When it comes to leafy greens, spinach may get the superlative for Most Popular, but it’s also one of the most difficult to grow — especially indoors. So it’s no small accomplishment that indoor farming company Element Farms announced a 70,000 square foot greenhouse facility in New Jersey to grow spinach year-round using a combination of proprietary software and hydroponics.
According to a press release sent to The Spoon, Element Farms will begin operations at the new farm “in the coming weeks” and will produce “over half a million pounds each year of pesticide-free baby spinach” as well as a variety of other greens, arugula, beet greens, and pea shoots among them.
As Element cofounder and CEO Serdar Mizrakci explained earlier this year, spinach is tough to grow because it is prone to disease, particularly in high-density indoor environments. Element combats this by adding what Mizrakci calls “another layer of precision control” to the plants’ grow process. The company uses a combination of hydroponics along with a dynamic lighting algorithm that combines natural sunlight with high-capacity LEDs. Meanwhile, customized harvesting equipment automates and speeds up some of the grow process.
The new greenhouse facility will use similar automation for many day-to-day farming tasks. And according to the press release, the facility is the first of multiple greenhouse projects. Though Element hasn’t named specific locations for future, the company is currently looking at two other states as sites for future facilities.
The agricultural industry is grappling with both labor shortages and the fact that our soil is dying, so it’s not surprising that more and more companies are exploring the benefits (and challenges) of automated indoor farming. In August, Kalera broke ground on a massive vertical farm facility outside Orlando, FL that will automate many parts of the grow process. In the UK, Intelligent Growth Solutions recently raised an additional £1.6 million in funding for its “farm in a box” system, while Australian agtech company Vertical Farm Systems says it can take plants from seeding stage to fully grown in just 28 days with its automated system.
Element Farms, meanwhile, also emphasizes the “local” aspect of its business. The new facility will be on direct delivery routes to cities in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. In the coming months, the company plans to expand its PureSpinach products to more ShopRite stores in the Northeastern U.S.