Lakeland Fresh Farms sets the bar for hydroponically grown greens

May 6, 2022

Chesterfield Twp., Mich. (April 26, 2021) Hydroponic farming is here.

Joseph Corace and a group of scientists and entrepreneurs have launched Lakeland Fresh Farms in Macomb County, and just as Detroit automakers changed the way people drive, Lakeland will change the way people farm.

“This is the future, absolutely,” said Corace, Lakeland’s president and CEO shortly before giving his guest a tour of the 80,000 square feet or two acre farm nestled in an industrial park in Chesterfield Township. “What we cannot control outside because of Mother Nature we can control indoors.”

Take leaf lettuce for example.

On the farm it takes three months to grow providing it has all of the nutrients, sunlight, wind, rain and other factors in play. Thanks to the science of hydroponics and a controlled environment green leafy lettuce is harvested within 18 days. That means Lakeland can produce 1,000 pounds of fresh greens a day.

Basil takes a little longer but still less than conventional farming and this is not to say farmers will disappear because there will always be a generation who love to work the land, only that hydroponic farming will only get bigger.

So, what is hydroponic farming?

Simply put, it’s a unique method of growing plants without soil in this case water (hydro being the Greek word for water). Using very little space farmers and even hobbyists can grow a variety of edible plants (think herbs, veggies, even some fruits) in nutrient-rich water indoors all year round. Among the earliest examples of hydroponics being used is believed to be the Hanging Gardens of Babylon dating back to 500 BC.

That’s the concept.

Now think big.

As in several football fields of seedlings growing in a controlled environment, getting the right amount of water, air, humidity, wind and everything a plant may or may not get outside and you can understand why farmers are excited.

“I think it’s great,” said Julie Huebner of Macomb Township and among the people working at the indoor farm. “It’s a great idea and I’m sure it’s going to catch on in the future.”

What makes Corace and his group, including the company’s grower Jeff Gilbert, industry leaders is they’ve not only perfected the horticultural system but built an assembly line using technology from hydroponic farmers in the Netherlands, Europe and England.

“It all starts here,” Corace said, while standing in a ginormous room filled with ponds.

Once the seedlings are in a flat they go into a floating system that is fed a variety of nutrients. Fully grown, plants are then funneled into a lazy river that carries them into a harvest room, where a machine cuts the leaves from the plant and sends them along a conveyor that measures out 4.5 ounces of lettuce for each plastic container featuring Lakeland’s logo.

What’s great about the process?

  • The hydroponically grown greens are never touched by human hands, which eliminates the risk of bacterial contamination
  • Zero chemical pesticides and herbicides are used so there’s no chemical run-off or contamination of Macomb County’s freshwater lakes and rivers.
  • The process takes 90% less water than produce grown in a field
  • Lakeland is a green-minded company that participates in the DTE Grow Energy Efficiently Pilot Program.

“We saw DTE’s Grow Energy Efficient Pilot program as an integral investment in our energy conscious company. This program gave our startup a leg up and helped us build on a firm economic footing,” Corace said. “We are grateful to partner with DTE on this program, which will change the projection of startups in the indoor agricultural space.”

Providing the sun for plants in the Lakeland process employs hundreds of LED grow lights in a computer-controlled indoor weather system and the $500,000 rebate rewarded by DTE for being in the program helped to cover the cost of the system.

“When like-minded businesses unite to create change, our land, people and wildlife are better for it,” Corace said. “I am looking forward to the continued success Lakeland will experience by participating in the energy-conscious program.”

Corace said the company hopes to grow cilantro, mint and other microgreens but it’s current product line includes: Pure Romaine, a smooth, crisp red and green baby romaine leaves; Crisp and Clean, crunchy, sweet and serrated baby green leaves; and Always Aromatic Basil, a fresh and flavorful large-leaf basil sold as a potted plant, or in small and bulk bags for cooks who want that fresh basil taste.

“Chefs love us,” said Corace, dropping the name of James Rigato, chef and owner of Mabel Gray restaurant in Hazel Park, as one example and his wife Judy Corace, as another.

“She makes this wonderful pesto ravioli or lasagna dish with our fresh basil,” Corace said.

Cooks at home will find Lakeland Fresh Farms products sold locally at Hollywood Markets, Vince and Joe’s Gourmet Markets, Meijers and Nino Salvaggio’s.

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View this article in Macomb Daily.