Pure Green Farms takes indoor-outdoor approach to leafy greens
Another year passes, and with it, a steady stream of news about greenhouses and other controlled environment agriculture (CEA) operations opening in the East.
But it would be a mistake to see them as competition to traditional open-field growers. In reality, greenhouses like Pure Green Farms in South Bend, Indiana, see themselves as supporting the flow of field-grown leafy greens
grown en masse in the West.
“We’ll never replace field-grown California, Arizona lettuce,” said Jim Marcum, vice president of sales at Pure Green Farms. “But we certainly can supplement each other.”
Knowing their place
A staff of 30 people working at the four-acre greenhouse grows 2 million pounds of lettuce a year, Marcum said. The hydroponic greenhouse uses a nutrient-film technique, to flow nutrient-filled water over the roots of the plants. The plants can be separated as they grow, giving them a nice European-style lettuce profile. Due to the location in the Midwest, the sunlight is supplemented with artificial lights – mostly LEDs, but also a few high-pressure sodium lights, Marcum said.
The farm operation, which celebrated its first harvest in March 2020, was built as an investment of Ceres Partners, a specialist investment manager focused exclusively on food and agriculture. Marcum said a four-acre expansion doubling the size of the greenhouse is being planned for a spring groundbreaking. Ceres owns the cornfields that surround the site, Marcum said, and there is the possibility there to expand the greenhouse as much as 300 acres.
But more recently, Pure Green Farms has tapped resources that are further afield. In August 2021, the Salinas, California-based Taylor Farms announced an investment in Pure Green Farms. In a news release, Taylor Farms said the expansion would complement Taylor Farms’ existing 122,200-crop-acre field-grown program and 16 salad-producing facilities across North America.
“We’re excited to venture into the industry of indoor growing with this investment,” Bruce Taylor, founder and CEO, Taylor Farms, said in the release. “Our customer partners have asked for a national solution, and this is our first step.”
Marcum said such East-West partnerships between greenhouse growers and western field growers make sense and the industry will likely see more of them.
Other such partnerships are appearing – Mastronardi Produce recently announced involvement with AppHarvest, a Kentucky-based, fast-growing indoor grower of tomatoes and other fresh produce crops.
Products’ broad appeal for consumers
Marcum said that starting out, the goal for Pure Green Farms was to have products that appealed to almost everyone.
“Our product has this broad appeal to all consumers, you know,” he said.
“We didn’t get too carried away with you know, putting this or that in the mix or you know, trying to make something so unique. We really wanted just to appeal to everybody. We only grow four varieties of baby lettuce and we only sell four SKUs (stock-keeping units).”
The four lettuces are baby green- and red-leaf lettuce, baby arugula and baby Romaine. The four units the company sells in 4-ounce and 9.5-ounce containers are baby green leaf, baby spring mix, baby red and green leaf, and crispy romaine. The company in October updated the packaging designs and packing materials that use a third less plastic.
In addition to grocery store sales in Kroger, Family Fare and Spartan Nash chains, the farm is also growing its foodservice sales, announcing in October a new exclusive relationship with Cincinnati-based LaRosa’s Family Pizzeria, which will be offering Pure Green Farms Baby Green Leaf lettuce on its menu. Pure Green Farms is providing 10,000 lbs. of baby leaf per week to LaRosa’s 66 pizzerias located in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. Marcum said the comments from the locals usually revolve on the freshness, availability and consistency of the lettuce, and LaRosa’s is no different.
Mark LaRosa, president and chief culinary officer of LaRosa’s, said in a news release he previously had some problems getting consistent high-quality iceberg lettuce delivered on time.
“The Baby Leaf Lettuce from Pure Green Farms solves both issues,” he said. “It’s fresh and tastes great.”
— Stephen Kloosterman, contributing writer