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Nourse Farms Continues to Lead the North American Berry Propagation Industry, Adopting New Tissue Culture Production Technology

John Place Nourse Farms
John Place, Nourse Farms CEO

For over 90 years, Nourse Farms (Indoor Ag-Con 2024 Booth 317) has remained steadfast in its commitment to providing growers with high-quality, virus-indexed, highly productive plants grown using the best possible practices. This commitment drives Nourse Farms to stay on the cutting edge of the latest developments in the industry.

To amplify Nourse Farms’ commitment to innovation, the North American berry plant propagator is embarking on an exciting journey in 2024. Later this year, Nourse Farms will open the 15-acre North Carolina greenhouse it acquired last year. Additionally, Nourse Farms expects to open a modern tissue culture lab and a seven-acre greenhouse for foundation material in Massachusetts.

Nourse Farms expects to open a modern tissue culture lab and a seven-acre greenhouse for foundation material in Massachusetts later this year.
Nourse Farms expects to open a modern tissue culture lab and a seven-acre greenhouse for foundation material in Massachusetts later this year.

Striving for a new era of excellence in tissue culture production, Nourse Farms’ modern tissue culture lab will include automated tissue culture planters developed and manufactured by Viscon, in close collaboration with ISO Group. The automated tissue culture planters are a tremendous breakthrough for growers, redefining and elevating production while operating in a sterile environment, resulting in increased quality products.

“Tissue culture has been the cornerstone of what we do for decades, so strategic investments in technology and advancements in this part of our operation are not only ideal but necessary,” said Nourse Farms CEO John Place. “With the exciting addition of Viscon’s automated tissue culture planters to our operation, we expect that we will see a significant increase in our production and efficiency.”

This innovative system meticulously transplants individual plants at a predetermined position and depth in the agar, ensuring higher explant quality and improved growth uniformity. The planter includes advanced gripper technology that prioritizes precision and certifies minimal physical plant damage. The automated planter features in-place tool sterilization and automatically sterilizes between transplant batches. Safeguarding sterility reduces the contamination risk seen in manual plant handling.

Nourse Farms’ modern tissue culture lab will include automated tissue culture planters developed and manufactured by Viscon, in close collaboration with ISO Group.
Nourse Farms’ modern tissue culture lab will include automated tissue culture planters developed and manufactured by Viscon, in close collaboration with ISO Group.

By adopting Viscon’s technology, Nourse Farms expects operational efficiency and control to strengthen due to enhanced traceability software that will capture data to help inform process decisions. The software uses barcoding technology that automatically tracks and traces plants in cups. This operation will allow Nourse Farms to monitor and accurately trace plants to the original plant material. By capturing this data, the growers can make informed plant production decisions based on production numbers, multiplication rates, material losses, and location status.

By utilizing this system, Nourse Farms’ skilled lab technicians can focus on preparing and cutting the plants for transplanting.

“This is a transformative time for growers and Nourse Farms is passionate about being at the forefront of implementing modern growing practices,” said Place. “We might be over 90 years old, but we’ve only just begun. We are proud to continue leading the North American berry propagation industry and look forward to what will come out of our new modern tissue culture lab.”

About Nourse Farms

For over 90 years, Nourse Farms has produced and sold premium quality small fruit plants to national and international commercial fruit growers, home gardeners, and resellers. Nourse Farms’ commitment to providing customers with virus-indexed, highly productive plants drives the organization to stay on the cutting edge of the latest developments in the industry. By identifying and testing new varieties and growing techniques, Nourse Farms stands behind its promise to deliver quality. What was once a strawberry nursery serving local growers has grown to be an internationally recognized soft fruit nursery selling strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, and blackberry plants. For more information about Nourse Farms, visit NourseFarms.com.

Industry Leaders From Gotham Greens, Plenty, Red Sun Farms, Soli Organic Join Keynote Line-Up For Indoor Ag-Con Las Vegas 2024

Top Execs Share Insights on  Future Landscape of Controlled Environment Agriculture

Indoor Ag-Con is excited to announce its third keynote address, “Leader Insights: Charting the Future Landscape of Controlled Environment Agriculture,” led by industry veterans on Monday, March 11 at 11am. The keynote will feature Moderator, Daniel Malech, Board Chair of the CEA Alliance and SVP, Plenty, Jim DiMenna, President of Red Sun Farms, Viraj Puri, Co-Founder and CEO of Gotham Greens, and Matt Ryan, CEO of Soli Organic.

In this compelling keynote presentation, attendees will discover the foresight from industry leaders as they share their predictions, strategies, and unique perspectives on the emerging trends that will shape the landscape of controlled environment agriculture. Attendees will gain valuable insights to stay ahead in this dynamic field and be part of the conversation that is charting the course for the future of sustainable and innovative food production.

This panel joins the Indoor Ag-Con 2024 headliner keynote line-up, which also includes the opening morning kick-off session with Paul Sellew, CEO, Little Leaf Farms and the day two morning keynote from Adam Bergman, Global Head of Agtech for Citi. These all-star leaders and keynotes will engage and inspire attendees.

“We are excited to bring this panel of CEA industry leaders to our keynote stage to offer insider tips and predictions shaped by real world experience. The keynote will provide key takeaways about the future of indoor agriculture, as it holds tremendous promise as a sustainable solution to the challenges posed by traditional farming methods,” said Brian Sullivan, CEO, Indoor Ag-Con.

In addition to Indoor Ag-Con’s Keynotes, the event will feature educational panels, sessions and other presentation formats aligned in several Conference tracks.  Attendees will also enjoy quality networking events and explore an expanded expo floor bringing together 200+ suppliers and service providers representing the top names and emerging leaders in the controlled environment agriculture sector. For more information on the full line-up of sessions, exhibitors and events, please visit www.indoor.ag.

Daniel Malech, Board Chair, CEA Alliance & SVP, Plenty

Dan chairs the Board of Directors of indoor agriculture trade association the CEA Alliance, with a focus on developing category-wide metrics and guidelines as well as policy advocacy.  Dan is also the SVP of Strategy & General Counsel at Plenty, where he oversees corporate strategy, legal, compliance, government affairs and sustainability. His work helps drive scale for the indoor vertical farming company, including structuring and closing on multiple industry-leading strategic partnerships and financing rounds.

