Breon Clemons started GoGreen Farms and Greenhouses in 2019, and in just three years he has expanded his food and agribusiness hub from a small 5,000 square foot Portsmouth warehouse to a much larger warehouse of around 70,000 square feet just off Pruden Boulevard in the Suffolk Virginia Regional Commerce Park.
His business started serving just one school district, and from there it has grown to serve more than 300,000 students across Virginia – more than 200 schools in nine school divisions – now with foods from farm to table. He partners with 20 farms, including his own, and supplies this food not only to schools, but also to hospitals, retailers, restaurants, food banks and distributor partners.
“Imagine my business being like Sysco, but totally different,” Clemons says. “My biggest competitor is Sysco, so I bid against them on contracts all the time.”
Clemons, a Suffolk native and graduate of Nansemond River High School who studied urban agriculture at university, wants to make an impact in his hometown and beyond. It’s a big reason he’s come back to Suffolk, and he’s giving the town a big helping hand.
“I’m from here (and) I want to impact the whole region, so that’s what we’re doing,” Clemons says. “We are a non-profit organization that owns a for-profit business.”
He compares the business model to Amazon, or a hospital that operates as a nonprofit but has for-profit subsidiaries that allow it to do things for profit. He saw a need to create more connections between small farms and institutions that want local food.
“We had to do the same thing because we started getting too big and some things started not aligning with the nonprofit mission,” says Clemons. “So we had to make the transition.”
His company builds school gardens and community gardens, which he says sets them apart from a typical food business.
“We’re a food hub,” says Clemons. “So, as a food hub, we bring together local and regional farmers. This is how I can compete with companies like US Foods and Sysco because I have the ability, first and foremost. But then how they can’t compete is I have fresh local regional food, and my cost is about the same, and that’s how we’re able to compete.
But he has a personal reason for wanting to develop his business: his daughter.
“That’s what got me started, my daughter grew up,” Clemons says. “I’m a fifth generation farmer, so growing up all I knew was fresh produce, and that’s all she ever knew. I have a nice big garden at my house. It made me realize that she is about to turn 3 – that was a long time ago. She’s about to be 3 at the time, and it’s like, ‘Man, do I want to put her in public schools, but they’re eating like trash. Then it got me thinking, “Maybe I could find a way to integrate local products into school systems.”
Clemons did his research and studied the procurement laws, and his business took off from there. He says he’s brought his fresh produce to major school districts, delivering a product he describes as “unmatched” and grown. But he said that as a small business, he and his employees provide a personal touch to their customers.
“I mean, imagine being able to get collard greens, well, picked on a Saturday, and we pick them up on a Sunday, and then they go straight into a school system on a Monday,” Clemons says. “Great fee vs, let’s just say, Sysco could deliver to Walmart, right? These apples probably took two weeks to get to Walmart, going through Sysco’s chain, just because of where they sourced from, travel time, things like that. And by the time you put it in your mouth, the apple may be two weeks old. You don’t even know it. The taste, the look, it’s very different.
Its new warehouse will briefly store groceries before they are trucked to customers across the state. And while local produce is important to Clemons, it has branched out.
“My competitors, some people like to call my company a monopoly crusher, because I pretty much expose what these big companies do,” Clemons says. “I’m able to let them know what’s going on, where their products are coming from.”
And, at the same time, be able to provide it to them at a more competitive price.
“I’m all about the volume,” Clemons says. “I don’t care about the price because the volume equals the same. I just want to try to serve the whole community as a whole, impacting them in the right way, not really, more or less, looking for a dollar.
Among the items coming out – fruits, vegetables, eggs, milk, packaged snacks and organic produce.
With the goal of directly impacting lives, Clemons and his employees feel empowered as he fosters a family atmosphere among them.
They bring a personal touch to customers as GoGreen aims for greater impact in the region and state. Their aim is to have an impact on young people. That’s why Clemons has taken his company into schools and school divisions.
“Nine times out of 10, when the child comes home, they’re going to bring something home and the parents are going to wonder where you would learn that lesson from,” Clemons says. “That’s going to translate to the next generation.”
His daughter certainly knows where her food comes from – she sees her company trucks at her school – and Clemons does too, and it fills him with pride as he says, with a chuckle:
“It comes straight from his father’s business.”