Philadelphia Inquirer | New central Pa. greenhouse pushing out leafy greens 24/7, all year long

By Jason Nark
Feb. 23, 2020

SELINSGROVE, Pa. — Leafy greens seemed to go on forever in the balmy heat of a newly erected greenhouse here, rows of spinach and lettuce bound for boxed salad at Pennsylvania supermarkets in coming days. Outside, on Valentine’s Day, nothing was growing.
This indoor farm, approximately 280,000 square feet, opened last month in a new industrial park, sitting on what once were soybean fields. It is the latest and largest from BrightFarms, a nationwide hydroponic greenhouse operation that aims to eliminate the long-distance trucking many greens require by growing them locally year-round.

They begin as seeds stuffed into a floating germination board, placed by hand into a tank about the size of a football field, progressing forward daily until they are ready for harvest about two weeks later. Greens grown in this Snyder County town of 5,900 already are being packed and shipped throughout the state to supermarket chains, including Giant, where they average about $3 per container.

A typical coast-to-coast shipment would take about five days. “Our stuff can be harvested and on the shelf the next day,” said general manager Tony Paar.

Mark O’Neill, of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, said consumers are eager for food “picked at the height of freshness,” particularly if it’s grown locally. Greens from BrightFarms, about 150 miles northwest of Philadelphia, have a “Grown in Selinsgrove” label on the packaging.

Founded in 2011, BrightFarms opened its first hydroponic greenhouse in Yardley, Bucks County, in 2013, selling its greens to dozens of local supermarkets. The company has three additional hydroponic farms, and plans to build in four more states. The one in Selinsgrove, about 150 miles northwest of Philadelphia, cost $20 million.

“It takes about nine months to build one of these, and we’re still doing some construction,” said Paar. “Four acres is going to produce about two million pounds a year.”

Fast Company, a national business magazine, included BrightFarms among the “Top 10 Most Innovative Companies” in the world in 2011.
“Demand is increasing a lot faster than we can meet it,” founder Paul Lightfoot told The Inquirer in 2013. “The supermarkets want to have a consistent supply and meet the demand for local, and it’s not easy for them to do that.”

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