As open field growers look to diversify their supply chain, greenhouses seem like a great solution and the newly announced Better Future Farms could be one of them. John McMahon is the grower behind the Virginia project. He teamed up with Generate Capital to build the 14.5-acre facility, that will be supplying open field grower Taylor Farms with year-round lettuce. Despite being equipped with supplemental LED lights, an automated growing system, a high-tech packing facility and several other modern techniques, John describes the company as quite conservative. “We’re a grower, not a technology company. Our goal is to grow a high-quality product at an affordable cost”.
Opportunities in the market
Over the past decade, John has owned and operated Schuyler Greens and has supplied both retail and food service customers. “I’ve done every job in the greenhouse. For better or worse, I’ve seen firsthand what can go wrong or break and I’ve had to learn how to fix it, as well”, he laughs. While doing so, he also saw the opportunities changing in the market and decided to pursue these. Together with Co-Founder, David Drescher – who he describes as a successful serial entrepreneur with an extensive background in technology and sustainable infrastructure businesses – they’re building their first large-scale leafy greens facility in Virginia.
Lettuce from the Virginia greenhouse will be sold under Taylor’s Earthbound Farm brand, serving the mid-Atlantic region from Pennsylvania to North Carolina, and will help Taylor Farms increase their supply of fresh, locally grown lettuce on the East Coast. “If you look at the last few weeks and, in particular this past year, you can see the challenges open field growers in Salinas have had to deal with: historic storms and flooding, a tight labor market, high freight costs, and significant lettuce crop losses due to INSV. Our goal is to help Taylor mitigate some of these issues, diversify their suppy base, and grow product that is local to their end-customers. We will do this year round, without pesticides, and provide a high-quality product with a long shelf life. And as a grower, it’s a huge honor to team up with the top lettuce grower in the world”.
Fully automated growing system
The greenhouse being built by Van der Hoeven (NL) with assistance from Clark Construction (USA) is state-of-the-art: lettuce will grow on a fully automated growing system, rainwater collected from the greenhouse roof will be used for irrigation, and the lettuce will be harvested and packed without human touch on a fully automated post-harvest pack line.
Though Better Future Farms has invested significant capital in automation, John notes that “technology is just a tool in our toolbox. At the end of the the day, our job is to grow high-quality lettuce as efficiently as possible. We are still farming, even if it’s in a greenhouse, and farming is tough!”
The flagship Virginia greenhouse is currently under construction and Better Future Farms expects to start shipping product to Taylor Farms in the first half of 2024.
For more information:
Better Future Farms