Gotham Greens said its Chicago facility is “the world’s largest” rooftop farm. © Gotham Greens/Julie McMahon
Following the recent romaine lettuce E coli outbreak across North America, US authorities called on the leafy greens supply chain to adopt emerging technologies to trace produce from field to fork.
From October to December, a total of 63 people were infected with the same strain of E coli. While no one died, 25 people were hospitalised and two developed kidney failure.
Following the romaine recall, prices of other lettuce varieties more than doubled at one point due to surging demand. The outbreak – which saw authorities warn consumers to avoid eating romaine lettuce – has heightened consumer demands for traceability, as they aim to ensure the food they purchase is safe to eat.
US urban agriculture pioneer Gotham Greens believes the scare, and resulting supply chain and traceability issues, served to validate its business model of growing produce in a secure environment that can reduce the risk of food-borne pathogens. Indeed, during the incident, the company saw a surge in orders of its romaine lettuce.
“Customers were confident in the origin of Gotham Greens produce and they knew they could rely on our products to be safe and grown locally in sterile greenhouses,” said CEO Viraj Puri, who co-founded the company in 2009.
The firm opened its first facility in 2011, located in Brooklyn, New York, and it now operates more than 180,000 square feet of greenhouse across four sites in New York and Chicago – and currently has an additional 500,000 square feet of development underway across five US states.
Viraj Puri, Gotham Greens CEO and co-founder. © Gotham Greens/Julie McMahon
Last June, the company secured $29 million in a funding round, as it aims to continue transforming urban real estate and promoting sustainable agriculture.
Supplying retail, restaurant, and institutional customers, Gotham Greens’ non-GMO, pesticide-free produce is grown using sustainable methods in climate-controlled urban greenhouses using 100% renewable electricity.
The firm sells produce such as iceberg lettuce, basil, baby kale, rocket, a range of leaf blends, as well as a selection of salad dressings and dips.
“When we built our first rooftop greenhouse, there was really no precedent for what we were trying to construct and we faced our fair share of scepticism from landlords,” Puri said. “Over the last ten years, urban farming has become commonplace in cities across the country, utilising space that wouldn’t traditionally be used for agriculture such as former industrial sites, rooftops, backyards, and parking lots.”
“Over the last decade, we’ve seen a major shift in consumer preferences towards local and sustainably produced food products. The rise in recent foodborne illness has underscored the need for greater traceability and transparency in the supply chain. As a result, we’ve seen a continued rise in demand for greenhouse-grown produce. There is an incredible value proposition of growing highly perishable fresh food in close proximity to large population centres while using fewer natural resources.”
Last week, Gotham Greens revealed plans for a new $12.5 million site in Providence, Rhode Island, which is expected to open its doors in early autumn 2019, creating 60 jobs. Geographically, New England is farthest from the West Coast, where the majority of leafy greens distributed across the US are currently grown.
Using growing methods such as recirculating hydroponics, data-driven climate control intelligence, and renewable energy, the facility is expected to produce approximately “30 times the yield of conventional agriculture per acre”.
The company offers produce such as iceberg lettuce, basil, baby kale, and rocket. © Gotham Greens.
The company’s technology enables it to capture irrigation water for re-use, which allows it to use “90% less water” than conventional farming, while eliminating all agricultural runoff. The greenhouses let it to grow year-round in regions that typically have much shorter growing seasons.
While it serves large foodservice operators and retailers such as Whole Foods Market and Target, Gotham strives to be community-minded and collaborates with local businesses, schools, and community partners where its facilities are situated.
“By locating our greenhouse farms in cities, Gotham Greens not only eliminates the environmental footprint and food waste linked to shipping produce long distances but also advocates for improved healthy food access, environmental education, and community development,” Puri said.
“We want to bring farming closer to city residents while simultaneously addressing supply chain issues for the food industry at large. We think globally but act locally.”
With seven years of data and experience to help inform growing decisions at future sites, the Gotham team believe they are ready to expand their project in 2019, with plans in place to more than double the workforce.
With the food traceability market predicted to surge in the coming years, the future looks positive for Gotham as it meets consumer demands for more sustainable, locally grown produce. Puri concluded: “The challenge is of course that the larger and more successful we get, the more complex scaling the business becomes.”
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