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Company finds new way to grow lettuce, cut risk of foodborne illness

Posted at 3:25 PM, Dec 05, 2018

The romaine lettuce outbreak has many consumers thinking about where their crops are grown.

One rooftop greenhouse company in Chicago says their lettuce is safer and longer-lasting.

Jen Frymark, the chief agriculture officer and manager of Gotham Greens, pulls out a head of lettuce and immediately starts to eat it.

"No, you don't need to wash it,” Frymark says. “We don't have that on our package, but there's no reason for me to wash it. I never wash any of our lettuce at home. It's amazing; nothing touches it; it’s so clean.”

Here at Gotham Greens, lettuce is grown differently.  

They do it hydroponically. That means it’s grown without soil, but in a nutrient-rich water. Instead of a traditional farm field, this lettuce is grown on rooftop greenhouses.

Their space on Chicago's south side is the largest rooftop greenhouse in the country.  Because of the controlled environment, crops can grow in a third of the time of a traditional field.

“We're giving this plant everything it wants: the right day temp, the right night temp, the nutrients, CO2 levels, air circulation, the water,” Frymark explains. “I mean, these are very coddled plants and they have everything they need, and they can just grow in this perfect environment and reach maturity very quickly.”

Gothic Greens only sells to grocery stores in the Chicago and New York metro areas, where they grow. The product goes from the greenhouse directly to grocery shelves in a day and a half.

The company’s lettuce also lasts longer than the traditional grocery lettuce out here. Frymark says their product can last up to two to three weeks in the fridge. Additionally, Gotham Greens prices are comparable to other organic produce.

Frymark also says their method dramatically lowers the risk for foodborne illness.

“There [are] no manures, there’s no water sources that could be contaminants,” she says. “We don't have birds and animals getting into the field.”

She says the company is expanding and plans to open more rooftop greenhouses in the near future.