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Indiana-grown lettuce never touched by human hands

Courtesy of Pure Green Farms lettuce growing in a greenhouse
AUTOMATED: This lettuce growing in a greenhouse near South Bend, Ind., is never touched by human hands.
Startup company is creating a niche for super-fresh, locally grown greens.

People at Ceres Partners believed they could grow and deliver fresher, tastier lettuce to consumers than what is currently found in supermarkets. They also believed they could do this in an environmentally friendly way. So, they tapped Joe McGuire, a person with 30 years of industry experience, as CEO for a startup company, hoping to turn their dreams into reality.

The result is Pure Green Farms, South Bend, Ind. “We spent a year and a half preparing,” McGuire explains. “We seeded our first crop on Jan. 4, 2021. We can grow and market year-round, and we now have product in numerous supermarkets, primarily in the northern half of Indiana.”

Related: Here’s hoping this Indiana-grown business succeeds

Investors and bank loans helped put Pure Green Farms into motion. PGF grows various kinds of lettuce in a 3.5-acre greenhouse.

“We have enough space to expand to four greenhouses if demand justifies it,” McGuire says.

The lettuce is grown hydroponically using the nutrient film technique. Lettuce grows in a 19-foot-long gutter. A shallow stream of water containing dissolved nutrients circulates through the gutter. Plant roots grow into the gutter to access necessary nutrients. A crop goes from seeding to harvest in 23 to 24 days, McGuire notes.

One thing setting this operation apart is that it’s fully automated. Using robotic-type equipment and conveyor belts, lettuce is never touched by human hands. Harvesting and packaging is fully automated.

Seek a niche

The demand for locally grown, wholesome food created a market for these types of products, McGuire says. His goal is to have the finished product at market, ready to purchase, within 24 hours of harvest.  

“We’re all about delivering a fresh product that stays fresh longer in refrigeration than lettuce you buy at supermarkets today,” he says. “The production and harvesting processes we use allow us to deliver a wholesome, premium product.”

Some startup companies have gone the route of inventing “pods” where a consumer can grow his or her own lettuce in the house, and have a constant supply of green, leafy lettuce. The drawback is initial cost. Some of the units currently available, designed to grow enough lettuce for a family, cost up to $2,000.

Pure Green Farms currently offers Baby Green Lettuce, Baby Spring Mix, Baby Red & Green Leaf and Baby Romaine in two different size packages. Four-ounce packages retail at $2.99 to $3.99, with 9.5- ounce packages selling for around $6.49 each.

Tom J. BechmanPure Green Farms lettuce container and bull of salad

FRESH AND TASTY: Pure Green Farms markets some lettuce in 4-ounce containers. The lettuce in the bowl is ready to eat, garnished with ranch dressing.

PGF supplies products to Martin’s grocery stores, a chain in the South Bend area, and to select Kroger stores, primarily in northern Indiana. McGuire hopes to convince more stores to carry his products soon.

In addition, he is exploring direct marketing via the internet, although it’s not yet a reality. He’s also evaluating other direct marketing options, including a subscription-type system.

“We want to get our lettuce into people’s hands as quickly after harvest as possible, so they have a fresh, tasty product,” he concludes.

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TAGS: Vegetables
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