LDEI Cleveland kicks off the new year with a tour of Green City Growers

By Cynthia Eakin | Photos by Shara Bohach
The LDEI Cleveland Chapter began the new year with a Jan. 11 tour of Green City Growers, a 3.25-acre hydroponic greenhouse and the largest urban greenhouse in the country.

The host and tour guide was Jeremy Lisy, National Sales Manager for Green City Growers. Lisy noted that Green City Growers is a branch of Evergreen Cooperatives of Cleveland. Evergreen Cooperatives helps to create green jobs and economic stability in low-wealth neighborhoods.

The state-of-the-art, industry-certified hydroponic greenhouse in Cleveland’s Central neighborhood is situated on a 10-acre site that was once urban blight. The inner-city site, with 3.25 acres under glass, now serves as a vibrant anchor for the surrounding neighborhood.

Opened in 2012, the Green City Growers greenhouse is engineered and constructed to grow specialty greens prized by chefs, restaurants and retail clients. Rather than growing in soil, the greens float on pools of nutrient-enriched water. That enables a quicker growth cycle as well as producing tastier produce, appreciated by farm-to-table enthusiasts. During the winter, energy-efficient grow lights are used to maintain production. The carefully controlled environment in the greenhouse allows produce to be grown twelve months a year, to meet customers’ demand for the freshest product.

The hydroponic greenhouse is industry-certified by PRIMUS/GFS, a leading name in global food safety. That means that Green City Growers meets the highest quality standards for food safety for hydroponic produce.

Lisy said that specialty greens currently being grown in the greenhouse include Upland cress, mixed greens, butter lettuce, NuFar basil, red butter lettuce and Cleveland Crisp. The greens grow from seed to harvest in 35 to 40 days. Lisy noted that the greenhouse produces about three million heads of lettuce annually and 300,000 pounds of basil. It supplies restaurants and some grocers as far away from Cleveland as Indianapolis. Clients include Kroger, Meijer, Aldi and the Northeast Ohio Marc’s chain of stores. Green City Growers also operates a produce stand at Cleveland’s historic West Side Market.

Green City Growers functions as a cooperative, with its business model getting noticed around the world, according to Lisy. He said that it is currently at about 90 percent of its profit potential but, as soon as it becomes completely profitable, it will be turned over to the 34 greenhouse employees. Lisy said that they have commissioned studies that show most of the employees spend the money they earn within 10 miles of their workplace, meaning the profit comes full circle and stays in the community.

“If we can make this greenhouse business model work in Cleveland with our shorter and darker winter days, we can put this model out there to work all over the country,” Lisy concluded.