Jim DiMenna, Red Sun Farms

Jim DiMenna is the President of Red Sun Farms, one of the largest vertically integrated high-tech greenhouse vegetable growers with ownership of each stage of the process; seed selection, to plant growth, to harvesting, packaging and distribution. Red Sun Farms has over 800 acres throughout Mexico, USA and Canada. Born and raised in Leamington Ontario, the produce business has always been a part of Jim’s  life. As a teen, he worked his way up from the packing room into sales and marketing before starting his own firm J-D Marketing in 1990. In 2001, Jim formed JEMD International along with Golden Jem Farms, to meet the industry call for better direct-line connections between the retailers, distributors and growers. In 2008, Jem D International merged with Agricola El Rosal, and was rebranded as Red Sun Farms.

Viraj Puri, Gotham Greens

Viraj Puri co-founded Gotham Greens, a pioneer in indoor agriculture and a leading fresh food company. A Certified B Corporation™, Gotham Greens farms with the future in mind, delivering long-lasting and delicious leafy greens, herbs, salad kits, salad dressings, dips and cooking sauces all year round to retail, restaurant and foodservice customers. Over the past decade under Viraj’s leadership, Gotham Greens has grown to be one of the largest and most commercially successful indoor farming companies in the world with more than 500 employees and 13 high-tech greenhouse facilities across nine U.S. states. Prior to Gotham Greens, Viraj led start-up enterprises in the United States, India and Malawi focused on sustainable agriculture, green building, renewable energy and environmental design.

Matt Ryan, CEO, Soli Organic

As CEO, Matt Ryan’s focus is on strengthening the company’s competitive advantages and achieving scaled topline growth. Prior to his role at Soli Organic, Ryan served as the chief marketing officer and chief strategy officer at Starbucks where he developed and executed marketing and strategy plans, managed the food and beverage portfolio and led all other marketing, product, brand, and consumer functions. As the head of brand management for The Walt Disney Company, he oversaw the company’s brand management, brand development, franchise management, customer data, and CRM. Ryan currently sits on the Board of Directors for Kaiser Permanente. He received a Bachelor of Arts in history from Harvard University, graduating magna cum laude.

About Indoor Ag-Con

Founded in 2013, Indoor Ag-Con has emerged as the largest trade show and conference for vertical farming | greenhouse |controlled environment agriculture. Its events are crop-agnostic and touch all sectors of the business, covering produce, legal cannabis | hemp, alternate protein and non-food crops. More information, visit www.indoor.ag.

Gotham Greens CEO Talks Sustainable Growth, Innovative Technologies and Exciting Milestones

In this month’s CEA Q&A, we speak with Gotham Greens‘ CEO Viraj Puri, who is joining our Indoor Ag-Con 2024 “Leader Insights” keynote panel in March! A true CEA leader, Gotham Greens has made a  remarkable journey from a single rooftop greenhouse in Brooklyn to becoming one of the largest hydroponic leafy green producers in North America. From tackling the challenges of the South’s hot and humid climate with cutting-edge greenhouse technologies to introducing fresh salad kits and championing sustainability, Puri shares valuable insights into the company’s growth, initiatives, milestones and commitment to reshaping the future of agriculture.

Gotham Greens Georgia_4_Credit Gotham Greens

Gotham Greens has rapidly expanded across the U.S since its launch in 2011 – now operating in various states and climates. Can you share some insights into the innovative technologies and strategies employed by your latest greenhouse in the southeast, particularly addressing the challenges posed by the region’s hot and humid climate?

As we continue to grow our brand, we’re excited to expand in the South and Southeast with new greenhouses in Texas and Georgia. At Gotham Greens, we’re committed to growing more with less, especially as changing climates are creating less favorable growing conditions in these states and across the country. These new greenhouses use our most advanced technology to date, including enhanced automation, cooling and dehumidification systems specifically tailored to the regions, and data science capabilities in a fully closed system to help consistently and reliably grow food closer to where people live no matter the weather outside. We’re proud to bring fresh, sustainably grown leafy greens and herbs that meet the high-quality standard consumers everywhere have come to associate with and expect from the Gotham Greens brand.

The new, state-of-the-art greenhouse facilities in the Dallas Metro area (Seagoville, Texas) and in Monroe, Ga., located between Atlanta and Athens, are examples of what comes next as we face ongoing extreme weather events and increased risk of drought in the U.S. Gotham Greens’ indoor farms create the ideal conditions for plants to thrive and provide consumers throughout the southern U.S. with sustainable fresh produce all year-round.

Gotham Greens recently introduced a new line of salad kits, combining your high-quality greens and dressings.  Can you speak to the inspiration behind these salad kits and the response from consumers?

Gotham Greens is well known for our high quality, longer lasting, pesticide-free salad greens and our line of fresh, flavorful salad dressings, and this portfolio addition combines these ingredients for a quick and easy meal solution made with premium-quality salad greens and delicious flavors that consumers crave. The new salad kits are available in three popular flavor varieties (Green Goddess, Southwest Ranch and Caesar) and are packed with fresh ingredients, including Gotham Greens greenhouse-grown lettuce and fresh flavor-filled toppings and dressings, for convenient home-cooked meals or lunches on the go.

We want people to enjoy fresh greens throughout the day, and we remain committed to bringing consumers the best-tasting, most flavorful fresh foods in the category. What sets us apart from the competition is quality and flavor, from the greens that we grow to the ingredients that we use in all our products, and we hope that consumers can sense that commitment to taste, quality and sustainability in every bite. We’ve received a lot of positive feedback about the kits so far and are excited to bring them to more markets this winter.

 

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Gotham Greens has championed sustainability, using significantly less water and land compared to traditional farming methods.  How do you envision the future of sustainable agriculture, especially within the CEA industry?  Are there upcoming initiatives or partnerships that will further strengthen Gotham Greens’ commitment to sustainability?

