Indoor farm in Springfield completes first harvest

Technology helps Square Roots create ideal environment for growing herbs, leafy greens

A new indoor farm in Springfield that will have the ability to grow 2.4 million packages of herbs and leafy greens every year completed its first harvest this month, with many more to follow.

“We are harvesting several times per week,” said Leah Bahan-Harris, general manager of Square Root’s Springfield location.

The Square Roots site earlier this year became the company’s fourth farm in partnership with Gordon Food Service and its fifth farm overall. The 11,200-square-foot facility is located at Gordon Food Service’s distribution center in Springfield.

The initial harvest included basil, microgreens and salad greens, said Zackary Perry, farm manager. Microgreens can be planted and harvested in as little as 10 days, salad greens in four weeks, and basil and cold herbs in six to eight weeks, he said.

The plants are grown hydroponically, using nutrient-rich water instead of soil, said Perry, who has worked in aquaponics in Puerto Rico and Egypt. Then the company uses technology to monitor the crops and collect environmental and yield data to help create an ideal growing environment.

Plants are grown in 20 different zones – essentially shipping containers – and the conditions in each zone can be individually regulated and adjusted. That means that conditions including water temperature, air temperature and humidity can mirror those found in the most successful conventional farms.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

“Having those kinds of analytics in real time makes a more sustainable future,” said Bahan-Harris, a former general manager of Dayton’s Gem City Market.

The Springfield farm has more than 2 million plants growing at any one time, said John Kell, director of communications for Square Roots, and it has created more than 20 jobs in the region – many of them for young people interested in high-tech agriculture.

About half of the harvests will go to Gordon Food Service customers, while the other half will be able to be found in consumer-facing retail stores, Kell said. Locally, this will include Fresh Thyme and Gordon Food Service stores, with distribution expected to expand. Square Roots’ produce will be sold throughout Ohio.

Each package of greens will have a unique QR code that consumers can scan to learn more about that produce’s journey from seed to shelf, including who grew it, he said. Produce could be on shelves within hours of the harvest, up to a day later.

Perry said the Square Roots model is a step toward the future of farming. As the population increases, arable land decreases, he said. Modular hydroponics facilities that are quick to set up can help to grow the food supply.

The method uses less water and land than conventional farming, and Kell said it eases supply chain complexities. For example, most U.S. lettuce comes from California and Arizona, but having a farm in Ohio that can grow it year-round reduces the need to ship it so far.

Square Roots is working with community partners and engaging others to show what it means to have agriculture in a controlled environment, Bahan-Harris said.

“Folks can see agriculture in a different way, right here locally,” she said.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

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