Faribault-based Living Greens expands, looks to control North American market

By Jacob Swanson

Randal Hauptmann’s apartment door in Monterey, California, opened up to the beach, with temperatures ranging in the 50s and 60s during the winter. Still, he moved to Faribault, Minnesota.

He left bagged-salad pioneer Fresh Express after more than a decade to take a position as chief science officer for Living Greens Farm, convinced he was getting out ahead of the curve in the farming industry.

Living Greens Farm, an indoor farm located in Faribault’s Northern Industrial Park, has been in Faribault since 2012.

The company uses aeroponics to grow lettuce, microgreens and herbs vertically and make better use of space. In its 7,000-square-foot space, it produces a harvest of 1,500 plants every four weeks.

Hauptmann said everyone in Faribault has been “very friendly” and said it’s a “great place to live,” but he wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t convinced indoor farming is the future of the industry.

“I came here because of the opportunity,” he said. “I am convinced this is the future and it’s the right technology.”

Within the next year, Living Greens hopes to tighten its grip on that industry and become a world leader.

In its facility in the industrial park, Living Greens has two grow rooms, the equivalent of 30 Minnesota acres in 7,000 square feet. The new grow room, which opens Feb. 22, will be the equivalent of 75 acres.

That additional production will allow the company to expand its reach. It currently sells its products in Minnesota, Wisconsin and some parts of Iowa, but the plan is to expand as far as Chicago and St. Louis, CEO/Chairman Dana Anderson said.

Anderson, who started the now 25-employee company out of his garage in 2010, said the goals are even bigger than that. With its patents, aeroponics use and years in the relatively new industry, he has big things in mind for Living Greens.

“All of those things really point to us as a company that’s really primed to lead the industry,” he said. “We’re not just looking to be a 30-person employer in this farm. This is our first farm and it’s where we have our home office, but we’re working on global projects.”

Within a year, Anderson said he expects the farm in Faribault will be the largest indoor farm in the world. Once the new grow room is up and running, plans are in place to expand.

Living Greens is on 5 acres in the industrial park, leaving it room to continue to build. With that could come additional product offerings such as melons, peppers and more, Anderson said.

“We are making improvements and discoveries daily in regard to energy efficiency, lighting, growth of the plants–many, many different things,” Hauptmann said. “The innovation pipeline is so full we can’t keep up with it.”

Indoor growing advantages

Growing in greenhouses isn’t new, Anderson said, but growing the way Living Greens does is. With climate controls, plants can grow on the equator or North Pole, he said.

It also reduces the amount of land and water use, and reduces the risk of disease, Anderson said. By its own estimates, the farm uses 200 times less land and 95 percent less water.

The farm does not use herbicides, pesticides or chemicals. There’s no risk of contamination from birds or other animals since the farm is indoors, so the product is free from those potential hazards, Anderson and Hauptmann said.

It’s also fresher. According to 2002 research from Iowa State University ‘s Leopold Center for Sustainable Architecture, the average distance traveled by romaine lettuce arriving at the Chicago Terminal Market was 2,143 miles, with few states supplying the product. When grown in Minnesota, it can be on a store shelf in the Midwest much quicker.

On Friday, with winds howling outside and snow falling, Living Greens’ plants were growing as normal. Hauptmann picked up a bag of lettuce he had purchased recently for a test. On it, the package showed it was harvested in Arizona Dec. 30, nearly three weeks before.

“Who wants to eat lettuce three weeks old? We’re on the store shelf the very next day,” Anderson said. “We have incredible shelf life and taste.”