Heads of lettuce cuddle together under a glass sky, warm in an artificial summer despite the snow and wind outside.
The picturesque scene marked the opening ceremony for a new greenhouse in Providence run by a hydroponic farming company called Gotham Greens. Hydroponic farms grow plants in a mineral-rich water solution instead of soil, which can decrease water usage and increase growth of the greens.
“The latest pushing-the-limit technology for greenhouses is just getting yields and quality that have never been seen before,” said Jenn Frymark, chief greenhouse officer for Gotham Greens.
Providence is the first city in New England to have one of Gotham’s farms, which are already open in seven other locations nationwide. The company started with a rooftop greenhouse in Brooklyn in 2011.
“We continue to feel inspired by the city, state and region’s legacy of manufacturing and local food culture,” wrote Viraj Puri, chief executive officer and co-founder of Gotham Greens. The company collaborated with Farm Fresh Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s Division of Agriculture, the Rhode Island Food Policy Council and other groups to bring the project to life, according to Puri.
The greenhouse is part of Rhode Island’s focus on increasing local food production. Less than five percent of the food consumed in Rhode Island is produced within the state, The Herald previously reported.
“We are, especially in the Northeast, very dependent on food which largely comes from the West Coast and South America to here,” said Ken Ayers, chief of agriculture at RIDEM. “We are literally at the end of a very long pipeline. And so, what we view as a sustainable future for us is to keep moving toward far more local production.”
Ayers said Gotham Greens epitomizes many of the values Rhode Island’s food community is looking for, as it exists in a space between environmental sustainability, local agriculture and local food. He views this combination as the future of a healthy food system.
The greenhouse uses glass designed to let in 98 percent of light from above to maximize plant growth. Different areas of the farm are sectioned off, so that the Gotham team can set specific “climate recipes” for the plants regardless of the Ocean State’s fickle weather. Located on 555 Harris Ave., just west of Federal Hill and on the site of an old light-bulb manufacturing plant, the greenhouse filled an empty lot.
“We are literally right in the middle of the city, and that is so special about this project,” Frymark said.
The site was developed with a pricetag of $12.2 million, according to Frymark. Of that number, $2.2 million came from tax credits from the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation, according to the Providence Journal.
“I think that Gotham Greens can be a leader in green business and sustainability and leading others into sustainable agriculture in a new way that we haven’t necessarily thought of before,” said Leigh Vincola, farmers market program coordinator for Farm Fresh R.I., who attended the event. “It’s a great model for the rest of the region as well as for other smaller farmers who might be inspired.”
Thursday’s ceremony attracted a collection of food and agriculture leaders in Rhode Island. Guests mingled in a room adjoined to the greenhouse, eating food catered by Plant City, a new vegan establishment thriving in downtown Providence. Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, a chef in his whites from Johnson and Wales University and others looked over the farm on a tour while other event attendees nibbled on chia seed pudding cups.