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Jim Livengood, Co-Founder, Radicle Farm

Lots of our delicious greens are grown in Radicle Farm’s innovative hydroponic greenhouses outside of NYC. We chose to partner with Radicle to create our custom greens blends because they are as passionate about both the Earth and the power of plants as we are at Sakara

We asked co-founder Jim Livengood to break down just what makes Radicle's growing process—and the gorgeous greens that result—so special.



How does your growing process work?

JIM LIVENGOOD: We grow our greens year-round in hydroponic greenhouses in Newark, NJ and Utica, NY. We employ different variations of hydroponics across the two facilities: at our Newark facility, we use an NFT (nutrient film technique) system in which the greens are irrigated/fertilized via a re-circulating nutrient solution. Our system in Utica is a little different. In Utica, we use a series of machines to fill and seed the trays in which our greens are grown; the trays are then transported throughout the greenhouse on a series of conveyor belts, and are set in place in the greenhouse where they'll grow for 4-6 weeks, depending on the crop and time of year. Our crops in Utica are irrigated/fertilized using a flooded-floor/ebb-and-flow method, also re-circulating. To harvest, we run the conveyor belts in reverse, cut and pack the greens by hand, and send them out same-day.


What makes it eco-friendly/sustainable? 

LIVENGOOD: The ecological advantages of our system are three-fold:

(1) Resource consumption. Our system uses approximately 10% of the water required of their field grown counterparts, and a fraction of the fossil fuel, since our machinery is both minimal in scale and powered by electricity.

(2) No runoff. One of the most pressing ecological challenges in modern farming is coping with nutrient run-off, which occurs when fertilizer used in field production enters the water table, adjacent stream system, and ultimately the nearest watershed, which encourages algae growth at the expensive of the rest of the organisms in the ecosystem. Because our system is "closed-loop," or re-circulating, wherein the fertilizer is contained within the growing system, we don't discharge fertilizer into the local stream system.

(3) Spatial efficiency/No soil degradation. Because we're able to provide our greens with all necessary stimuli to promote growth within a contained, controlled environment, our footprint is 1/2 to 1/4 that of field production for the same crop volume. So we, and the controlled environment agricultural industry at large, take up relatively little space for our production. That means more fields can be used for longer-term crops that can't be grown indoors, that fields aren't tilled into oblivion, that forests can remain in place, that more meadows go undisturbed, that fewer marshes are filled in for the sake of food production...you get the idea.


Why do you grow greens this way?

LIVENGOOD: Radicle's mission is to provide the best greens available on the market while supporting and advancing a local farm economy. We grow this way because it does right by the things we care about most—our customers, our employees, and our environment. Our customers get the best product available, our employees, assisted by our automated growing system, can put their energy toward the plants rather than endless manual labor, and our environment suffers as little impact as possible. Truthfully, we envision a food system in which many forms of food production co-exist simultaneously, and are able to thrive because they're suited to their particular circumstances. It makes sense for us to grow greens hydroponically in greenhouses since we're in the northeast, with our changing seasons and large local markets. In turn, it may make sense to grow almonds outdoors in California's central valley, or kale in hoop-houses in Louisville, or quinoa in Bolivia's highlands, and so on. We're no longer living in a world in which arable land, abundant water and predicable climate are the norm, but nor are we yet living in a world in which we have to grow all of our food in warehouses under LEDs. We embrace this reality by growing indoors in horizontally oriented greenhouses with as little energy inputs as possible, and as few externalized environmental costs as possible.


How did you get into this?

LIVENGOOD: We see our mission fitting into a broader food movement that no longer seeks to ignore the potential pitfalls of food production. This movement thus involves eating seasonally, locally whenever possible, eating less meat and more greens, and recognizing that food that's produced consciously often costs a little more. We've found a great partner in Sakara Life in this effort, and I'm thrilled every time I see our greens in Sakara's meals. Just as we're seeking to expand people's understanding of what food production can mean for the planet, Sakara is seeking to expand people understanding of what food can mean for one's body, mind, and soul. I see these goals as beautifully complimentary. 


Why/how does this ultimately make the quality of the greens better? 

LIVENGOOD: Our greens are better in large part because we're extremely attentive to quality and composition. We place a tremendous emphasis on matching and mixing complimentary varieties within our blends, so they're interesting in terms of color, flavor and texture, and unique, in that you can't find them anywhere else. 

The other factor that sets Radicle apart is our attention to quality control. Though growing greens is, by no means, easy, they're easier to grow than plants that fruit or flower. (An old growing partner once described the difference between growing fruiting/flowering plants and greens thusly: "As a grower, you want your flowers to bloom and your tomatoes to produce big fruits or flowers - but they want to go to seed. With greens, you want them to grow, and they want to grow. In other words, you're on the same page.") Because greens are among the easier crops to grow, you can find decent greens on the market fairly easily. Name a farm that sells salad greens, from Dole to Brooklyn Grange, and at some point along their chain, their greens were probably pretty good. The difference between a farm that sells average greens and one that sells great greens is the effort they put into their quality control and logistics. We expend a tremendous amount of energy and resources in making sure that the greens that reach our customers are of peak freshness and quality. This means that if there is even a question about whether or not a given crop is good enough to go out, it doesn't go out - it goes to compost (luckily, most of our crops are good enough to go out). We also are extremely fortunate to have retail and distribution partners, like Sakara, that recognize that freshness is imperative, and get the greens to their customers as quickly as possible. 

So, in short, our greens are better because we grow them right, we send out only the best product, and we (and our partners) get them to our customers quickly. 



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