From Singapore to the USA and all around Europe, Edible Innovations profiles food makers that engage in improving the global food system at every stage, from production to distribution to eating and shopping. Join us as we explore the main trends in the industry from a maker perspective. Chiara Cecchini of Food Innovation Program — an ecosystem with a strong educational core that promotes food innovation as a key tool to tackle the great challenges of the future — introduces you to the faces, stories, and experiences of food makers around the globe. Check back on Tuesdays and Thursdays for new installments.
Each year, the population across the globe continues to grow. As it grows, more and more space is needed for cities, suburbs, and rural societies. The land that used to be farmland, is instead used for further housing space. Yet, as the population grows, the demand for food becomes higher.
With less land to produce vital fruits and vegetables, the world faces a major issue. Stable crops are needed to feed the millions that inhabit the planet. Many have searched for a viable solution to producing more food on less land, but Peter Overgaag already has the answer. He has had it since 1970.
Pete’s Living Greens was originally founded by the Overgaag family when they emigrated to the United States from Holland. It produced landmark sustainability programs and packaging while providing consistent and stable food through greenhouse growing. The process requires less space and produces reliable crops, even through unpredictable weather.
The production is located in California, which faces both harsh spots of rain and droughts throughout the year. However, Overgaag grew up with an understanding and natural inclination towards farming from soil up. Whether he was sowing, watering, or nurturing, he was engaged in the process. This drive allows him to further develop within his job now, where he is a caretaker of the land and his employees. From producer to consumer, Living Greens is hosting an enjoyable experience.
Still Growing in the Bag
The butter lettuce that Overgaag produces is an innovative way to look at shelf life with fresh produce. Each package that you purchase from your local store will have fresh leafy lettuces that still have their roots and soil. This allows the lettuce to have a longer shelf life both in the store and your home. This clever idea has two major impacts.
First, it helps significantly reduce food waste, as grocers can keep the produce on the shelf longer, rather than tossing it out to the landfill. Consumers who purchase the lettuce can also keep it longer, meaning less food goes in the bin. Second, this process requires less land and less water to maintain the plant’s health. The lettuce you consume is incredibly nutritious and stays that way longer.
A New Way to Grow
Back in 1977, the idea of living lettuce was brand new, and creating them in hydroponic greenhouses was almost unheard of. The benefits of both ideas were a cornerstone in sustainable agriculture. The concept of hydroponic greenhouses is still new for quite a few people. This type of farming can be simply described as growing plants without soil, and instead using mineral nutrient solutions in water. If the roots are supported, then it is normally down with a perlite or gravel.
Sustainable for Producers
Even though that sounds like it wouldn’t be as sustainable, it actually uses almost 90% less water. Not only does the lettuce have the same nutritional value as crops grown in soil, but it can also be grown efficiently, organically, and GMO-free. The company combines hydroponic growing with greenhouse growing for maximum efficiency. Greenhouse growing is essentially a structure made out of transparent materials (normally glass), with regulated conditions for crops. It creates its own climate conditions, allowing farmers to grow year round.
Sustainable for Consumers
Simply think of all the lettuce you have tossed because it has wilted or even molded in the fridge over the years. Now imagine that you are a grocer, getting lots of leafy lettuces that have already been cut from their roots in the field, then transported (sometimes for days), before finally reaching the refrigerator shelf. The lettuce begins breaking down as soon as it is removed from the root. If it is not purchased in a few days, then it becomes unsellable and is removed from the shelves and tossed in the trash.
Best case scenario, your local grocery store composts its produce and then sells or disposes of the byproduct. However, larger chains tend to lock all that food away in the earth or oceans in landfills. Living lettuce is a mitigating factor, providing high-quality crops, while also allowing consumers to harvest their own amounts and reducing waste overall. Even the packaging is sustainable. It is made of 100% 43cyclbe and shaped to act as a mini greenhouse.
The brand is moving towards a new line of Living Strips that have a wide variety of lettuce, including Sweet Butter Blend, Italian Mix, Baby Romaine, Spring Mix, and Upland Cress.
The company has also started a new type of strip that creates easy use. The ready to go salad blends are packaged in a 100% recyclable container called the Home Harvest Pack. Within the pack, there is a compartment for the roots, separating them from the lettuce on the top. This makes it easier to remove the lettuce, while also reducing the mess and leaving the roots intact. Both supreme freshness and easy use! Pete’s Living Greens continues to be free of pesticides and GMOs, and leads the industry in living lettuce and reducing food waste.