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Planted Detroit introduces new 20.000 sq. ft. growing facility

"We’re retrofitting with the variables we have in place"

“The Square Room is a big block of pink lights with eight levels, where all our growing is done. Everything after germination is done in the same room, both harvesting of our baby greens and microgreens. Because we’re almost done with our PARS (Planted Automated Racking System), which is the big automation,” says Megan Burritt, Managing partner at Planted Detroit. 

From a mix-fused downtown neighborhood in Detroit, daily deliveries of ready-to-eat salads and fresh greens are transported to local retailers and restaurants. Planted Detroit makes a large contribution to the city’s share of fresh produce.

New facility
Planted Detroit has been in the middle of the construction of its new 20.000 sq. ft growing facility. The growing space has been a massive update to the company compared to its previous 6-level growing facility which was between 1500-2000 sq. ft. The same room was used for processing, packaging, harvesting, and so on. “It was rather crowded, says Megan, but the main goal was to keep everything tight for the construction to continue in the near surrounding. We’re very serious about biosecurity and we have a daily procedure for everyone who sets foot in our grow room to go through. Making sure our greens don’t come into contact with pathogens is our top priority. 

The new growing room

The Square Room, one of the growing rooms, is highly automated, including an automatic harvester to ensure work-efficiency. Once everything is big enough to be transplanted out of their plug trays, PARS (Planted Automated Racking System) will be transplanted with gutters and then go into harvesting. On the other side of PARS, the gutters are taken down and harvested through Planted’s new automatic harvester.

Delivering directly to consumers
The company wants to reach a higher volume of customers as it’s aiming to obtain a consumer brand status. Next to that, the company is always on the lookout for finding more customers through other venues. “We want to go directly to consumers via our web-store to shorten food miles as much as possible, delivering the freshest and most delicious greens,” Megan says.  In order to do that the company needed to have a bit more scale, trying to maximize the space they already had.

She adds: “Our farm maybe isn’t the square footage which we could have built from scratch, but we’re retrofitting with the variables we have in place. That is why we have done a combination of a microgreen vertical nursery and PARS for baby greens. Our direct customers wanted meal solutions and we’ve been able to deliver them that. We’ve been doing everything from seed to plate basically.” 

Megan Burritt, Managing partner 

New projects coming up
On the same campus, 10 meters away, a new farm will be constructed, under the company's office space. In this farm herbs and edible flowers will be grown in response to different customers' demands. Megan says that Planted Detroit’s wholesale customers got them to this point as they were very interested in herbs and edible flowers. “However we weren’t able to perfect these as well in the systems that our baby greens were in perfectly. That’s why we’ve been leaning into R&D lately because once finishing the construction of Farm 2 it will have excellent  growing conditions that are better than they have been for those crops.” 

Edible flowers are an interesting thing, says Megan, but the company has gotten so much interest in it. According to Megan there aren’t many farms in the US that are growing them. “They’re high priced at this point. It sort of sticks to our original innovation, namely what exists here in the food system and what does not. Where can we fill the ‘does not exist niche’ and satisfy the needs of our customers.”

The company is rolling out a subscription program sometime this year and figuring out where it fits into the fresh food subscription system and how they can partner with other parties in order to get produce closer to society. “It’s great to have this ag job, applied science to be able to do. In all the things we’ve been doing is hiring these Detroiters and showing that we can really create a really great culture of work. It’s really great to see we’re contributing to a better Detroit and a better tomorrow,” Megan states. 

Team expansion
During 2020 most of the team stayed on by moving around working hours, so the farm could come back in full force. By the time all equipment was in place, 10 to 12 people were added to the team to have them fully trained before the system would be functioning. “It has been really wonderful to expand the team to see what our capacity is,” says Megan.      

“Luckily we’ve been able to develop systems that have been resilient. We’ve seen so many different patterns in consumer behavior but they seem to have fallen in our favor. People are eating more at home, shopping for groceries more, and that triggered our pivot focusing on direct consumers. But now, it’s perfectly in line with our strategy on how we go to market. As long as we can supply our customer needs we’ll be on the right path. Nothing but bright hopes for the future right now,” Megan affirms.

For more information:
Planted Detroit
Megan Burritt, Managing partner