Caledonia farm debuts year-round lettuce
Revolution Farms harvests first batch of aquaponics crops grown without soil.
Locally grown lettuce now will be available in Michigan grocery stores during all four seasons.
Revolution Farms, at 2901 76th St. in Caledonia, harvested its first crop of aquaponics lettuce last month and made its debut in 16 SpartanNash stores, including Forest Hills Foods, 11 D&W Fresh Market locations and select VG’s Grocery and Family Fare locations.
Tripp Frey, founder and CEO of Revolution Farms, said the farm will be harvesting lettuce three times per week, which will result in 4,000 pounds per week. He said there are plans to grow more in the future; the farm has the capacity to produce more than 350,000 pounds of lettuce per year. Revolution Farms currently has between 12 and 15 full-time employees, according to Frey.
He said the farm purchases a variety of seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, a national seed supplier, to grow its lettuce aquaponically, without soil, in a 55,000-square-foot glass greenhouse.
“We have about 15,000 fishes, and we are basically composting,” Frey said. “We break down the fish waste using a mechanical and biological infiltration, and we turn that ammonia into nitrogen for the plant. By growing it this way and in a greenhouse, we can grow the produce year-round and offer really healthy products to people. Consumers want fresh, locally grown food, and they care where their food comes from.”
In addition to growing year-round salad mix, which includes green butter, red oak, sweet crisp and romaine lettuce, Frey said the farm will be using fewer resources than traditional farmers, such as 80 percent less water, 90 percent less land and 95 percent fewer miles traveled. About 95 percent of lettuce in Michigan comes from outside the state, according to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
“This method of farming is sustainable; you use significantly less water,” he said. “There is no agricultural runoff, and we are not trucking products across the country from California. So, there are really no negatives, in terms of the product. It is really great for us.”
Lettuce season generally occurs from May to October, and lettuce production from the farm is not only beneficial during the wintertime. Ronald Goldy, a vegetable educator at Michigan State University Extension, said the hardest time for traditional farmers to grow lettuce is in the summer.
“Lettuce doesn’t like it hot because it goes to seed quickly and gets bitter tasting under hot conditions,” he said. “So, aquaponics farming is good during the summer season, also.”
Along with the seasonal benefits for aquaponics, Roger Betz, farm business management educator at MSU Extension, said aquaponics can lower the risk of bacteria, like E. coli and salmonella, that is plaguing the lettuce industry across the country, including Michigan.
“It is a very controlled biosystem, so diseases will be under control, detained and so forth,” he said. “Diseases will have limited access as opposed to the outdoor terrain.”
The packaged and prepared salad industry has a market value of $12 billion, and by 2025, the industry is estimated to be valued at $21 billion, according to Revolution Farms.
The farm is a $3.3-million project that was partially funded by the Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development through a $50,000 performance-based grant. Along with the construction of the aquaponics farm, there is a 35,000-square-foot warehouse on-site.