October 30, 2017 - Shenandoah Growers, a Harrisonburg-based organic herb grower, continues to expand its system of automated greenhouses and indoor LED growing rooms around the country.
The company’s Rockingham County farm complex serves as the eastern hub of operations, with spokes in the mid-Atlantic, Midwest and South Central markets. It recently opened its third indoor growing facility in Sherman, Texas. The other two are in Virginia and Indiana.
The combination of greenhouses and indoor growing rooms changes the way highly perishable produce can be grown and distributed, says CEO Timothy Heydon. Shenandoah Growers is able to produce more than 30 million certified-organic plants per year — from arugula to thyme — under these controlled conditions.
With the latest expansion, “we start the plants in Virginia and then we ship partially finished plants to Indiana and Texas. They finish growing fresh there for the markets,” Heydon says. “With the advances in growing with LED lights, we can get a high-quality plant, good value and good shelf life.”
Shenandoah Growers also plans to implement an indoor farming hub and spoke system on the West Coast next year. A location has not yet been chosen.
“LED growing is only part of our system. We use it as tool where it makes the most sense,” Heydon says. “Our approach is to use LED at the more critical stages of growth. When plants germinate, we put them into the LED room, where we can control plants at a younger stage of development. The plants then are transferred to greenhouses.”
The benefit of this approach, he says, is that “we can have a smaller unit in a regional facility, without having to build an entire infrastructure from seed. It’s a more efficient way to use resources.”
Since the company was founded in 1990, “we’ve evolved. We put a lot of emphasis on research. We’re organic USDA certified. Our systems are built on the principles of sustainability,” Heydon says. For example, “we collect rainwater from our buildings and use it to irrigate our plants.”
The company now has more than 1,200 employees working at farms, production facilities and logistics operations in 11 states.