Hands-free lettuce cultivation is the future?

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“This is what we call hands-free cultivation ,” says Anthony Umina, managing member of Fresh Local Produce, when showing his newly realised fully automated growing system in Hudson, Ohio. Fresh Local Produce of Ohio started their production of fresh baby lettuce in a 2 acre greenhouse this February and their produce can already be found on the shelves of several grocery stores in the area. Fresh Local Produce is selling under the brand “Free! Leafy Greens”. This North American project was completed this winter and was realised by Green Automation. 

“The name Free! Leafy Greens is referring to everything this baby leaf lettuce is free of; Free of chemical pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, free of GMO, free of chlorine washes and even free from any hands touching the lettuce,” says Anthony. “This is what we call Hands-Free Cultivation. Food safety is at the top of everyone’s priority list today, retailers, restaurants and consumers alike. Our Hands-Free Cultivation in the controlled environment of greenhouse checks all the boxes for safe and sustainable growth.” 

Yield numbers & plant density
“When choosing the growing system for their operations, Fresh Local Produce asked the right questions,” says Patrik Borenius, CEO Green Automation Americas. “They looked at yield numbers, plant density, labor efficiency and the costs involved to achieve an economically viable operation. Our fully automated growing system with moving open-gutters achieves the highest plant density and operates efficiently on a commercial scale. Fresh Local Produce also chose a strategic location for their greenhouse. The site is close to the interstate allowing for efficient distribution of their fresh greens and with a population of over 50 Million within a 6 hrs. truck drive. In addition, low energy cost was secured at the site and there are opportunities to expand the operations at this location,” explains Borenius.  

Food safety
“With food safety being at the focus of attention in the industry today and an essential component of any successful food production operation, we as a company are taking it upon ourselves to join the Safe Quality Food (SQF) Initiative and raise our food safety standards. By doing so we have implemented a comprehensive food safety system and are preparing for our first voluntary SQF audit to obtain the Food Safety and Quality Certification,” explains Gina Frontino, Food Safety and Quality Assurance Manager at Fresh Local Produce. 

“In addition to the food safety measures in place, the fully automated growing system brings an extra level of food safety to the operation, as it eliminates any human contact with the lettuce. No-one touches our leafy greens during the entire growing process. We like to call that Worry-Free lettuce,” says Frontino. 

The company’s strong focus on responsibly and locally produced lettuce is aligning well with the ongoing trend toward and growing demand for fresh, safe and locally grown lettuce. “Our lettuce is in the stores within 24 hours of harvesting. It does not get much fresher than that, and you can taste the difference,” says Eric Highfield, Chief Agricultural Officer at Fresh Local Produce.

Free! Leafy Greens are grown and harvested every day, 365 days per year. The new greenhouse operation measures 2 acres and the site is prepared for future expansions. “Right now, we are ramping up the production of phase 1. We will take one step at the time and determine when the time is right to expand,” says Anthony Umina.

Source: Helena Borenius
Green Automation Americas

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