As we write this post, it’s a sunny, 70 degree day — perfect lettuce-growing weather (though atypical for NYC this time of year, but we’ll save that for another post). Lettuce thrives in average daily temperatures between 60 and 70°F. So for most of the year, the majority of us who live in colder or variable climates import our fresh lettuce from warmer climates. The Salinas Valley in California, also known as the “Salad Bowl of the World,” supplies 70% of the lettuce sold in the US, and during the winter, Yuma County in Arizona, also known as the “Winter Lettuce Capital of the World,” supplies 90%. So how is this lettuce grown, and how does it make it all the way to the shelves of your grocery store?
Most of the lettuce grown in the Salinas Valley or in Yuma is grown on large, industrial farms whose environmentally-costly practices take a toll both on the quality of greens they produce and the long-term viability of the land. Lettuce grown in these large farms is aided by the liberal use of synthetic fertilizers, which can cause harmful algae blooms that reduce levels of oxygen and lead to dead zones. In order to support growth, these farms divert water from natural aquifers and rely heavily on the use of pesticides to protect against pests and other bacteria. However, extreme weather related to climate change is already making the lettuce harvest more unpredictable, and natural sources of irrigation like the Colorado River are rapidly drying up due to climate change, overuse, and poor management.
Traditional lettuce grown in California or Arizona has to be shipped across the country in trucks like these, often taking up to two weeks in transport.
Once ready for harvest, conventional lettuce is machine-picked and processed, which can cause quality issues and waste from mechanical damage. Because it’s grown outdoors with pesticides, conventional lettuce is often triple-washed to reduce the risk of contamination like that which caused the recent E. Coli outbreak — an incredibly water costly process. It’s then vacuum cooled, packaged, and picked up by long-haul refrigerated diesel trucks that transport it thousands of miles across the country. Once it reaches its destination, it’s handed off to multiple short-haul distributors, who eventually deliver it to retailers.
By the time traditionally grown lettuce makes it into your shopping cart, it’s over a week old, has traveled an average of 2,000 miles, and is well past peak freshness. If you live in NYC, for example, your lettuce has traveled even longer and is likely even older.
At Bowery, we believe in a simpler, safer, and more sustainable approach. That’s why we’re building commercial scale indoor farms closer to the point of consumption and delivering safe, pesticide-free produce at the peak of freshness and flavor, all using less than 5% of the water and no middlemen.
Bowery greens are always fresh and local, and travel just a few miles from our farm to your store.
We grow our lettuce in our indoor farm in Kearny, New Jersey and our hydroponic growing system recycles more than 95% of the water used. We meticulously monitor the growing process of our greens and capture tremendous amounts of data which allows us to give our crops the exact nutrients, water, and light that they need — and not waste any resources.
When our greens are at the height of flavor and freshness, they are harvested. Because we grow in an indoor controlled environment we don’t use pesticides, so there is no need to process or wash our lettuce after harvest. The lettuce is packed, room-cooled, and loaded into our delivery van within a day or so of harvest. Our delivery vans travel only to grocery stores and restaurants within a close radius of our farm. Whereas most produce is grown or sold by distributors making the actual origin of the produce almost impossible to trace, we handle every step of the production and delivery process, ensuring end-to-end control and a completely traceable supply chain from seed to store.
Today, with more people prioritizing local produce, transparent supply chains, and sustainable growing practices, agricultural standards are changing. At Bowery, we are proud to be part of this movement towards a more responsible food system.