We are incredibly honored and excited to be partnering with the good folks at Local Roots, a completely different type of farm that’s revolutionizing agriculture as we know it. We first met the farmers a year ago, when they reached out to share their vision with us and see how we might be able to work together. Mendo Co-Founder Mario Del Pero joined Local Roots Co-Founders Eric and Dan for a tour and immediately realized this was no traditional farm. For starters, the entire thing fit inside a recycled shipping container!

Partner with local roots

It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but this plain white shell encases some incredibly advanced, custom-built technology that, through the application of much research, trial, and error, has literally gotten growing lettuce down to a science. They moved into their current space in Vernon, CA about 6 months ago, and since then constructed, from the ground up, a fully functional “farm” that will grow all the butter lettuce Mendocino Farms needs for our new Local Roots Curried Chicken Lettuce Bowl.

Organic foods from Local roots

The Local Roots farm more resembles a tech start-up than any farm we’ve ever seen, bringing together scientists, coders, and machinists to build state-of-the-art microclimates with ideal conditions for nurturing butter lettuce, starlet kale, microgreens, and other crops from seed to harvest. The farm growing Mendo’s produce has 4400 plant sites, and each one will take 37 days to grow a mature head of butter lettuce using a complex water and nutrient circulation system and carefully calibrated red, blue, and full spectrum white LED lighting to maximize the photosynthesis process. Approximately 360 heads of butter lettuce will be harvested and delivered to Mendocino Farms every single day to feed our discerning guests.

Supporting Farming tech start ups

The driving force behind this enormously complex endeavor is simple and admirable. Local Roots’ mission is to improve global health by building a better food system. In their own words, Local Roots believes “it is our responsibility to create the sustainable food system of tomorrow. In order to feed 10 billion people globally by 2050 and reduce the environmental burden of conventional agriculture, we need to rethink how and where we grow food. We will use controlled environment farming technologies to handle the increasingly volatile climate while providing more people access to lush, nutritious produce.”

Organic fresh locally sourced Mendocino Farms los angeles orange county dining

Their approach certainly boasts some impressive facts:

  • They use 97% less water than conventional agriculture
Based on a 2015 analysis, an outdoor farm in AZ used 145.2 gallons to grow 1lb of lettuce. Within their custom designed shipping container farms, Local Roots designed a closed loop hydroponic system that requires only 1.22 gallons to grow 1lb of lettuce. That’s 99.17% less water than the traditional farm! While total water usage varies based on farm, time of year, and irrigation method, Local Roots consistently sees over a 97% reduction in water use compared to conventional farms. Such a dramatic water savings is particularly notable in California, which is experiencing a historic drought and yet is still relied upon to supply a huge percentage of our country’s food.
  • Their methods eliminate harmful pesticide use and reduce fertilizer consumption
Over 1 billion pounds of pesticides are used in the US each year. An estimated 25 million agricultural workers worldwide experience unintentional pesticide poisonings each year. Run-off from fields contaminates marine ecosystems by increasing nitrogen levels and encouraging algae growth that creates vast “Dead Zones,” and the USDA estimates that 50 million people in the US obtain drinking water from groundwater potentially contaminated by pesticides and other agricultural chemicals. Local Roots avoids these pitfalls altogether by growing indoors without pesticides or herbicides. They also use less than 5% of the fertilizer required by outdoor growers because the apply soluble nutrients directly to crop roots, thereby avoiding ground leaching. This is important because the massive amounts of synthetic fertilizer that are created annually for conventional farming produce nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that traps 300 times more heat per molecule than carbon dioxide and contributes to climate change.
  • Their methods completely eliminate soil degradation
Generating three centimeters of topsoil takes 1,000 years. In 2014, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) stated that if current rates of soil degradation do not slow, all of the world’s topsoil could be gone in 60 years. The FAO reported that unless new approaches are adopted, the global amount of arable and productive land per person in 2015 will be only 1/4 the levels of 1960 due to population growth and soil degradation.
  • They eliminate long-distance trucking, shorten time to market, and  bring the means of producing nutritious food directly into the neighborhoods that need it most
Transportation accounts for more than 16% of life cycle emissions for plant-based products. It also contributes to shortened shelf life and high spoilage rates. One industry consultant estimates that up to one in seven truckloads of perishables delivered to supermarkets is thrown away. That is heartbreaking, especially when so many people are suffering from hunger in our communities. Local Roots’ model allows food to be grown much closer to where it will be consumed, and can even be built on-site in food deserts to provide much-needed access to nutrition. Moving the farm closer to the consumer also allows produce to be harvested at peak ripeness and nutrition rather than forcing farmers to harvest early in order to account for packing and transit time.

Mendocino Supporting innovative farming indoor farming

As Local Roots grows and scales this unique agriculture model, they are committed to doing so in a way that furthers their mission and enriches the livelihood and health of their workers, customers, and the environment. Though their indoor farms do use more electricity than outdoor farms, they are constantly innovating new technology to improve energy efficiency and implement streamlined automation controls to better regulate internal farm conditions. They are committed to becoming a carbon-negative company, and they are quickly working towards sourcing from exclusively clean energy providers and implementing on-farm solar that can subsidize (and eventually provide all of) their electric needs. They are also striving to evolve labor practices in the agricultural industry, which are notoriously poor. Conventional farming relies heavily on seasonal labor, where workers are expected to work long days exposed to the elements with limited access to simple amenities. Since Local Roots have indoor farms that produce year round, they can employ farmers with full time pay, health insurance, and better working conditions. With the average age of a farmer in the US approaching topping 57 years old, they are taking it upon themselves to train the next generation of American farmers.

Local Roots indoor farming Mendocino Farms