Element Farms announced this week its plans to expand its greenhouse operations and build a new, 2.5-acre facility designed specifically to grow baby spinach. This will be the company’s second high-tech farm, the first being a 1.5-acre facility that already grows arugula, lettuces, beet greens, and, of course, spinach. Like the first, the second farm will also be located in Lafayette, New Jersey, according to a press release sent to The Spoon.
Baby spinach is a popular produce type in the U.S. But in many parts of the country, it can only grow outside at certain times (spring and fall), and its delicacy and susceptibility to bacteria and disease make it a prime candidate for local, indoor farms.
However, growing spinach indoors is actually quite challenging, which is one of the reasons we don’t see more controlled environment agriculture (CEA) companies doing it. In particular, spinach is susceptible to the water-borne pathgen Pythium aphanadermatum, a water mold that attacks the plant roots and causes poor crop quality and crop death.
When we spoke a while back, Element’s CEO Serdar Mizrakci explained that technology allows the company to add another layer of precision control to better aid against water-borne pathogens and other diseases. To that end, Element uses its own proprietary technology to monitor plants, calculate recipes for plant nutrients supplemental lighting, and help spot problems during the grow process. As in other CEA settings, greens are grown without pesticides and meant to serve customers no farther than about a day’s drive away.
The company doesn’t have a lot of competition right now when it comes to spinach, BrightFarms being one notable exception. As technology improves and costs come down for CEA growers, more companies may join the efforts to grow spinach indoors.
Element says its existing farm, located in Lafayette, New Jersey, currently delivers directly to more than 120 retailers, including Key Food, Whole Foods, and e-commerce shops Misfits Market and FreshDirect. When the new farm is up and running, Element will be on track to ship 2 million pounds of greens per year.
The new farm is slated to open later in 2021. Additional farms are planned for other U.S. markets and will be announced “in the coming year.”