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Q & A with District Farms

We are excited to partner with District Farms to bring fresh, locally grown greens to The Common Market! Located in Frederick, Maryland, this farm operates a little differently than traditional farms. District Farms’ greens are grown in a high-tech controlled environment indoor greenhouse year-round, ensuring that their crops are safe from harsh climates and water shortages. The greenhouse utilizes hydroponic growing methods, but crops are grown in soil, rather than clay pellets or rockwool.

Recently, we had a chance to chat with founder Ali Sharifzadeh about District Farms’ growing methods and the future of the farming industry.

How would you describe the type of farming that you do?
We’d like to consider ourselves a “farm of the future”. And by that we mean a local farm that can grow and provide high quality leafy greens year round to nearby customers. We do so using some of the most advanced technology such as the patented growing system we use. We certainly consider ourselves sustainable, clean, and super resource efficient.

What about this type of farming interested you?
One of our primary motivations was to create a way to provide high quality greens year round to local regions to minimize our reliance on the west coast for such greens. We just don’t believe that consuming greens traditionally grown and shipped from over 2,000 miles away is a practical and sustainable approach to farming and supply chain distribution.

The District Farms Greenhouse

How is the labor different in these farming methods vs. traditional farming?
Part of our reduced environmental footprint includes our efficient use of labor. With a smaller labor force on per acre basis compared to traditional farming, we’re able to maximize the effectiveness of our labor force.

What are some challenges you overcame in order to set up District Farms?
Starting a greenhouse business of our size is no small task, and sometimes we look back and ask ourselves ‘what on earth were we thinking?’ Perhaps the biggest challenge was (and continues to be) the sheer amount of information we had to acquire and skills we had to learn as part of constructing, growing, and operating a large hydroponic greenhouse.

Does hydroponically grown produce contain the same amount of nutrients as traditionally grown produce?
Short answer, yes. We go to great lengths to ensure we provide our greens with nutrients that field grown greens would use for healthy growth. That means we not only provide the main nutrients vital for growth, but also trace elements that would normally be found in an outdoor field grown environment.

What are the benefits of growing produce in a temperature controlled greenhouse?
One of the biggest advantages is being able to efficiently grow produce at a much lower loss rate. That means most of the greens we seed are eventually harvested, resulting in a more sustainable and environmentally friendly approach compared to traditional outdoor growing which may experience harsh weather patterns and conditions.

Can you explain some of the ways that your process impacts the environment (positively or negatively)?
We use less water, less nutrients, and generate less waste compared to outdoor field grown greens (on a per head basis). And because we employ a closed loop irrigation system, nutrients that go unused (aren’t absorbed) by our plants are recirculated instead of resulting in runoff (compared to traditional field grown greens). By growing in a controlled indoor environment, our goal is to have the least negative impact on the environment, which necessarily results in a positive impact.

What effects do you think this type of farming will have on the farming industry as a whole?
We think we’re quickly becoming part of the larger farming ecosystem by providing local customers with high quality leafy greens that are grown year round.

If you could share any additional thought to the Common Market shopper, what would you share?
We’re committed to providing the highest quality greens grown locally and harvested fresh for you to enjoy. We welcome feedback and are big fans of engaging with our customers. We also want them to know that we’re always innovating and testing new and interesting products. Come this spring we should have some unique cut varieties of lettuce available at The Common Market.

You can find District Farms greens in our produce department, in the café as a daily salad bar option, and featured on our house-made sandwiches! Visit www.district.farm for more information.