As a Certified B Corporation™, Gotham Greens champions quality, efficiency, dedication and freshness in all forms, both inside its greenhouses and throughout the communities where it operates. In addition to creating year-round, full-time jobs with competitive wages and benefits, we are driving the industry toward a more sustainable food system through industry-leading social and environmental practices. Our hydroponic growing methods help us use up to 90% less water than conventional growing methods, which means that at our current footprint, Gotham Greens saves 300 million gallons of water every year compared to field-grown farming, or the equivalent to around 450 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Whole Foods Market’s ninth annual trend report recently recognized our greens for promoting water conservation, a growing interest point for consumers. Gotham Greens’ national network of greenhouses provides a consistent and reliable supply of fresh greens for customers while eliminating the need for long-distance transportation, allowing its produce to stay fresher longer, thus increasing shelf life and decreasing food waste. As we continue to expand across the country, we look forward to deepening our relationships with key educational partners, such as University of California-Davis, as we help shape the agricultural climate of the future.

 

Gotham Greens Georgia_4_Credit Gotham GreensFrom a single rooftop greenhouse in Brooklyn to one of the largest hydroponic leafy green producers in North America, Gotham Greens has undergone remarkable growth.  Are there specific milestones or initiatives you’re particularly excited about in the next phase of Gotham Greens development?

We recently celebrated our twelfth birthday in addition to the tenth anniversary of our second greenhouse located in Brooklyn’s Gowanus neighborhood on the roof of Whole Foods Market. The country’s first rooftop commercial-scale greenhouse integrated into a supermarket has now blossomed into a global movement of urban and innovative farming projects. This anniversary feels extra special, as this pioneering project has served as an inspiration to urban farming projects around the world. We’re especially grateful to Whole Foods Market for over a decade of supporting our mission to bring fresh, local and sustainably grown produce to its stores. We have additional plans for expansion and look forward to sharing more about that later this year!

Learn more about Gotham Greens by visiting their website.

And, make plans now to attend the March 11-12, 2024 edition of Indoor Ag-Con as Viraj joins other CEA executives on our keynote stage for our midday keynote session on day one:  “Leader Insights: Charting the Future Landscape of Controlled Environment Agriculture”.  Learn more about our full conference schedule and join us!

All photos courtesy of Gotham Greens.

Little Leaf Farms CEO: Navigating Sustainable Growth and Fresh Innovations

Join us for this month’s Q&A with Paul Sellew, the forward-thinking Founder & CEO of Little Leaf Farms, the largest U.S. greenhouse producer of hydroponic baby greens.   As the opening morning keynote speaker for the March 11-12, 2024 edition of Indoor Ag-Con, Paul sheds light on the challenges and opportunities of expanding Little Leaf Farms’ footprint, the eco-friendly practices that set it apart, and the company’s commitment to a farmer-first mindset.  From becoming the top-selling lettuce in New England to doubling production capacity with the recent expansion into McAdoo, PA, Sellew gives a glimpse into the company’s commitment to sustainable agriculture and its exciting plans for the future.

Given Little Leaf Farms’ recent milestone of becoming the #1 best-selling packaged lettuce in New England and the opening of a new greenhouse in McAdoo, PA, what challenges and opportunities do you foresee in expanding your footprint to new regions – and how does this contribute to your goal of reaching 100 acres under glass by 2026?
Little Leaf Farms.Packaging

When we opened our first greenhouse, we set out to build a more resilient food system and have pioneered a peri-urban approach in controlled environment agriculture. This means that our greenhouses are built in the surrounding regions of major urban centers to minimize the amount our leafy greens have to travel to reach the consumer, resulting in a lettuce that lasts longer and tastes better. We know this is the right model to enable us to bring our leafy greens to markets all over the country and are confident that once consumers in those new markets try our lettuce, they’ll never go back.

Little Leaf emphasizes sustainability. Can you highlight specific environmental practices that set the company apart and resonate with consumers?

Little Leaf Farms Indoor Ag-ContentEvery step of our growing process was designed to limit our impact on the planet. For example, we utilize captured rainwater in our soil-less farming, which results in 90% less water usage than field-grown greens. Plus our greenhouse locations are in regions with high natural precipitation and not dependent on groundwater as the west coast growers do.  . Our Devens, MA greenhouse gets 45 inches of rain per year alone and we use all of it, whereas Salinas, California sees only 10 inches of rain per year.

Our greenhouses are also built to maximize the free power of the sun, enabling us to grow our leafy greens with natural sunlight and solar-powered energy. We’re also using space much more efficiently and have 30 times more yield than conventional farms. In fact, 10 acres of our indoor greenhouse replaces 300 acres in a traditional farm. Our packages are just as important to our process, which is why they’re made from 100% post-consumer PET, which makes them infinitely recyclable and provides a much longer shelf life, too.

In a competitive market environment, what sets Little Leaf Farms apart, and how do you plan to maintain your leadership position as you expand to new markets?

Little Leaf Farms.ProcessWe have always approached growing lettuce as a farming company, rather than a tech company. While we are technologists and our technology is cutting-edge, our priority is growing sustainable, local lettuce that most importantly, tastes great. Our lettuce arrives on grocery store shelves within 24 hours of harvesting, spending less time traveling than most other lettuces. This, in addition to our highly automated system and sustainable growing practices, results in fresh, flavorful leafy greens that remain crispy a remarkably long time after purchase. At the end of the day, we’re growing food. People want to buy and eat what tastes good, and our amazing taste is what’s going to continue to be the differentiator for us.  We’ve also grown our business in a way that gives us the ability to scale profitably and better service our retailers, which is going to continue to put us in a position to challenge and compete with field-grown brands as we enter new markets. We’ve surpassed field-grown greens in New England and I’m confident we can replicate that success in other markets across the country as we grow.

In discussing the company’s success, you’ve mentioned maintaining a “farming company” mindset rather than a “tech play” approach.  Can you elaborate on how this mindset influences decision-making, innovation, and the overall character of Little Leaf, especially considering the evolving landscape of technology in agriculture?

Little Leaf Farms. PAOur business is about farming, and we consider farming a people-based business that puts the crop first. This mindset enables us to recruit the best team of growers, R&D staff, operations staff, and more to carry out our mission of growing fresh leafy greens for all. The farmer-first mindset also reinforces our commitment to growing a product that tastes great and that people actually want to eat, which ties directly to our mission of bringing fresh, leafy greens for all.

What’s next for Little Leaf Farms?

Our current focus is on getting our leafy greens to as many consumers as possible. Our recent expansion into McAdoo, PA has not only doubled our production capacity but has increased our retail presence to nearly 5,000 stores, expanding our footprint to include retailers in the Midwest and Southeast.

