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CEO: Muncie ‘ideal’ for Living Greens Farm

(rendering courtesy of Living Greens Farm)

MUNCIE, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — The chief executive officer of Minnesota-based Living Greens Farm says Muncie beat out other locations in Indiana, Illinois and Ohio for a planned $70 million aeroponic farm facility. The company this week said it would build the 200,000-square-foot farming, processing and packaging facility and create up to 120 jobs by the end of 2024. George Pastrana says the Delaware County city turned out to be “one of the most ideal places we could’ve selected.”

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Pastrana said Muncie has multiple benefits, but he felt the company could benefit the city as well.

“It had at the time an unemployment rate well over 5%, so for us as a mission-centered company, it was important for us to locate in a place where we could make a difference in a local community,” said Pastrana. “Delaware County in general has also a very high poverty rate – nearly 20% – so, again, as an employer that pays good wages and benefits, we thought that would be a benefit in the local community.”

Pastrana says Muncie also provides logistical benefits for the company.

“It allows us to service a wide geography,” he said. “This facility that we’re putting up in Muncie will serve metropolitan areas as far east as Pittsburgh, as far north as Milwaukee, Detroit and the Twin Cities, as far west as Kansas City and as far south as Charlotte. So, it’s a pretty good location relative to the logistics, the highway infrastructure.”

Living Greens Farms uses a vertical aeroponic farming method it says will be able to produce nearly 5 million pounds of pesticide-free leafy greens annually. Pastrana says aeroponic farming involves suspending the plants’ roots in the air and misting them with water that contains essential nutrients for growth.

Pastrana says the benefit of aeroponic farming versus hydroponic, where the roots are suspended in water, is that plants can be grown to full-size.

Indoor agriculture is seeing an increase in popularity. Two hydroponic greenhouse companies in South Bend, JEM Farms and Greenleaf Holdco, recently received tax incentives for their plans to collectively invest $260 million to expand operations.

Pastrana says the growth of indoor agriculture is mainly due to both improvements in technology and increased consumer demand.

“Consumers today are more apt to choose healthier foods to eat, so foods without pesticides, herbicides, non-GMO-type foods. They preferred it sourced locally, which is an advantage that indoor agriculture has over traditional farming methods. Over 95% of the leafy greens we eat in the United States is grown on the West Coast. So, those leafy greens, to get to the East Coast, travel up to six days over land, and so they lose quite of a bit of their freshness.”

He says traditional farming is also feeling the effects of climate change with farmland losing nutrients.

Pastrana says the company expects to have the Muncie facility up and running in about a year. The company plans to begin hiring for production, processing, shipping, management, and administrative positions beginning in the second quarter.

Once the Muncie facility opens, Living Greens Farms plans to open similar facilities in the southeast and northeast regions of the country, as well as a location in Texas, over the next few years.