Customer Stories Apr 16, 2018

Lettuce Work Foundation Increases Winter Yields, Creating Opportunities for Young Adults with Autism to Thrive

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About Lettuce Work

Lettuce Work is a non-profit baby greens grower based in New Albany, Ohio whose mission is to help young adults with autism cultivate the skills needed to successfully transition from high school into the workplace.

Owners Doug and Julie Sharp, and Greenhouse Manager Brent Langenkamp built their commercial greenhouse in 2014, with the intent to use horticulture as a platform to provide job training and employment opportunities for adults on all ends of the autism spectrum. They currently grow leafy greens for spring salad mixes, which are carried by two of the area’s major grocery store chains, Giant Eagle and Kroger.

80% Winter Yield Increase

Improved Plant Color

Shorter Crop Cycle for Lettuce

Winter Harvest Challenges

Ohio winters’ cloudy, snowy weather and short days make growing any crop year-round challenging, and lettuces are particularly sensitive.

Brent and Doug found that the usual 5-week growing cycle stretched into 10 weeks during the winter, and that the plants were more prone to developing mold and mildew. The leaves were also much thinner, and paler. In addition to impacting their revenue stream, the smaller crops and reduction in turns meant that there was less work available.

“I remember one week where we just stopped, we didn’t have anything to harvest,” recalls Doug, “So we looked into lighting. Brent did an analysis to see how we could benefit from it.”

“Even though we’re only currently using 75% of the space in the greenhouse, we’re out performing last winter. This January alone, our revenue was nearly 80% higher than it was that month last year. It’s been phenomenal.”

LumiGrow’s Cost Effective Solution

Brent and Doug looked at a few different options and found that LumiGrow was the easiest to communicate with. After they sent over the greenhouse’s layout, their LumiGrow Lighting Specialist, Ashley Veach, quickly came back to them with a customized plan.

“She helped us figure out how many lights we needed as well as the optimal layout for our custom facility, unlike the other companies that asked us how many units we wanted,” said Doug.

Lettuce Work applied for a state grant to cover part of the cost of grow lights. LumiGrow was selected as the best lighting provider for the project, and Lettuce Work’s four hydroponic bays were retrofitted with 195 LumiGrow LED light fixtures in the summer of 2017. The Columbus Foundation and Autism Speaks helped match the other half of the project’s costs so that Lettuce Work’s revenue could continue to directly benefit the student workers.

“It’s the difference between surviving and thriving. You can see it in the plants- we would struggle in the winter- they were literally just surviving. LumiGrow lights have allowed us to get back to the thriving growth we were used to in the summer.”

From Surviving to Thriving

Lettuce Work has seen immediate savings on their electricity bills.

Their electrical contractor predicted that their monthly bill would be over $1,500. Doug and Brent braced themselves for high bills, but were pleasantly surprised when the monthly costs of running the LumiGrow lights has been closer to $450. They have also seen significant improvements in leaf color and yields since they started using the LEDs to extend daylight hours to a consistent 13 hours.

Lettuce Work Lights On

“Even though we’re only currently using 75% of the space in the greenhouse, we’re outperforming last winter. This January alone, our revenue was nearly 80% higher than it was that month last year. It’s been phenomenal. The color is definitely better too,

“We don’t have to scale back the quantities we deliver in store. We had to ration cases last year. If you skip a store a week or two, you may not get back in there. We haven’t had to deal with that at all,” said Doug, “Now, if someone wants extra, we can provide that. It’s really stable. It reduces the risk of us losing a customer because we can provide the same quantities we deliver in the summer.”

Summary
  • Problem. Low crop yields during winter, not enough work for student workers
  • Solution. Install supplemental LumiGrow LED lighting to improve quality and year-round production
  • Result. 80% increase in winter crop yields, improved quality, as well as a higher and more stable revenue stream
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