Little Leaf Farms.PA 2We’ve also expanded our product line to now offer salad kits made with our signature Baby Crispy Green Leaf lettuce, which had an initial launch in the Northeast this fall but will be expanding to our full distribution footprint in January 2024.

Learn more about Little Leaf Farms by visiting the website.  And, make plans now to join us for Indoor Ag-Con 2024 to hear Paul’s opening morning keynote address at 8 am on Monday, March 11, 2024!

Cultivating Change: Vertical Harvest CEO Talks Urban Farming, Local Impact, and Sustainable Futures

Founded in Jackson, Wyoming in 2016, Vertical Harvest stands out as a pioneering force — fusing architectural imagination, sustainable agriculture and a commitment to inclusivity.  Our CEA Q&A with CEO Nona Yehia explores the design principles and sustainability initiatives shaping her company’s growth, its newest projects in Westbrook, ME, and Detroit, MI and the meaningful difference the Vertical Harvest “Grow Well” model is making on the lives of individuals with disabilities.   From redefining “local” in food production to utilizing sustainable practices, Vertical Harvest has emerged not just as a trailblazer in controlled environment agriculture, but as a leader dedicated to feeding communities and fostering a brighter, more inclusive future.

As an accomplished architect, you brought your vision of North America’s first vertical hydroponic greenhouse to life with your flagship farm in Jackson, Wyoming in 2016. Could you share the key design and sustainability principles that guided the development of Vertical Harvest, and how these principles align with the company’s broader mission?

Vertical HarvestOur first farm in Wyoming started with a simple mandate: responsibly grow as much food as possible within our community (which has a four-month growing season and imports 90% of the food we eat) and to create job opportunities for people who live in our community, especially ones who suffer overwhelming unemployment rates, like people with disabilities. Our goal was to pursue both missions simultaneously, year-round via indoor growing, and work within the parameters of a city very scarce on available land and with a seasonable economy/labor pool.

And as an architect I’ve always been driven to try and understand the systems that build communities, how they support people, and conversely how they fail people, so it was amazing to dig into this in my own backyard. And I’ve rooted my career in the notion that the buildings and systems that make up the fabric of our cities, can and should be designed to meet the challenges of the 21st century – and be designed to serve all members of our 21st century society, especially those on the margins. States and cities are also recognizing that we need to do things differently, we need different approaches to climate adaptation as traditional agricultural systems come under greater stress.

Efforts to re-localize food production will be one of these different approaches and is a growing trend. As is indoor agriculture that can provide increased yields using fewer resources and climate proof our food supply against extreme weather.

So that’s how we became vertical farmers, designing and operating large scale indoor urban farms that grow better food and futures. We’ve seen how our farm is a new type of infrastructure that embodies conscious and radical inclusion — amplifying the voices of all to cultivate a new and burgeoning industry.

 

Vertical Harvest is expanding into different locations, such as the Westbrook, Maine farm and the recently announced project in Detroit. Can you share more about these projects and how they align with your mission of “feeding locals first” and supporting local food economies?

Vertical Harvest Maine
Vertical Harvest Westbrook rendering.

We imagine and advocate for a food system where everyone has the right to healthy food. Our goal to “feed locals first” prioritizes 70% of our produce going to customers within 150 miles of our farms — for the record we don’t call 400 miles “local” — and to meet the needs of the communities we’re growing in before we tap into wider distribution networks. To achieve this we look at the entire “community-as-our-customer” – so not just retail but also the small and medium businesses that make up the local culinary community as well as stalwart community institutions like hospitals, school systems, nursing homes and college campuses. On top of that we aim to divert 4 – 5 % of our farm’s total output specifically into low-income, low-access (LILA) channels, like food rescue operations and the charitable pantry system.

Vertical Harvest Detroit rendering
Vertical Harvest Detroit Rendering

Because of this focus on local food going to local folks, our farms are intentionally built within urban areas to both bolster the local food system and address food insecurity in the same communities where we farm. Our goal then becomes to replicate this mission across a national network of local farms. This is true in Westbrook, ME, a city in and of itself within the greater Portland Metro area, where we expect to be a meaningful contributor to the New England Food Vision of growing 30% of food locally by 2030. And it’s definitely true in Detroit, where we’re building in the Milwaukee Junction neighborhood with Bedrock Detroit. We’re very excited about exploring an even deeper level of opportunity there to imagine how we can use our farm to connect with all of the revitalization and infrastructure investment happening in that city (coincidentally, also my hometown and recently voted the #1 city in the world for start-ups).

Your commitment to employing people with disabilities and focusing on their abilities is inspiring. Can you elaborate on the impact this approach has had on the lives of your employees and how it has enhanced your company’s performance and mission?

Nona Yehia and Caroline Croft Estay
Vertical Harvest Co-Founders Nona Yehia and Caroline Croft Estay

Employing people with disabilities is personal. I grew up with a brother with developmental disabilities and from an early age, I observed how society treated him differently, with less opportunities. So when we set out to build the country’s first indoor vertical greenhouse, we wanted to implement a one-of-a-kind workforce model, too. Together, with my co-founder, Caroline Croft Estay – a former case manager in Teton County– we imagined “Grow Well,” a customized employment model fostering professional development, personal discovery and community impact. This person-centered approach aligns professional, personal and community components of the workplace to ensure the development of job skills, growth, accountability and engaged citizenship.

Across the country people with disabilities suffer on average an 80% unemployment rate, but at our farms we start by focusing on ability vs disability. And 40% of our folks are
differently-abled. For some we’re they’re first experience of meaningful and stable employment they’ve been offered. Others, even those with college degrees, often found themselves offered only entry level positions like cleaner or dishwasher.

Vertical Harvest Product and PeopleIn our 7 years of operation we’ve helped employees open bank accounts, sign their first lease, reverse evictions, get their driver’s license, earn back their guardianships and acted as health advocates as employees work to coordinate care across multiple doctors and health systems. These are real outcomes of our Grow Well customized employment program that we’re intensely proud of….

But also, our commitment to our people is an absolute brand differentiator. We like to say people come to the farm because they like our story, but they come back because of the quality of the product. We’re not in this for pity pennies – in fact that would undermine our whole mission to prove that neurodiverse minds, different life experiences and a range of perspectives make for stronger teams. And the fact that we are able to weave a great product and a great purpose together earns us tremendous brand loyalty and love.

