Robert Kunkel is a marine engineer who hopes to use shipping to reduce the cost and congestion related to transporting goods. He and wife Marilyn opened Harbor Harvest on Cove Avenue four years ago to establish relationships with food producers. His electric cargo vessel The Captain Ben Moore, docked on Water Street, begins operations this March (2020). We talked with him at Harbor Harvest.
How’s the market going?
What we set out to do has been successful: to create a local sustainable market with products from farmers and artisans. We have over 30 companies involved. The community has accepted the store. We have people who walk and ride their bicycles here.
Would you ever move it closer to the Ben Moore?
We live in East Norwalk, and love this community. The SoNo area has asked us to bring a store down there. We are looking at the change in generations, with the millennials coming in and apartments going up. They need something like this down there. We are looking to open a refrigerated warehouse there on the lower level and eventually get into retail.
Who provides food for you?
For farms, we have Simpaug, Millstone, and Horseshoe who all bring products in on a daily basis. It opens up some new markets for them beyond the farmers markets.
Compare a truck cargo capacity to your boat the Ben Moore.
It’s very similar. Ben Moore carries 20,000 pounds of cargo. A fully loaded trailer, 53 feet, carries about 25,000 pounds of cargo. So if we make four trips a day, it’s four trucks off the road. Right now the model is Norwalk to Huntington.
Who would want to do that?
Scalfani products, for example, might be someone who would bring their stuff to us, we would bring it to Long Island, and distribute it for them there. UPS has contacted us to see if we can take their packages. And we are looking to talk to Stew Leonard’s. They have a store a few minutes from here and a store in Long Island.
Is it really a big difference—once you get the cargo onto the ship and get going?
We originally made a presentation at a Farm Aid and said it was six hours from Norwalk to Hungtinton. A guy raised his hand and said: “No way.” I thought, Uh-oh. He said: “It’s actually nine to 12 hours on the truck.” We do it in an hour.
Four years ago, you started this market with an eye toward getting the boat going. What happens four years from now?
We are hoping to have four vessels running. So far it’s been privately funded. We still don’t have governmental support for infrastructure—docks and terminals. The holy grail is New York City. There are 28,000 trucks that go to Hunts Point on a daily basis but there is not one dock on that peninsula.
How are you different?
The boat is run by lithium batteries so there are no emissions, no environmental impact. The design is gentrified, so it’s accepted in many of these small ports, and we can get into smaller nooks and crannies.