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Seeing green: Frederick-based greenhouse lettuce grower prepares for expansion

Walking into District Farms, a massive greenhouse vegetable grower in Frederick, can be a surreal experience: stretching for hundreds of square feet, in all directions, is nothing but lettuce. Tons and tons of lettuce. And once its ongoing expansion is completed, there will be even more. The tech-focused farming company located on Basford Road, just off Route 15 in Frederick, is currently in the midst of a buildout that owners say will increase output to 7.5 million heads of lettuce annually.

The operation uses a complex computerized system that allows leafy greens, herbs and similar produce to grow all year round, which the company says is unusual outside of the West Coast.

Jason Stern and brothers Ibraham and Ali Sharifzadeh are co-owners of District Farms, and the three aren’t exactly who you’d expect to own a farming company. Before the farm, Stern was in real estate, and the Sharifzadeh brothers were practicing attorneys in Washington, D.C.
Ibraham said he and his brother were unhappy with their work, and they began looking to make a change. “We were thinking, ‘What’s something future-forward we could do that we could start learning about?’” he said, adding that he and his brother were raised in a family with agricultural roots.

2020 was District Farms’ first full year as an operational farm, which they said brought a series of challenges, as one might expect.
“It was a huge curveball for us,” Ibraham said, referencing the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Because we were still figuring out how to do things, within less than a year of operating and growing. It upended everything we were doing; it kind of threw us for a loop in terms of, ‘We have to figure out new channels of distribution.’”

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