Sustainability is a key focus for Vertical Harvest. Can you share some of the sustainable practices and technologies you implement in your operations and how they contribute to reducing environmental impact?

We’re committed to continuous improvement and innovation to enhance our own sustainability and in the indoor ag industry at large. We’re collaborating with the Resource Innovation Institute and the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy to create the first of its kind benchmarking report for the CEA sector. This USDA-grant funded program is collecting 4 years of data to inform the strengths and weaknesses of production methods. Additionally, our Wyoming facility acts as an R&D lab to test strategies for maximizing yield, including crop-specific growing and harvesting techniques like optimal lighting, climate controls, rack density and crop transport automation. Our work in that farm has been recognized by the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and the U.S. Department of Energy for our sustainable approach to natural and supplemental lighting. And then all future “next generation” farms are designed to be 100% electric. We like to say as the grid gets greener, so are we. And we’re always trying for more sustainable sourcing from our suppliers and keep a close eye on new technologies that enter the market.

What’s next for Vertical Harvest?

We have a roadmap for expansion – in addition to Maine opening and Detroit breaking ground next year, we hope to be announcing another 1 – 2 farms as well. Every farm will share some core features (like the Grow Well model and a commitment to prioritizing local), but also with a level of customization so each farm can adapt to the specific needs of the community they’re rooted in.

The needs of local ethnic communities and their culinary heritage is a great example, and we’re already trialing certain herbs and aromatics that are being requested in Maine. So, just as the farm in Jackson is a reflection of our western heritage and abundant outdoor adventure scene, the farm in Westbrook, ME will take on its own personality adapting to its place, space and culture. And of course, that goes for Detroit too and all our future farms as well, because we believe hope lies in the local. We know that real community is built through the tables we set, who we make a place for and the love and care and nourishment that gets mixed into every dish. We’re excited to dig in!

 

About Nona Yehia

An accomplished architect by training, and principal of GYDE Architects in Jackson Hole, WY, Nona designed North America’s first vertical hydroponic greenhouse and founded Vertical Harvest Farms. Alongside her co-founder, Caroline Croft-Estay, Nona pioneered an inclusive, customized employment model for people with physical and/or intellectual disabilities. Vertical Harvest grew from Nona’s experiences growing up with a brother with developmental disabilities, love of fresh and local food, obsession with great design, and long-standing community involvement. Nona’s dynamic leadership style has led to recognition as a CNN Champion of Change. She is a Tony Hsieh Award Fellow and a Cities Member on World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council. Vertical Harvest is a 2x finalist for Fast Company’s Best Places to Work for Innovators. Nona graduated from the University of Michigan and earned a Masters degree in architecture from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. She resides in Jackson, WY.

Learn more about Nona and Vertical Harvest —visit the company website.

 

Netafim Partners with Vermillion Growers to Open State-of-the-Art Commercial Greenhouse In Central Canada

Orbia’s Precision Agriculture business, Netafim (Indoor Ag-Con 2024 Exhibitor!) has partnered with Vermillion Growers to build a large-scale vegetable greenhouse in Manitoba, Canada. Gakon Netafim, the company’s commercial greenhouse project division, is a world-renowned leader in Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA). The facility celebrated its grand opening on July 27, 2023, a significant milestone for Orbia, Vermillion Growers, and the local community.

Based in Dauphin, Vermillion Growers will begin growing tomatoes year-round across 10 acres, with plans to expand their production area and grow additional crops. Canada currently imports over 75% of its vegetables and 50% of its tomatoes. By reducing shipping time, customers can get fresh, higher-quality tomatoes at their local grocery stores, even in remote communities. By reducing transit time and the resulting spoilage, this exciting new development also cuts down on food waste.

Orbia Precision Agriculture Technology to Support Sustainable Practices

Gakon Netafim’s greenhouse solutions make it possible, and profitable, to meet consumers’ preferences for local produce that is grown sustainably.

The roof structure on the greenhouse will collect enough water to meet 50% of the entire facility’s irrigation needs. Additionally, the double-screen system minimizes light pollution and reduces the overall energy used by 50%. “The double-screen technology is optimal for controlling the climate in the greenhouse and allows for greater energy savings and efficiency,” says Ricky Elz, Greenhouse Key Account Project Manager at Gakon Netafim. “The blackout screens provide shading to crops and are essential to crop growth in the greenhouse.”

“Our partnership with Vermillion Growers is an exciting part of our Greenhouse Business and I’m excited for what comes next. All of us at Orbia are proud to play a role in positively impacting the many communities of Manitoba,” said Claude Corcos, Vice President of Strategy & Business Development at Orbia’s Precision Agriculture business, Netafim USA.

Economic Benefits and Community Impact

Since Vermillion Growers’ opening, it has hired 30 new full-time employees and will eventually bring over 200 jobs to the community. Vermillion has further partnered with Assiniboine Community College, a local college in Dauphin which will begin offering a Horticultural Production program this fall to provide education and training to those in the community who are interested in pursuing work in the field, including work at Vermillion Growers.

Notably, Vermillion Growers has provided job training and support to several workers who relocated from Ukraine to escape from conflict. Per Capita, Dauphin has one of the largest Ukrainian populations in Canada.

“The combination of world-class greenhouse technology and local expertise is why Vermillion invested in Gakon Netafim solutions,” says Maria Deschauer, managing director of Vermillion Growers. “We prioritize growing fresh produce, as well as healthy people and sustainable communities. All three are connected and we are thrilled for their support.”

About Netafim

Netafim, Orbia’s Precision Agriculture business, is the world’s largest irrigation company and a global leader in precision agriculture solutions committed to fight scarcity of food, water and land, for a sustainable future. Founded in 1965, Netafim pioneered the drip revolution, creating a paradigm shift toward precision irrigation. Today, specializing in end-to-end solutions from the water source to the root zone, Netafim delivers irrigation and greenhouse projects, as well as landscape and mining irrigation solutions supported by engineering, project management and financing services. Netafim is also leading the way in digital farming, irrigation and fertigation, integrating real-time monitoring, analysis and automated control into one state-of-the-art system. With 33 subsidiaries, 19 manufacturing plants, 2 recycling plants and more than 5000 employees worldwide, Netafim delivers innovative, tailor-made irrigation and fertigation solutions to millions of farmers, allowing smallholders to large-scale agricultural producers and investors, in over 110 countries, to grow more with less™.

