CALEDONIA — As consumers’ interests shift to a more locally-focused food supply chain, companies like Revolution Farms LLC hope to change how that food is grown.
CEO Tripp Frey believes the ongoing “farm revolution” will result in food being sourced “as close to the consumers as possible.”
“It’s about having transparency in where your food comes from,” Frey said. “It’s about the consumers and the environment with this farm.”
Earlier this year, the Caledonia-based aquaponics operation finished building a 55,000-square-foot glass greenhouse and a 35,000-square-foot warehouse. The farm will bring “local, fresh produce” to consumers in an eco-friendly way, according to Frey.
“This was a consumer-driven endeavor because consumers want to know where their food comes from,” Frey said. “They want fresh, local, pesticide-free, non-GMO food, and we are able to provide that product that typically comes from across the country … year-round locally.
“We know that consumers want to buy healthy, local products, and that’s exactly what Revolution Farms is doing.”
Revolution Farms, located at 2901 76th St. SE, has the capacity to produce more than 350,000 pounds of local lettuce annually, with tilapia expected to be available later in 2018.
Currently, the company’s lettuce is available in 16 SpartanNash stores and various restaurants around Grand Rapids.
To fulfill its locally-focused mission, Revolution Farm deployed a “very advanced, bespoke aquaponics system,” which combines aquaculture, or raising fish, with hydroponics, or growing plants in water.
“The system filters waste from the fish through a highly advanced filtration system, into the tanks where the plants are growing,” he said. “The plants float on top of the water on rafts, so that just the roots dangle down into the tank.”
According to a study from Iowa State University’s North Central Regional Aquaculture Center, aquaponics farming offers many environmental benefits compared to traditional methods, such as reducing land area requirements and water consumption.
The report notes that “herbs, vegetables, and leafy greens, as well as fish, crayfish, worms, and a number of other products can all be produced (in aquaponics), which the producer can use to meet a highly diversified market.”
“Because aquaponics is a closed-loop system, nutrient effluence is virtually non-existent, allowing agriculture to take a large step toward environmental sustainability,” the report’s authors wrote.
Frey said Revolution Farms uses roughly 90 percent less water than traditional farming methods. An additional environmental benefit comes from growing locally, he added.
“The product is not trucked across the country, which lowers energy use and carbon footprint,” said Frey, who described West Michigan as “a goldilocks zone for agriculture and business.”
Dan Vogler, president of the Grant, Mich.-based Michigan Aquaculture Association, said aquaculture has “tremendous potential” in Michigan, where the industry already produces roughly 2 million pounds of goods.
“(Aquaponics) is a major part of the consumer trend,” Vogler told MiBiz. “There is a tremendous resource base that allows us to be successful with it in Michigan.”
While aquaculture has an audience, many companies in the industry say “capital has been hard to come by … which has created issues and made it difficult to move projects forward,” Vogler said.
“The industry is very small,” he said. “(But) our organization has developed a strategy that … incorporates all types of aquaculture to the public.”
According to Frey, Revolution Farms is comprised of a “coalition of successful entrepreneurs” who want to “help build this revolutionary new way to change farming and bring safer, fresher and healthier food to Michigan residents.”
In addition to completing phase one of growth, the company also expects to hire 12 to 15 people, Frey said.
Previously, the company said its next phases would include the build-out of eight greenhouses, with space also available for packing and logistics operations.
“Aquaponics is a very sustainable method of farming, using a system of recirculating water,” Frey said. “For most of the year, the greenhouse is harnessing the power of the sun through the greenhouse roof. … We don’t have a season, so we grow and harvest three days a week. This farm revolution (is where) people want to know where their food comes from.
“There is no reason to have that food travel across the country with that environmental impact out there.”