“At this farm we will grow the freshest and most sustainable greens in the state,” said Abby Prior, vice president of marketing for BrightFarms. “Let’s make sure that consumers in Ohio have access to locally grown, Wilmington grown, greens at every retailer in the state.”
The company invited regional and state officials to the first harvest at the greenhouse located 45 minutes southeast of Dayton to demonstrate the economic impact the new greenhouse will have in Ohio.
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While local is the number one demand driver of produce, supermarkets have trouble sourcing the quantity they need, so BrightFarms aims to supply local produce at a commercial scale. The greenhouse is state-of-the-art in both its sustainability and production, Prior said.
“Less is more when it comes to BrightFarms,” said Mitch Heaton of the Dayton Development Coalition. “Their operations use 80 percent less water, 90 percent less land.”
The company uses the water to fill shallow ponds, which is just enough for the plants to take in. Employees will top off the ponds to keep and use water to sanitize equipment, said Brian Stephens, the general manager of the Wilmington farm.
The water is also filtered through ultraviolet rays to kill E. Coli and other pathogens, said Lee Muhlenkamp, the production manager of the Ohio greenhouse.
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“We just use a lot less water than a field grown process would because we’re controlled and we’re efficient with our machines and the way we use our water,” Stephens said.
Once at full capacity, the 30 employees at the farm will harvest about 2,000 pounds of usable greens every day, Muhlenkamp said.
The first step in production is to put the seeds and soil on a growing board. A growing board has about 100 slots that can each hold up to 18 seeds, Stephens said. Then the filled growing boards move to a germination chamber for two to three days, where the seeds can crack, before moving to the “ponds” in the greenhouse to grow.
The greenhouse fully controls temperature, humidity and CO2 levels by cell phone, Mulenkamp said.
Once the plants have matured, BrightFarms send the vegetables through machines that will harvest the plants, removing unusable roots and stems, six days a week, Stephens said. The vegetables are then cooled in a pre-cooler for three hours and leave for grocery stores within 24 hours.
“We’re able to service hundreds of stores depending on how much is going to each store,” Stephens said.
In addition to the 30 employees, the company made a $10 million investment into the facility and partners with local colleges, further stimulating the local economy.
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The farm is only using about four of the 20 acres it owns, so Wilmington College and Southern State Community College are farming the rest “to keep the land agriculture fully,” Stephens said.
The farm also has a vision to grow two to three times its current size, Prior said.
Initially the pesticide-free and non-GMO products will be distributed weekly to the Cincinnati Food Bank, with unamed Ohio retailers starting as soon as possible, likely next month, Stephens said.
“What we have in the works is major retailers. We don’t have specifics for who it’s going into,” Stephens said. “But what we’re asking people to do is if you don’t see it in your store and you’d like to see us, ask your retailer…we’d be happy to have that conversation with any retailers.”
The company would like to work with Kroger because of its local presence, as well as others in the region, said Jack Holland, who’s in charge of sales for the greenhouse. In other states, BrightFarms is sold at Roundy’s and Mariano’s, Kroger Co. brands, as well as Walmart and Ahold-Delhaize’s Giant Stores, Stephens said.
The Wilmington greenhouse is the fourth for the company, which also has farms in Rochelle, Illinois, Culpeper County, Virginia, and Bucks County, Pennsylvania, according to the company’s website.
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