Hudson business uses contactless approach to growing lettuce

For the folks who cultivate lettuce at Free Leafy Greens, one priority rises above all at the massive greenhouse: It’s pretty much a hands-off operation.

The mission is to provide fresh lettuce that is cultivated in an almost entirely contactless way. It also drastically cuts down the growing time, by about half compared to field-grown lettuce.

The massive operation takes place over more than 80,000 square feet in a Hudson facility. From the outside, it’s a non-descript building. Inside, a sea of crisp, leafy lettuce is seeded, grown, and packaged in a much shorter time than commercial lettuce. The entire process requires about 16 to 18 employees total and runs seven days a week.

Like many projects, a lot of planning was involved. The company started in 2017 but needed a lot of time for parts ordering, equipment calibration and testing. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit. “Seriously, it was the first freakin’ day,” owner Anthony Umina said. “I can’t tell you how hard it was to put this whole project together and build this facility.” For a year and a half, they spent seven days a week in the plant, he said.

But working in the company’s favor was the fact that Umina and chief facilities officer Mitch Petti had a lot of experience in the contracting world. While that is different on paper from being lettuce growers, they knew how to solve problems and deal with adversity. Petti in particular had to learn to put together equipment from all over the world. “No one came here and whipped all this stuff up for us,” Umina said. “It’s like, ‘Here, figure this out on your own.’ "

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