Revolution Farms produces lettuce and leafy greens under 77,000 square feet of glass. Photos: Revolution Farms
When Revolution Farms, a Caledonia, MI-based greenhouse salad greens producer, first entered the Great Lakes produce market in 2018, it was as an aquaponics business that grew both tilapia and lettuce. Within a year, however, the company ownership team, which is comprised of local entrepreneurs, saw that the demand for sustainable, local lettuce was outpacing the demand for the tilapia. As a result, the team decided to focus on the lettuce, with the goal of providing a fresh crop that could be delivered to customers within one to three days.
“We started with 1 acre of deep-water culture production, and we’ve now expanded to 3 acres, including 2 acres of a moving gutter system with more than 17,000 gutters,” says Tam Serage, Head Grower at Revolution Farms.
As Serage and the Revolution Farms team saw the future potential of an expanding market, they knew that their own expansion would require an investment in the right technology that would allow them to consistently produce a high-quality product.
Serage says the initial 1-acre deep-water culture system worked well at the beginning, but it quickly became evident that as demand for the company’s premium lettuce rose, it wouldn’t offer enough space.
“As we expanded in size, we knew we needed a production system that would be less reliant on human labor and eliminate the need for people to keep pulling rafts out of the water,” Serage says.
The system Revolution Farms ended up installing, from Green Automation in Finland, has allowed it to triple its production in a minimal amount of space.
“Having two systems gives us versatility,” Serage says “The deep-water culture gives us the ability to start the process, and the Green Automation gutter system gives us the ability to provide that loose-leaf lettuce product at a higher volume.”
With the system, total growing time is 24 to 28 days from seed to harvest, and the goal is to cut more than 20,000 pounds per week.
Despite adding 2 more acres of production, Revolution didn’t have to triple its labor force when it tripled its growing space, as it only takes three people to seed, cut, and clean the gutters in the new greenhouse with the Green Automation system.
The biggest benefit to the system, Serage says, is that it dramatically reduces the risk of food safety scares because there’s much less human contact through the entire production line.
“Instead of having our people go out into the field and risk contamination as the crop is transported from one area to another, we can grow, harvest, and package the product in a limited space just through the machinery,” Serage says.
His production team also likes the system, Serage says, because their jobs have become less focused on manual labor and more on technical skills, and it also frees them up to move into other areas that better align with their interests. In fact, despite adding 2 more acres of production, the company didn’t have to triple its labor force when it tripled its growing space, as it only takes three people to seed, cut, and clean the gutters in the new greenhouse with the Green Automation system..
“You still have to have a good maintenance crew,” Serage notes. “It’s automated, but it’s still a machine.”
There is potential for further expansion at Revolution Farms, and the good news, Serage says, is that the new production system gives the company the ability to add at least three more acres using the same seeding and cutting machinery.
“All we would have to do is increase our gutter space,” Serage says.
Revolution Farms has also expanded its use of LEDs in the moving gutter system, giving it the ability to produce year-round and perhaps fill any supply gaps in the local market.
“With this system, we see ourselves on the cutting edge of technology for growing leafy greens and lettuce indoors,” Serage says. “It’s giving us the chance to work with several seed companies on specialized seeds. We need lettuce varieties that can grow under LED lights in indoor conditions, which means more heat tolerance. Working with the seed companies, we allow them to come and do research here to test out new varieties, so we can each learn what’s going to do well under the system.”
Brian D. Sparks is senior editor of Greenhouse Grower and GreenhouseGrower.com. See all author stories here.
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