ag lands, is now carving out a bit of urban land for farming).

Read the original Blog HERE

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Farm a Roof?

Top two reasons to eat fresh-from-the-ground produce?

Ask Alan Joaquin, president of FarmRoof, a young firm dedicated to making farm-fresh produce available for O’ahu residents. He’ll tell you that the  nutrient density of just-harvested vegetables is greater than that of produce that’s been shipped in from elsewhere. And besides, the flavor is often so different that it’s surprising. I thought I knew how yellow u’ala (sweet potatoes) tasted — bland, unremarkable — until recently when I had one fresh from a local farm at Mark Noguchi’s He’eia Kea Pier General Store & Deli.

FarmRoof has been operating a small garden on the roof of the Sweet Home Cafe in Waimanalo for three years, selling a baby kale-arugula-Chinese mustard green mix to members of their community supported agriculture (CSA) subscription program ($10 a week for a weekly surprise basket from the farm). This blend of greens has been available at Whole Foods and is used by chefs such as Alan Wong (Alan Wong’s restaurant), Kevin Hanney (12th Ave. Grill and SALT), Vikram Gorg (Halekulani) and Alan Tsuchiyama (Le Bistro).

But the supply is temporarily slowed because now, in cooperation with the Kamehameha Schools, they’re bringing their wares to town. Wednesday, they held a press day to announce a plan for a roof garden atop the old CompUSA on Ala Moana between Keawe and Punchbowl. As the property owner, Kamehameha Schools helped broker a deal with the lessee, Automart USA.

Altogether, there are 38,000 square feet of rooftop (which you can only see from the air or one of the tall nearby buildings), partly planted now in FarmRoof’s trademark supergreen mix.

The plan includes a Farmers’ Cafe at 331 Keawe, across the street diamondhead. There, FarmRoof will host workshops, films and forums and will disseminate information on their efforts. They will also be working with Kamehameha Schools, which already had a commitment to create a sustainable urban environment on the lands they own in Kaka’ako. And Honolulu-side CSA customers can pick up their baskets. Or, if 20 persons in a single building in the financial district all sign up, they’ll deliver to the office.

Rooftop gardens sound like a great idea in a place like Honolulu, where many roofs are flat and there’s plenty of sunshine and rain. But you can’t just throw some soil on the roof, or even a bunch of boxes or planters, unless you’re willing to risk the roof coming down. Instead, FarmRoof employs lightweight “socks” to contain the soil and vegetables. These nylon-mesh containers, shaped like a split sausage, also release excess water, which is captured in a catchment system.

A FarmRoof gardener, whose name I neglected to get, said she growsgreens, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and more, all organically, in Waimanalo. Joaquin said their most reliable success has come with heirloom vegetables, herbs and their “supergreens” mix.

One reason is the soil, composed of composted matter and other things and outfitted with 70 different minerals and trace elements. They’ve been working with Dr. Corilee Watters at University of Hawai’i to document the nutritional content of their produce and perhaps to create a roof garden in a UH laboratory building.

Joaquin’s advice to anyone who is interested in this project and the produce is to go to or to call (808) 396-9454 to sign up for the Community Supported Agriculture plan so you’ll be ahead in line when the garden starts producing.

To Read the Original Article, or to view Wanda Adam’s Blog Site, Click HERE

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Organic Farming Ascends to New Heights

Linda Chiem, Reporter - Pacific Business News

Honolulu entrepreneur Alan Joaquin is literally taking organic farming to new heights by planting organic farms on the rooftops of buildings across Hawaii, using a proprietary new technology he has developed over the past several years.

Joaquin, who calls himself an “ecopreneur,” is promoting sustainable agriculture in urban landscapes with the goal of feeding Hawaii residents with more locally grown organic vegetables without having to compete for hard-to-come-by farm land.

His niche business, FarmRoof Hawaii, marries new technology and an untapped segment of real estate. He intends to roll it out statewide and eventually market it to major metropolitan areas such as San Francisco, Chicago and New York City later this year.

The technology involves mesh “biosock” modules packed with a soil-less compost blend of antioxidants, nutrients and minerals and outfitted with an irrigation system. Joaquin says it represents an evolution in the sustainable-food movement.

The modules can be installed on concrete rooftops to eventually produce “superfood” leafy greens such as kale, arugula and Asian mustard greens. FarmRoof Hawaii already has started selling to the likes of Whole Foods Market, Alan Wong Restaurant, Halekulani, 12th Avenue Grill and SALT.

Certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the company touts itself as the world’s first and only certified organic green roof system.

The challenge has been getting people and customers to understand the FarmRoof concept. It’s a proprietary system and not a product sold in stores. However, Joaquin’s earlier version of the FarmRoof, a gardening system packed into a smaller version of the “biosock” tube called the Wiki Garden, was sold in stores such as City Mill for two years before he pulled the product line last year to focus on expanding FarmRoof Hawaii beyond the everyday consumer level.

“We cherry-pick our partners because all these people that we’ve started selling to are people we felt could expose our technology in the best way,” Joaquin said. “They know what we’re doing, what we’re about, and give us credibility. We don’t want our technology to be a commodity or a product. It’s a brand and a commercial farming operation that we’re looking for other like-minded ‘ecopreneurs’ to pass the technology on to.”

The company launched in 2008 and went through two years of research and development without generating revenue. By 2010, it generated $64,000 in sales with the Wiki Garden. Now, going forward with FarmRoof, which currently employs eight people, Joaquin envisions multiple revenue streams that will include selling the organically grown vegetables direct to grocers and restaurants as well as through community-supported agriculture programs.

But the bigger money makers likely will be the licensing agreements and royalties to come when FarmRoof starts licensing its rooftop farming system to interested operators or building owners, all of whom will be required to attend “FarmRoof University” at the company’s Waimanalo farm to learn how to properly install and operate the system. He declined to disclose what those licensing fees will be.

“When people think of farming, it’s so unsexy, it’s not glitzy or glamorous,” Joaquin said. “This is such a nontraditional approach to it that it’s catering to the next generation interested in sustainability and the triple bottom line.”

Whole Foods Market, which sells FarmRoof’s packaged greens at its Kahala Mall store, currently is in discussions with both FarmRoof and Kahala Mall management to potentially install a rooftop farm at that location, Joaquin said.

“FarmRoof is a tremendously exciting farm and business because it is transforming previously dead urban spaces in Honolulu into vibrant, productive places,” said Claire Sullivan, community and vendor relations coordinator for Whole Foods Market in Hawaii. “This is a great contribution to the development of a robust local food system in Hawaii, and helps challenge the notion that Honolulu and Oahu are just markets, not producers, of food.”

Joaquin admits that it often has been a tough sell getting other building owners and operators to open their doors to FarmRoof to install a rooftop farming system because of concerns about weight and liability. He said such concerns are mitigated by the fact that the system is lightweight at five pounds per square feet, keeping it well within the load capacities of most building rooftops.

Still, he’s open to crafting deals and agreements that include profit-sharing or paying a small rental fee to buildings to gain access to rooftops.

The payoff for the building owner or manager is reduced energy costs because the building is cooled by the “green roof,” he said. Also, the buzz and curiosity factor attached to a novelty like a farm roof could help drive sales through more foot traffic or attract new tenants to help lower building vacancy rates.

“Our slogan is more than a farm, more than food, and what we represent is sustainable hope and vision,” Joaquin said. “What we sell is not just food; what we’re selling is nutrition, wellness, respect, and that all comes from the people. It’s like the saying, ‘All boats rise with the tide,’ so we want all these small local farmers to rise with us because we’re so visible and we’re so sticky right now.”

Joaquin, who is married to Hawaii News Now television anchor Tannya Joaquin, has 20 years of experience in agriculture, engineering, environmental protection and landscape construction. Despite his experience, he said he was rejected in the early days by banks, investment groups and philanthropists who dismissed the FarmRoof concept as a pipe dream.

“I just said I’ll prove it, that I can do this bootstrapped, and now we have equity position where we call the shots, but I’ve personally invested my own savings into building this company into what it is,” he said. “We’ve worked through all these kinks, the system is workable, and we do need to expand, we do need more employees, and we do need more capital.”

FarmRoof HawaiiSustainable-agriculture businessFounder and President: Alan Joaquin
Address: 41-829 Kakaina St., Waimanalo, HI 96795
Phone: 396-9454

Small-business issue

Launching a niche business in sustainable agriculture using new technology and urban real estate.

• Invest in research and development, guard your intellectual property to stay competitive
and viable, and continually educate people on the concept.
• Be selective with partners and collaborators by choosing like-minded individuals or
companies with similar goals and visions of sustainability to add credibility to the product.
• Customize your “pitch” to building operators and owners with tailor-made agreements
that promote mutual benefits either through profit-sharing or rental fees.

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