Ernessi Farms has partnered with Sendik’s Food Market to create a small indoor farm in their new Oconomowoc Pabst Farm location. This Stand Alone Growing Enclosure (SAGE) Farm will grow two different lettuce varieties, thus reducing harvest time to the consumer to less than 10 seconds.
Ernessi Farms, located in Ripon, Wis., is one of Wisconsin’s largest hydroponics farms, supplying herbs, mushrooms, microgreens, and cat grass to 52 grocery locations, including Sendik’s. Bryan Ernst, owner, retired marine, and geologist by trade, has spent the last seven years perfecting how to grow plants indoors using water, LED lights, and a proprietary nutrient blend.
“There is a finite amount of land that is suitable for agriculture,” said Ernst. “By growing food indoors and hydroponically, we have total control over the growing conditions. We are able to give our plants the optimum nutrient ratios for optimal growth.”
Growing indoors without soil removes the risk of bacteria and the need for pesticides and herbicides. It also removes growing seasons and location restraints, meaning locally grown produce can be delivered year-round.
Sendik’s approached Ernst, who supplies all its herbs, about the possibility of creating a smaller indoor farm for their new Oconomowoc location. “I’ve always been interested in bringing hydroponics closer to the consumer, so I jumped at the opportunity,” said Ernst. “By reducing the harvest-to-consumer time to almost nothing, our lettuce won’t lose any nutrients in transport which means it will be fresher and taste better.”
Ernst spent much of the summer designing and building the indoor farm for Sendik’s, which stands roughly 5 feet wide, 4 feet deep, and 8 ½ feet tall. The farm is a scaled-down version of their Ripon headquarters location and was designed in-house with many of the custom parts printed on Ernessi Farms’ own 3D printer. The indoor farm will be monitored remotely by both Sendik’s store management and Ernst to determine when the plants need more water, additional nutrients, etc.
“Our LED lights trick the plants into thinking that it’s always spring. And, our own nutrient blend gives the plants exactly what they need for optimal growth and optimal taste,” said Ernst. “The same will be true for the in-store lettuce.”
Consumers will be able to purchase the lettuce varieties in four weeks once the planted seedlings mature. Moving forward, new seedlings will be ready each week. As far as Ernst is aware, there are only a few indoor farms available for direct-to-consumer purchase in Seattle.
“I’m very excited for what this could mean for Sendik’s and the state of agriculture in Wisconsin.”
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