Building the Farm of the Future
Living Greens Farm isn’t your grandfather’s farm. It doesn’t have tractors or silos, there are no barns or livestock, and it doesn’t even have fields.
Instead, co-founders Dana Anderson and David Augustine are developing what many consider the farm of the future in an industrial park in the southeastern Minnesota community of Faribault, about an hour south of the Twin Cities.
Living Greens Farm grows lettuce, sprouts and herbs indoors in an air or mist environment without the use of soil – a process known as aeroponics. The plants grow under specialized lights while suspended in the air, bathed in a nutrient-rich spray of water.
Aeroponics isn’t new – the idea has been around since at least the 1930s – but it’s becoming economically viable and has the potential to revolutionize how we grow food as the cost of traditional farming rises. Virtually any seasonal crop can be grown using the system, including corn, potatoes, cranberries and cabbage.
Anderson says Living Greens Farm can grow on 1 acre what traditional farms grow on 200 acres. The system uses 95 percent less water and fertilizers, reduces transportation costs by 99 percent and offers year-round production without the uses of pesticides. Plants grow twice as fast as they would in soil, he says.
Aeroponics is similar to hydroponics, with the exception that it doesn’t use a growing medium. That enables plants to grow faster and healthier and with more resistance to disease, Anderson says.
Cost has always been the challenge with aeroponics, with the systems being expensive to build, operate and maintain. Over the past five years, Anderson and Augustine have developed a patented system that they say is cost-efficient and profitable. Three of their patents have been approved and seven others are pending.
The business, which has eight employees, sells its green produce at food co-ops, grocery stores and restaurants in the Twin Cities and elsewhere in the region. An early customer was Carleton College in Northfield.
With 52,000 square feet of indoor growing space, the farm will be able to produce 2 million heads of lettuce a year in Faribault, along with other green produce.
If all goes according to plan, the Faribault facility will be just the beginning. Ultimately, Anderson and Augustine envision Living Greens Farm sites all over the country and perhaps worldwide, providing fresh and local greens for consumers. The market opportunity is enormous. In the United States alone, leafy green vegetables are a $10 billion-a-year industry.
Anderson says the business has 40 investors and received important early help from DEED’s Angel Tax Credit Program. In fact, Anderson says, Living Greens Farm was one of the first businesses to raise the maximum $4 million in investments allowed under the program.
"I can’t say enough about the Angel Tax Credit Program and how important it was. I don’t know that we would exist without it," he says.
He also credits the city of Faribault and Rice County officials with providing tax abatements and other help for developing the business. Minnesota’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, investment support and educated people were important factors as well.
"I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a better location for a business," Anderson says.