About Orbia

Orbia is a company driven by a shared purpose: to advance life around the world. Orbia operates in the Polymer Solutions (Vestolit and Alphagary), Building and Infrastructure (Wavin), Precision Agriculture (Netafim), Connectivity Solutions (Dura-Line) and Fluorinated Solutions (Koura) sectors. The five Orbia business groups have a collective focus on expanding access to health and wellness, reinventing the future of cities and homes, ensuring food and water security, connecting communities to information and accelerating a circular economy with basic and advanced materials, specialty products and innovative solutions. Orbia has commercial activities in more than 110 countries and operations in over 50, with global headquarters in Boston, Mexico City, Amsterdam and Tel Aviv.

About Vermillion Growers
Vermillion Growers is the first large-scale vegetable greenhouse in Manitoba, Canada. Its mission is to grow high-quality produce, healthy people, and sustainable communities. The greenhouse is helping to bridge the gap in food production in Central Canada by producing fresh tomatoes year-round. Vermillion Growers utilizes industry-leading technology to operate an efficient and environmentally sustainable facility.  

From Strawberry Roots To Berry Innovation: Nourse Farms CEO Shares Insights On Expansion, New Opportunities

From its beginnings as a local strawberry nursery in 1932, Nourse Farms has evolved into an internationally recognized soft fruit nursery. Indoor Ag-Con is pleased to have Nourse Farms as an exhibitor for our March 11-12, 2024 edition in Las Vegas. We had the opportunity to catch up with CEO John Place to learn more about the company’s rich history, exciting expansion plans, state-of-the-art tissue culture labs and greenhouses in this month’s CEA Q&A. Read on to learn how this industry leader is not only adapting to changing market dynamics but also shaping them, as Nourse Farms positions itself to meet the evolving needs of berry growers worldwide, especially in the controlled environment agriculture sector.

Nourse Farms has a rich history dating back over 90 years.  Can you share some key milestones in the company’s journey and how these have shaped its commitment to innovation and quality?

Aerial Photo Nourse Farms Whately, MA location
Aerial photo of Nourse Farms Whatley, Massaschusetts location

With Nourse Farms being around for almost a century, we’re fortunate to have a number of milestones that emphasize our commitment to innovation and delivering quality. Some highlights include:

  • 1932: The farm was established as a strawberry plant nursery
  • 1978: Raspberry plants added to the product mix
  • 1980: The first tissue culture lab built
  • 1982: Customized cooling facility built, allowing for storage of dormant, bare root plants
  • 2003: Blackberry plants added to the product mix
  • 2019: The first commercial planting of tray plants (strawberries) and long canes (brambles)
  • 2020-2022: The continued expansion of tray plants and long canes
  • Present: A major expansion of our lab, greenhouses, and growing facilities that is intended to not only increase our footprint, but also amplify our commitment to innovation, as we will be using cutting-edge technologies to help us grow the cleanest, highest quality plants possible.

The recent announcement about your expansion plans and partnership with an investment firm are exciting and significant developments for Nourse Farms. Could you elaborate on the strategic goals behind the expansion and how it positions the company to meet the evolving needs of berry growers worldwide, especially in the CEA sector?

Nourse Farms Mills River, North Carolina location
Nourse Farms Mills River, North Carolina location

Nourse Farms has focused on delivering the highest quality plants and exceptional customer service to the berry industry for decades. We are sitting at a pivotal point in North American berry farming where consumer demand is growing alongside new production techniques that are game-changers to the industry. Our goal is to secure our position as the market leader in berry plant propagation in North America. With that in mind, we are making a significant investment in our growing facilities in multiple locations to grow the highest quality plants for our customers.

We will now be growing in three distinct climates (Massachusetts, Washington, and North Carolina) so that the variety selection and plant type we have for our customers is grown in the best climate for its purpose. The new tissue culture lab, greenhouses, tray fields, trellis fields, and cold storage are all a part of our process and are included in the upgrades we are making. We believe these strategic investments will position us to scale quickly and efficiently to meet the changing needs of the market.

With the upcoming modern tissue culture lab and greenhouses in Massachusetts and North Carolina, how do you envision these facilities enhancing Nourse Farms’ ability to innovate and provide top-quality plants to your customers? Are there specific technologies or practices you’re excited to incorporate?

Tissue culture and micropropagation have been a cornerstone of Nourse Farms since we built our first lab in 1980. We use these techniques to grow our clean foundation mother plants, from which we propagate. With our ability to do in-house virus indexing and eliminate thru heat treatment, we can ensure our mother plants are of the highest quality. This new lab is actually our fourth lab to be built and will give us not only significant production capacity beyond our current lab but will also incorporate automation throughout the facility to aid in producing consistent, efficient, predictable results.

You’ve mentioned that you believe the future of berry production will increasingly demand substrate-grown plants. Can you provide some insights into the advantages and innovations in your substrate production process that make this approach so promising?

Nourse Farms long canes
Nourse Farms long canes

Over the last several years, we have been growing tray plants (strawberries) and long canes (brambles). We have learned a lot regarding growing systems, proper fertigation, timing of planting, and other important details to produce a plant that is fit for purpose for our customers. With this experience, we are now positioned to strategically scale this part of our operation to meet the growing demands of the industry and ensure that our customers will receive the high-quality plants they expect from us.

Now that we are growing in multiple climates, various plant types and varieties can grow in the optimal conditions that they require.

Variety development also plays a key role in the innovations that we are preparing for the market. We have been working with berry breeders around the world for decades in an effort to identify, import, trial, and then scale the best genetics for our customers.

As Nourse Farms continues to expand and innovate, what do you see as the most significant trends or opportunities in the controlled environment agriculture industry, and how is the company positioned to take advantage of these trends?

Berry consumers are demanding not only more berries but also higher quality berries. The strategic steps Nourse Farms is taking are a direct result of our response to the fact that berry production is moving from traditional outdoor growing areas towards indoor facilities near population centers. High-tech glasshouses and indoor vertical growing facilities require a plant type grown specifically for these high-capacity facilities to generate the return on investment that is required.

