Brookline’s Bobby Zuker started out in real estate—his family runs Chestnut Hill Realty. But last year, he wanted to build something new, with his children. So he purchased three nine-foot-tall hydroponic shipping containers from Boston’s Freight Farms and turned them into a trio of mini-farms, Green Line Growers, totaling about one acre. The containers are specially fitted with a system of sunlight and rain, mimicking a real farm. It sits on the site of a Coolidge Corner taxi depot, owned by Zuker’s family.
Inside, you’ll find a wonderland of produce: romaine lettuce, arugula, radishes, turnips, four types of mustard greens, three types of kale, four kinds of basil, lavender, thyme, rosemary and more. And he has three apprentices: his young children, Rosie, Lulu and Charlie.
“We grow 1,200 mini-heads of lettuce every week, all year round,” he says proudly. Green Line Growers also offers farm shares.
Zuker runs a friendly shop adjacent to the farm, Brookline Grown, which stocks a variety of local products.
“Half of our stuff is made or grown within six miles of our store, and the people who shop here live in our neighborhood and are focused on where their food comes from,” Zuker says. “When I decided to open, I wanted to give an opportunity to food entrepreneurs to get their name out there and to sell their product. It’s a neighborhood grocery store and a regional food store.”
Zuker sells plenty of kosher items, including challah from Blacker’s Bakeshop in Newton. There’s FoMu plant-based ice cream, cheese from New York’s Cheese Guy, gluten-free breads and pizza dough and meats from Walden Local Meat Co. Another bonus: treats from local bakery Something Sweet Without Wheat.
“A friend said, ‘This is the best stuff I’ve had since finding out I had celiac disease!'” Zuker says with a laugh.
It’s a family affair: Zuker’s three elementary-school-aged kids help him on the “farm” as in days of yore. The kids pack lettuce into bags, take part in harvesting and greet shoppers.
“My 6-year-old daughter, Rosie, plants 1,200 seeds per week. She’s my head trainer. She taught her kindergarten class how to plant,” he says. “I pay each of them half their age. They amaze me.”
Zuker uses the farm to teach his kids about the importance of money management, something he decided to do after reading Ron Lieber’s “The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money.”
“Rosie’s preferred method of payment is $2 bills,” he says with a chuckle. “She has a ‘spend’ jar, a ‘save’ jar and a ‘giving’ jar.” This year, she plans to donate a portion of her earnings to a local charity like Globe Santa.
Zuker involves the younger Brookline community, too. Students from the Brookline Early Education Program recently popped into the farm to help plant seedlings; other groups come in for tours.
“They’re fascinated that there can be a farm in the middle of all these buildings,” Zuker says.