"Not all LEDs are equal"

From a small window sill to an empty storage closet, to a rooftop utility room and, finally, to a spacious warehouse and greenhouse, Founder and President Jeffrey Orkin has been growing Greener Roots Farm one harvest at a time since 2012. As the first commercial-scale hydroponic vertical farm in Nashville, Tennessee, Greener Roots supplies herbs and leafy greens to local establishments year-round, including fresh lettuce and flavorful pea shoots, sunflower sprouts, sorrel and more that are picked and delivered within two days, never traveling more than 50 miles.

For Orkin, consistency is the key to Greener Roots’ steady success, measured in predictable crop yields and high-quality, nutrient-dense produce with no seasonal fluctuations. It’s what keeps local grocery stores and restaurant owners racing back to fill new orders, and it’s why Orkin relies heavily on LED lighting to help his business thrive. However, when a big investment in a new system started to go bad, Current, powered by GE, stepped in with a brighter solution.

Rising above the rest
Greener Roots cultivates over 14 tons of produce a year, with most of the greens being raised in racked hydroponic beds stacked high to the ceiling. Between its warehouse and greenhouse, the indoor operation totals nearly 7,000 square feet of grow space, requiring more than 300 LED light bars to provide optimal illumination for plant health. According to Orkin, it’s all part of producing “the best damn lettuce you’ve ever tried.”

“Some chefs are adamant about soil, but we’re showing them you can grow very flavorful things without soil, and having extremely high and uniform light levels is critical to that,” he says.

Greener Roots was growing fast, and new and better lighting technology was hitting the market. With help from Hort Americas, a leading commercial greenhouse and hydroponics supplier, he started to test an array of new LED options including horticulture lighting from Current. Immediately, Orkin gravitated to Current’s Arize LED growing system for its ease of installation, long life and proven results in improving production yields.

“The new lights from Current are very reliable and are producing faster growth, and now we can get red leaf varieties to turn red, where we couldn’t do that before,” Orkin said. 

“The Arize system also puts off less heat, so we can add more layers to our vertical beds if we choose. And what’s convenient is how you can daisy-chain the product end-to-end to make installation much simpler, which we really liked, having done all the work ourselves.”

Growing the future
By isolating and combining different light wavelengths to replicate and accelerate natural photosynthesis, Arize LEDs can shorten growth cycles and enable different growth patterns, allowing urban farmers to tailor the light to the specific needs of every crop. Including LED tubes, light bars, suspended fixtures and lamps, the full Arize product family features everything needed for indoor vertical and greenhouse farming.

“Overall, we’re getting more biomass from every harvest,” says Orkin. “It’s all about ensuring the correct light intensity throughout the day, and how many photons we’re ‘feeding’ to the plants essentially. Current’s LEDs help us create the ideal condition for each crop.”

Orkin notes that Greener Roots is now pulling over 2,500 heads of lettuce a week from its greenhouse as more local customers discover the soil-free urban farm flourishing in their city. In fact, the new greenhouse―located on the outskirts of Nashville in nearby Franklin, Tennessee―is part of a large agritourism destination dubbed Southall Farms. This farm-to-table rural retreat will feature an inn, guest cottages, an event center and an agricultural barn, adding up to over 160,000 square feet of relaxed destination space where people will be able to savor experiences that celebrate culture, community and craft.

“There’s been an undercurrent for urban farming for some time, whether that’s someone raising a garden at home or a small farm making more fresh food options available to people,” Orkin says.

Rooted in results
Orkin still drives the delivery truck that drops off freshly picked foods to his customers each day because to this entrepreneur, relationships are the seeds of success. It’s an approach that has taken the landscape-architect-turned-urban-farmer from a single planter in a kitchen window to a sprawling production system that ensures sustainable produce is always in stock.

“Having Current and Hort Americas there to support us, to answer our questions and try new things, it’s been huge,” says Orkin. “We’re trying to have the biggest impact on the local food scene we can, and that takes partners who understand the importance of durable and reliable technologies, such as LED.”

For more information:
Current by GE

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