This is where the opportunity is for upstream suppliers like us. Our plants are grown specifically to meet this demand and give our customers the returns they need for their investments. The more growing we do—both of our plants and of our business—the more success for our customers.

For more information on Nourse Farms, visit the company website.
And, be sure to visit them in booth 317 at Indoor Ag-Con from March 11-12, 2024 at Caesars Forum in Las Vegas!

Gotham Greens Expands Into the Southeast With Georgia Greenhouse Opening

NEW YORK, Oct. 11, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Gotham Greens, a Certified B Corporation™ and one of the fastest growing indoor farming brands, today announced the opening of its first high-tech hydroponic greenhouse in the Southeast region and the company’s twelfth greenhouse nationwide. The 210,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility in Monroe, Ga., located between Atlanta and Athens, Ga., is the company’s second of three new greenhouses opening in 2023. The greenhouse will provide a year-round supply of Georgia Grown, fresh produce to retail, restaurant, and foodservice customers throughout the region, including Whole Foods Market, Publix, Harris Teeter, The Fresh Market, and more. This includes new offerings, such as the regionally-inspired Coastal Crunch lettuce and family size packs of the best-selling Butterhead and Gourmet Spring Mix.

“As we celebrate National Farmer’s Day, this expansion into the South is a pivotal moment for Gotham Greens and brings us one step closer to our goal of being able to deliver Gotham Greens fresh produce within a day’s drive from our greenhouses to 90% of consumers across the U.S.” said Viraj Puri, Co-Founder and CEO of Gotham Greens. “Our new Georgia greenhouse is the largest, most technologically advanced we’ve ever built and uses enhanced automation, climate control and data science capabilities to ensure that our greens are not only delicious, but also consistent and reliable for our customers.”

The greenhouse boasts sophisticated new technology to overcome the region’s hot, humid climate and ensure all leafy greens and herbs meet the standard consumers nationwide have come to associate with and expect from the brand. In contrast to traditional open-field farming methods, Gotham Greens farms use up to 90% less water and 97% less land compared to conventional farming methods and provide a consistent and proven way of growing food closer to where people live. While field crops are especially vulnerable to the elements such as heavy rains or drought, the fully closed greenhouse system provides protection and reliability for customers.

“Gotham Greens’ new, state-of-the-art greenhouse facility in Monroe will deploy the latest, cutting-edge agricultural technology, while creating almost 100 jobs in Walton County and providing consumers across Georgia with sustainable, Georgia Grown produce year-round,” said Tyler Harper, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Agriculture. “Gotham Greens and the Georgia Grown brand are rooted in the shared values of quality, integrity, and innovation, and we’re proud to welcome them to the great state of Georgia.”

Agriculture is Georgia’s oldest and leading industry, contributing $70 billion to the state’s economy. With increasing high impact weather events, it is essential for the region to embrace new, innovative farming methods and products.

In Georgia, one in nine people face hunger, including one in eight children. Gotham Greens will work with local non-profit partners to help address food insecurity and provide seedlings for community gardens and educational purposes. In 2022, the company donated more than 44,000 pounds of food to families in need and provided more than 27,000 seedling donations for community gardens and educational purposes.

For more information on Gotham Greens, its greenhouses and its products, please visit gothamgreens.com.

ABOUT GOTHAM GREENS
Gotham Greens is an indoor farming company and a fresh food brand on a mission to transform the way we approach our food system, putting people and the planet at the forefront. Gotham Greens produces and delivers long-lasting and delicious leafy greens, herbs, salad dressings, dips, and cooking sauces all year round to retail, restaurant, and foodservice customers. A Certified B Corporation™, Gotham Greens sustainably grows high-quality produce using up to 90% less water and 97% less land than conventional farming through its national network of climate-controlled, high-tech greenhouses across America, including locations in New York, Illinois, Rhode Island, Maryland, Virginia, Colorado, California, Georgia and Texas. Since its launch in 2011, Gotham Greens has grown from a single urban rooftop greenhouse in Brooklyn, N.Y., to one of the largest hydroponic leafy green producers in North America. Gotham Greens products are available in more than 6,500 locations nationwide, including Whole Foods Market, The Kroger Co., Sprouts Farmers Market, Albertsons, Target, The Fresh Market, FreshDirect, AmazonFresh and more. For more information, visit gothamgreens.com.

iGrow News Launches Market Research Division

Indoor Ag-Con media partner iGrowNews, a prominent news platform renowned for its extensive coverage of industries within the agriculture sector, has launched a new Market Research Division.

This new division provides tailored market research services based on each client’s unique needs and challenges. Leveraging the expansive database they have amassed over the years, iGrow News aims to offer unparalleled insights spanning various industries such as Controlled Environment Agriculture (including Indoor Farming, Vertical Farming, Greenhouses, and Container Farming), Robotics & AI in Agriculture, Crop Nutrition, Crop Protection, Agriculture Machinery & Equipment, Farm Management Software, and Sensors & IoT in Agriculture.

In the age of data-driven decision-making, iGrow News’ decision to launch this division reflects its ongoing commitment to meet the evolving needs of its clients. “We have always strived to bring relevant news and information to our audience. With this new division, we are taking it further by providing actionable insights derived from a deep analysis of our vast industry data. This move positions us as a news platform and a strategic partner for businesses,” says Sepehr Achard, CEO of iGrow News.

The Market Research Division will utilize the latest techniques and methodologies in data analysis to provide actionable market insights, in-depth reports, and strategic recommendations. This will equip clients with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions and stay ahead in their respective markets.

iGrow News invites all interested parties needing tailored market research services to reach out and explore how this new initiative can meet their unique needs.

iGrow News is a leading news platform specializing in the agriculture technology sector. They deliver industry news and information, helping professionals stay updated on current trends and developments. With its new Market Research Division, iGrow News is set to offer more personalized services to businesses, contributing to strategic planning and informed decision-making.

