15 MINUTES WITH ERIN MCCUTCHEON

PHOTO: Joann Vitelli

Erin McCutcheon boasts an impressive 25 years of experience in the corporate accounting and financial management arenas.

PHOTO: Joann Vitelli
PHOTO: Joann Vitelli

A CPA by trade, she has taken on financial roles in a number of industries, including construction and landscaping. However, when she and her husband, Jim, launched Copiana in the fall of 2018, she quickly realized that they had entered uncharted territory.

“There’s no training manual on how to run an aeroponic farming company that operates in commercial properties,” says McCutcheon, who serves as CEO and oversees the financial and strategic planning elements of the startup. “This has never been done before.”

In fact, Copiana is the only company in the country that installs and farms vertical aeroponic towers in office buildings, apartment complexes and other commercial spaces. Currently, the towers can be found in Buckhead, Sandy Springs, Perimeter and up the Ga. 400 corridor, as well as in Midtown and Downtown. And people are clamoring for the towers’ fresh and delicious produce that is harvested by the Copiana team every four weeks and distributed by property managers to building tenants free of charge. Clients (the buildings) lease the towers, so there are no upfront costs; monthly costs per tower range from $290 to $340, depending on the decorative accessories included, and there is a three-minimum tower per location.

What made you and your husband decide to start this unique company?

We were looking at different needs in the city, and we noticed that so many people are food insecure. Our idea was to try to get farms to be closer to the people. We thought we could bring these hyper-local farms right into commercial properties all over the city. What’s great is that aeroponic technology requires no soil; it just works with water and nutrients. So aeroponic towers can go into office buildings, schools, hospitals and other spaces. We just bring a tower to your property, plug it in, fill it up with water, put seedlings in, and you’re good to go.

Why did you choose the name Copiana?

It’s a take on the word cornucopia, the Horn of Plenty.

Why was Buckhead the right location to launch your business?

The Buckhead commercial property market is highly competitive. Property managers are looking for a variety of ways to distinguish themselves and provide unique amenities. So you have this group of talented thought leaders who are looking for the next big thing and want to try something new for their tenants. They’re willing to see a new idea and take a risk on it. It’s a really good set of people who are willing to work with us to bring change to the city.

How did you keep the business thriving during the COVID pandemic?

Almost all of our clients decided to stay with us under contract during the shutdown. Even though their offices were closed, our clients asked us to donate all of the produce from their towers to City of Refuge so they could give back, as so many people were struggling at the time.

What has been the most rewarding part of this business journey?

With our towers, property managers can be part of the greater ESG (environmental, social and governance) conversation. For so long, being environmentally conscious was viewed as an either/or situation with being profitable. Now, you can do better for the Earth and your community while also being more profitable by driving more tenants to your building and creating higher levels of occupancy. It’s exciting for me to be able to help our clients do good.

Which produce do you like best from the aeroponic towers?

There are so many things you can grow—anything except a root vegetable. We can grow lettuce, greens, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, edible flowers, squash, celery— you name it. But my favorite is the basil. It’s the best ever. It has so much flavor, and the smell is incredible.

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