What do popcorn and lettuce have in common? Nothing, really. It’s how Dana Anderson describes how produce is grown at Living Greens Farm: “It’s like pushing the popcorn button on the microwave,” he says.
Based in Faribault, Living Greens Farm is one of the largest indoor farms in the world, according to Anderson, who is founder, president and chairman. The company uses a computer system to control elements such as light, temperature, humidity and CO2, combined with aeroponics—a method of growing plants by suspending their roots in the air—to grow lettuce, herbs and microgreens. Rather than using soil, plants are sprayed with a nutrient-rich solution.
“Aeroponics is the fastest way to grow plants,” says Anderson. “Harvest is less than 21 days for a head of lettuce. It’s about two times faster than traditional farming.”
While Living Greens Farm didn’t invent aeroponics, it did develop its own vertical growing and traversing misting systems. The patented systems use 200 times less land and 95 percent less water than a traditional farm, says Anderson, which is huge, given that “70 percent of the world’s fresh water is used for agriculture.”
Anderson launched Living Greens Farm in 2012 after working out of his garage for three years. He and his team raised $8 million from friends and family to help get the company off the ground.
In October, Living Greens Farm completed its first expansion, increasing growing space from 5,000 square feet to 21,000. With the additional space, the company added 32 growing units to its existing 10, increasing its production to 1 million heads of lettuce per year.
Living Greens still has plenty of room to grow; right now it’s using only about 35 percent of its space. Once the company reaches max capacity, it will have 60,000 square feet of growing space. “When all is said and done,” says Anderson, “we will be able to produce a head of lettuce for every person in the entire MSP metroplex.”
The company currently sells greens at Lunds & Byerlys, a handful of Cub Foods and Hy-Vee stores, Fresh Thyme and other major co-ops. A few stores in Iowa will begin carrying its produce this year. In addition to growing its grocery-store base, Living Greens Farm is working on adding accounts with food services at local colleges and corporate offices. Anderson also is exploring licensing opportunities worldwide and expanding its operations in other markets.
“There are hundreds of people who do this type of farming as a hobby, but in terms of large commercial companies, we only have three or four major [U.S.] competitors,” says Anderson. “What makes us different is our patented systems and our impact on the economy; we keep more dollars in the state.”