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On the same day the Philadelphia Eagles beat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII, history was made when the first shipment of greenhouse-grown lettuce greens were delivered to supermarkets within 400 miles of where they were grown.
In Southern Minnesota.
Yes, you read that correctly. “We only had 100,000 square feet of start-up space when we opened,” said Brendon Krieg, Sales Manager and part owner of Revol Greens. “In three short years, we’re now growing greens on 2.5 acres, and we’re in the beginning period of our third expansion, this time to seven acres.”
Krieg said growing greens in a greenhouse uses much the same technology as growing tomatoes in a greenhouse. Bushel Boy Tomatoes, (recently –sold) sister company to Revol Greens, led the way in the movement toward “Clean & Green” growing, adding that “the original tomato grower from Bushel Boy was the first grower here at Revol.”
A quick trip inside the growing area required hand-washing and hairnets. “The environment inside the greenhouse is totally controlled,” Krieg said. “We go to the greatest lengths to make sure we use clean seeds, clean dirt. We plant for several hours a day, several times a week, but the planting is all done by one person only, and it’s a hands-free process.”
Using clean seeds and clean dirt eliminates the need for human involvement, Krieg said in explaination of Revol’s process. “Consider traditional farming and gardening processes. Traditional harvesting methods using machinery aren’t very exact or scientific. Think of when you see ‘volunteer’ stalks of corn growing in a soybean field. That couldn’t happen here because the process begins with clean components – the seed and the dirt – and ends with the same clean components. The growing boards are very thoroughly cleaned and sanitized after each growing cycle, and we have no bugs or birds to carry and drop single seeds from other growing areas, such as the corn seed to the soybean field,” he said.
“The other bonus? No weeding or cultivating needed!” Krieg laughed, adding that not having to tend to the soil eliminates the need for additional staff to do the task. “We started here with about 25 people, including a few we borrowed from Bushel Boy. Since then we’ve added on a few more, but we really don’t anticipatine having any more than 50 employees by the time we’ve finished the expansion to seven acres.”
Using insects for pollination purposes isn’t necessary for growing greens, Krieg said, because greens do not flower. “We bring in bees to pollinate the tomato plants at Bushel Boy. The box is about the size of a copy paper box. We remove the lid, the bees come out and do their job, and return to the box at night. The process is repeated each time the boards of immature tomato plants reach that point in their growing cycle. “
From the exterior, the glass structures appear no different than any other greenhouse, a possible exception being their massive size. It is constructed of two different sizes of glass panels and designed to withstand heavy rains and hail as well as heavy winds and large snow-loads. But on the inside, there is almost an ‘other-worldly’ feel. There’s not a sound, other than what filters through from nearby freeway traffic and Mother Nature’s unscheduled contributions. But even on a dark, cloudy day, it is the light that is different, not quite natural.
“We’ve found that purple light is perfect for growing,” Krieg mentioned, indicating the thousands of individual red and blue lights hung together high in the rafters, their combined shades creating the perfect artificial hue. High-powered ‘grow lights’ add a sunny note to the cloudy day. Miles of dark fabric shading material hang above the rows of lights to provide protection from not only the sun, but to help regulate the indoor temperature during the warmer months of the year.
From the day the seeds are placed into the dirt, the grow-boards upon which they reside are moved by conveyor to different locations in the greenhouse, until they ultimately arrive at the harvest station, which is an empty trough roughly 25 feet long which is filled with running water on harvest days. Again, Krieg said, only a handful of staff are required for the task. Krieg said the plants are removed from the grow boards, rinsed in the trough and arranged for packaging in protective clear-plastic clamshell boxes.
“Every process here is designed and used to protect the plant. We even have an automated roof washer, designed so there’s no runoff, zero emission. We recycle rainwater, and all the other water used in the process of growing and harvesting these greens,” Krieg said, adding that the only water not re-used or recycled on the entire property is that used in cleaning and in the restrooms.
Krieg is excited about the unlimited possibilities of greenhouse-grown produce. “This is a ‘first of its kind’ type of operation, and it is only limited by its newness. We are patiently waiting for the developments needed for us to continue on,” he said.
(The announcement of the company’s move into the sales and distribution of greenhouse-grown strawberries was made shortly after Krieg was interviewed for this article.)
- Authored By Lisa Richmond