As consumers across the globe look for locally produced, nutritious and reasonably priced fresh produce, The Villages Grown is rising to the challenge for Florida and is currently the largest CEA operation in southeastern United States.
The Villages Grown LLC began as a farm-to-table, food-as-medicine initiative centered in The Villages, Florida, America’s largest retirement community with roughly 165,000 residents. The innovative growing complex covers 85 acres with 40 acres dedicated to vertical hydroponics in controlled environment greenhouses. The site also includes space for cut processing and a commercial kitchen. Using five different hydroponic techniques, The Villages Grown produces a wide variety of crops including tomatoes, cucumbers, leafy greens, microgreens, herbs and other specialty products. This, according to executive director Jennifer Waxman, is one of the things that sets the company apart from other operations.
“Most CEA operations are category killers and are producing large volumes of one or 2 types of crops. They may produce only lettuce or only tomatoes, for example. At The Villages Grown, we’ve managed to crack the code on diversification and now produce tomatoes, cucumbers, microgreens, lettuces, fine herbs and specialty products, 365 days a year,” says Jennifer.
The Villages Grown has always been committed to producing nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables, which it achieves through precise nutrient control and irrigation control, a combination of natural and supplement lighting, and biological control methods including Integrated Pest Management (‘IPM’). The company also conducts nutritional analyses both in-house and through third party laboratories to ensure that its products are indeed nutritionally superior. As Jennifer explains, “if you give a plant everything it needs, it will give you everything you need.”
While The Villages Grown was initially developed to supply the retirement community with fresh produce, it has since modified its business model to become somewhat of a food hub. In addition to the 7 million lbs of produce grown annually, the company has partnered with 17 local farms and 26 artisans to aggregate local products and develop a “By Florida, for Florida” food system. The onboarding of new farms and artisans will continue to expand.
Stores & pick-up
The Villages Grown offers its products through its stores, with orders then delivered to pick-up locations within 2-48 hours by the company’s own delivery fleet. The company is also partnered with other key produce distributors as well as other large retail grocers to cover the state of Florida, all of which will operate on a no-inventory model to ensure that products always reach the consumer at peak freshness.
Recently, The Villages Grown announced that it has entered more hospitals, restaurant holding groups, school districts and assisted living facilities to provide nutritionally dense products to these organizations. Moving forward, the company aims to begin producing year-round berries and other key produce items in new types of warehouse growing facilities.
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The Villages Grown