GFS opens year-round, indoor farm


The shipping containers are about 320 square feet each and take up less than 2 acres of property space. Courtesy Gordon Food Service

A local food service distributor now is a part of an evolving farming industry.

Gordon Food Service, in partnership with New York-based Square Roots, opened its first indoor farm on the grounds of its headquarters in Wyoming, 1300 Gezon Parkway SW. The farm is the first satellite campus for Square Roots, a technology-driven urban indoor farming company.

“We’re building exciting relationships with change agents that are helping to reshape how food is produced, prepared and served, and Square Roots is a great example of leading-edge thinking and technology driving new solutions,” said Rich Wolowski, president and CEO of Gordon Food Service. “We know it’s imperative that we participate in the future, today, to ensure we are relevant tomorrow, and this is a model that could help revolutionize our food systems. And it’s great that we can prove the concept in our own backyard.”

The indoor farm is the construction of 10 cloud-connected growing units, which used to be shipping containers. The three-dimensional units are about 320 square feet each that take up less than 2 acres of property space. The farm has digitally controlled hydroponics and LED lighting systems.

Each container has its own herb and vegetable, such as basil, mint and chives, growing inside on the walls of the units. As a result, each container has a different temperature that is unique to that specific plant. The herbs and greens will be non-GMO and pesticide free. They are expected to be harvested three times per week, producing 50,000 pounds annually, which is roughly the equivalent production of a traditional 50-acre farm.

The first set of crops are set to be harvested in the next few weeks and sold to local foodservice customers in Michigan, northern Indiana and Ohio.

According to Tobias Peggs, co-founder and CEO of Square Roots, no soil is used in the indoor farm because it uses a hydroponic system. It also uses 90% less water than an equivalent outdoor farm.

“We bring in the water source, we add nutrients and give the plant exactly what it needs,” he said. “The water drips down through the towers, and the plant absorbs exactly the amount of water and nutrients that it needs. Then any runoff water is captured in a tray at the bottom and then it recirculates. It is a completely closed-loop system. In an outdoor (farm), all of that water runs off into the ocean — none of that happens here.”

The indoor farm’s LED lights are not bright white lights like the sun. Peggs said the lights are a shade of pink, and as the plant grows, the shade of the light will change for the most efficient energy usage.

“When you study photosynthesis, which is the plant taking energy from a light source and converting that into biomass, growing the leaves, it is actually not absorbing all of the light that the sun gives,” he said. “It is only absorbing certain spectrums of the light. So, what we are able to do is push in the exact spectrum of light that the plant needs … making the most efficient use of energy. We are only giving the plant the light that it needs.”

The indoor farm is connected to software, which captures data about the climate, temperature, water and light in the farm. Peggs said they will be able to track how that impacts yield. 

Although this is the first indoor farm Gordon Food Service has opened, Wolowski said he is looking to open three more indoor farms next year, with one location in Canada and two in the U.S.

“We are excited to be the first broadline foodservice distributor to host an urban farm with the ability to bring fresh, hyper-local produce to our customers year-round,” he said. “It’s an important example of our pursuit of innovation to better serve our foodservice customers and our customers’ customers while answering the growing demand for fresh, nutritious and local food.”

In addition to being an urban indoor farm company, Square Roots also has a Next-Gen Farmer Training Program, which trains individuals to become farmers. The farm will be managed by a cohort of Next-Gen farmers who are from Michigan, Texas and New York.

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