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With unbridled optimism and a meticulously trialed technology, the team at Eden Green Technology says their business model provides stability in the CEA market.

CEO Eddie Badrina (left) and VP of ag Aaron Fields envision first a national expansion and eventually a global presence of Eden Green Technology.

Leafy greens are a multibillion-dollar industry — worth around $2 billion by conservative estimates or as high as $20 billion, according to other sources. No matter which estimate you believe, those greens are worth a lot of green.

Despite their high-dollar value, there’s both a supply and a distribution problem within the industry, says Eddy Badrina, CEO of Texas-based Eden Green Technology.

“More than 90% of leafy greens are produced in two places — California’s Salinas Valley or Yuma, Arizona. One is a desert and the other might as well be a desert because of its harsh water restrictions,” he explains. “Think about it. If you’re on the East Coast, it’s highly likely that you’re eating a 3,000-mile salad. And that’s not economically sustainable or environmentally sustainable.”

But Eden Green’s mission is to relieve those supply and distribution issues with their patented vertical growing technology and their real estate footprint and location strategy.

These growing "vines" were developed by Eden Green Founders Jacques and Eugene van Buuren. They provide microclimates to each plant.

Plant production

The company combines vertical growing and greenhouse growing in what Badrina describes as “a vertical NFT system.”

It’s this system that Eden Green founders and brothers Jacques and Eugene van Buuren have been testing and modifying for several years. Plants are grown vertically and hydroponically in 16-foot-high “vines” that consist of 36 plant spots, 18 on each side of the vine. Each side consists of separate channels. Air, water and nutrients are delivered to each plant spot, which is equipped with a removable cup. In that cup, the plants experience their own microclimate with optimal humidity, temperature and CO2, explains Aaron Fields, vice president of agriculture at Eden Green. The roots receive this precise nutrient mix every 90 seconds through a temperature controlled and filtered closed-loop water system. This system allows for production of multiple types of plants throughout the greenhouse, or even on the same vine, with faster growth times, less waste and less energy, he adds.

“That microclimate — that minute level of control — in our greenhouse is what makes this tick,” Fields says. “It provides efficiency of plant growth, along with efficiency and sustainability of resources. This system provides us with a success level that we’re really proud of.”

The plant spots are approximately 11 inches on center, which is beneficial to the morphology of the leafy greens. It’s also beneficial to air and light dispersion throughout the greenhouse, Fields explains. The air is delivered just below the plant spot. “We move about 75,000 cubic feet of air per minute in that greenhouse. And to combat stratification of energy and heat, we increased the size of the air hole from the bottom to the top. We actually deliver more air at the top and that’s made a big difference in our consistency,” Fields says.

Eden Green uses municipal water, which Fields describes as “very clean” but has a pH of 8.5. “We switched over to some RO water recently to be more effective with our acid injections,” Fields says.

Compared to traditional farming, Eden Green uses 98% less water and water waste is equivalent to less than two U.S. households per year, according to Badrina. “Most conventional farms will use around 30 gallons of water to grow a head of lettuce. We use roughly 2 gallons over the course of the plant’s lifecycle,” he adds.

Plants are harvested daily by hand, and 30 people work in each greenhouse, including propagation, planting, monitoring, harvesting, packaging and packing.

Since this production system is inside a greenhouse, Eden Green uses the sunlight in tandem with an energy curtain system and a patented mobile LED light bar. The light bars are designed to optimize yield, morphology and efficiency by moving along the vines, but only when it’s necessary, Fields explains. The supplemental light from the mobile bars is responsible for a 60% increase in yield using 90% less light energy than other vertical farms, according to Eden Green’s own data.

Their current production greenhouse, the second one they built, is 1.5 acres and filled with more than 328,000 plants. Eden Green’s first greenhouse is now dedicated to research and development. They plan to break ground on greenhouses three and four on the Texas campus during the first quarter of 2023. Minneapolis-based Ryan Companies is the construction company of record and will work with the BFG Greenhouse Solutions team. This expansion is fueled in part by a nationwide lettuce shortage, a problem that has caused the cost of fresh leafy greens to skyrocket, Badrina says.

“No one can get consistent supply right now, so people are begging us to open up our next two greenhouses,” he explains.

Between the value of the market and the product shortages, Eden Green will continue to focus on the production of leafy greens.

“We can grow a lot of other crops besides leafy greens, but we’re not asking, ‘What can we grow?’ We’re asking, ‘What should we grow?’” Badrina says. “I liken it to Amazon. Amazon spent its first eight or 10 years focused on high volumes and low margins of one product only. After they established a distribution network and dominated the book market, then they asked, ‘What else can we sell?’ That’s called focus. And I would much rather focus on leafy greens, dominate there, and then look back and say, okay, we have our distribution network established and we can move on to something else.”

As soon as plants are harvested, they're sent to the packaging area. With the proximity to Walmart's distribution center, product is grown less than 300 miles from some stores.
Badrina says Eden Green is focused on leafy greens, but they are experimenting with other crops in their R&D facility.
The company currently grows four types of leafy greens. The 1.5-acre greenhouse houses more than 328,000 plants.

Product distribution

Eden Green owns 57 acres of land in Cleburne, Texas, adjacent to a Walmart distribution center. Cleburne is located just south of the Fort Worth/Dallas metro area. The location is part of Eden Green’s business plan, as it removes the logistical costs of the supply chain, Badrina says.

“Because we’re located next to the Walmart distribution center, our product goes from harvest straight to packaging and loaded on the truck, all in the same footprint,” he says. “We’ve compressed all of that into our own facility.”

Eden Green’s main sales channel is through distributors. They have collaborated with Robinson Fresh, the third-largest produce distributor in the U.S. The company is supplying both romaine and butterhead under the brand “Robinson Fresh” to approximately 500 Walmart stores in Texas and Oklahoma.

“We want to be ubiquitous. We want to be everywhere. And the way we do that is through private label and white label relationships with distributors and retailers,” Badrina says. “And we can do that because our margins are good. Our margins are good to begin with, so we don’t need our own brand to be successful in the market. We talked about creating our own brand when I first came on board, but it didn’t make sense for us from a financial aspect.”

Eventually, Eden Green plans to build production facilities in other parts of the U.S. using the same location strategy with its close proximity to major distribution centers.

Fields says he hopes the Eden Green model will help the market reach some type of standardization.

“If you walk into a mum greenhouse in South Carolina and a mum greenhouse in Oregon, they look the same. And I really hope that happens with indoor food production. I hope we find answers together.”

February 2023
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