News website: igrownews.com

Reports: agtechreports.com

 

Press Contact:
Sepehr A. Achard
Chief Executive Officer
e: sepehr.achard@igrow.news

Talking Automation, Sustainability and Scale With Better Future Farms Co-Founder John McMahon

Earlier this month, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin announced that Better Future Farms, Inc. will build a new hydroponic greenhouse and processing facility on a 61-acre site in the  Louisa County Industrial Air Park. Backed by funding from Generate Capital, a sustainable infrastructure investment and operating platform and a distribution partnership with Taylor Farms,  a leading North American producer of salads and healthy fresh foods, the facility is set to come online in 2024.  In this month’s CEA Q&A, John McMahon, co-founder/chief operating officer of Better Future Farms and founder of Schuyler Greens, shared insights on their decision to locate in central Virginia’s Louisa County , their sustainability initiatives and long term goals for the company.

What led to the decision to build the new greenhouse and processing facility in Louisa County?  What factors made this location the best choice for Better Future Farms?

Better Future Farms Indoor Ag-Con Q and AThe decision was driven by both the site and infrastructure. My business partner David Drescher and I both live in the Charlottesville area, and Louisa County is the next county over.  In central Virginia it’s hard to find the flat terrain needed for a greenhouse facility.  This site had that and the right infrastructure in place in terms of electrical capabilities, natural gas, and proximity to large freeways and distribution logistics.

The local support was another key factor.  We looked at several different counties and once we talked to Louisa County about the project and what it entailed, they were incredibly supportive and became great partners throughout the process.

We also wanted to build our first project in our own backyard in Virginia, as we’re from the area and didn’t want to be on a plane every week. Leveraging our existing relationships in the CEA industry in Virginia also played a role. The state is very enthusiastic about the future of CEA and government agencies and organizations like the   Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership were very supportive and helpful.  And, of course, Virginia itself is a great choice since it puts the facility within a day’s drive of a large population base.

What will differentiate Better Future Farms from other greenhouse/indoor operations?

I’ve been a grower for about 10 years now, so I tend to be a bit cynical when it comes to making big claims. I would say that we’re investing a significant portion of our capital in automation – in the greenhouse, pack line, and growing system.  This decision was influenced by owning and operating a smaller greenhouse for years and recognizing the repetitive tasks that are present in greenhouse operations. The goal of automation is not to replace employees, but to automate the tasks that are repetitive and do not add value, freeing up employees to perform more important tasks.

I see automation is a tool in our toolbox.  We’re not a technology company. At the end of the day, our job is to be a sustainable business that grows lettuce at the right price. The focus of the investment and all our innovations is to do that as efficiently as possible.

Can you share more about your partnership with Taylor Farms?  How will this collaboration help you reach more customers?

Better Future FarmsTaylor Farms is one of the largest salad and fresh cut vegetable processors in the world and all our lettuce will be marketed under Taylor Farms’ Earthbound Farms brand. David and I have both been at this for a long time and we know what it takes to build a brand.  So, we wanted to team up with an existing brand rather than build a new one from scratch.  We talked to several companies and when we met with Taylor Farms, our objectives, philosophies, and values all aligned.

I’m not the type of greenhouse grower seeking to displace field growers.  The way the industry is now, greenhouse/controlled environment agriculture production is miniscule compared to what the large California farms put out.  But these western growers see a need to diversify the supply chain.  Retailers are asking for it because of food safety issues. And, together with post pandemic freight, shipping and other supply chain , water, and weather challenges, it’s gotten more complicated –and more expensive.  Greenhouses/CEA can help diversify the supply chain by allowing these large players to grow product closer to the end user.

We have a great relationship with Taylor Farms and are so excited to be working with them.  For me, starting as a smaller, niche grower, it’s a huge honor to be growing for the largest lettuce producer.

Can you speak to any specific sustainability initiatives or practices that Better Future Farms will implement in its operations and how they align with Generate Capital’s focus on sustainable agriculture?

Generate Capital is a leading ESG public benefit corporation focused heavily on building and financing solutions for clean energy, water, waste, agriculture and more.  They’d been looking at the CEA sector for some time.  While we are their first investment here, I expect they will be very active in this space, and not just with us.

We certainly share their focus on sustainable agriculture and have several sustainability initiatives in our operations.

We are harvesting all our rainwater. Virginia consistently gets 44 inches of rain distributed throughout the year.  We expect that 90-95% of our irrigation will be reclaimed water.  As part of our 14.5-acre facility, we have a 2-acre retention pond that can hold 2.5 million gallons that we’ll be pulling into the greenhouse and using for irrigation.

We’ll also be using 100% LED lights, so there will be no high-pressure sodium lighting and less energy use.

And we’ll always be on the lookout for even more ways to use the least amount of inputs and energy to be as sustainable as possible.

What are your long-term goals for Better Future Farms? What do you hope to achieve in the next few years?

Our goals are to build out multiple facilities in Virginia and other geographical locations, add different products, and grow our partnership with Taylor Farms.

In terms of crops, we’d like to offer different types of lettuce and, possibly, berries.  We want to become a diversified producer. The challenge is you need to marry products that complement each other. For example, lettuce and strawberries work well together because they both travel in the cold chain.  Tomatoes and vine crops need to be on a warmer truck.

What’s next for Schuyler Greens?  Will you still be involved?

I wouldn’t be doing this new project without the knowledge and experience I gained from launching and building Schuyler Greens.  I’ve owned Schuyler Greens for more than 9 years now and it encompasses 225 acres outside of Charlottesville with a greenhouse in the middle. I will be keeping Schuyler Greens separate from Better Future Farms.

Schuyler Greens is better off as a traditional farm with a greenhouse on it as we don’t have access to the infrastructure or flat terrain needed to scale up a large greenhouse. The value for me is that Schuyler Greens is a true working farm with cattle, timber and other resources.

We really live in an Amazon world today.  The pandemic certainly accelerated some of the structural changes and put a spotlight on supply chain issues.  Just like consumers, wholesalers and retailers want product all the time so it’s essential for growers to keep up the pace of demand or risk losing business.

The bottom line is that all farming is economies of scale. To consistently produce every day of the week and be sustainable, reliable, and dependable for your customers –whether you’re a small niche grower or a mega-grower– is hard work.    At Schuyler Greens and Better Future Farms, we’re committed to meeting the needs of our customers and partners and are excited about the future.

To learn more about Better Future Farms, visit   www.betterfuture.farm

To learn more about Schuyler Greens, visit www.schuylergreens.com