Approximately 20 miles west of Glenwood Springs, in the town of Silt, an indoor farm is bringing new technology to Colorado’s agriculture industry. Spring Born is a 2.5-acre greenhouse that is capable of growing 10,000 packs of arugula and green and red leaf lettuce per day—all while using 95 percent less water and 90 percent less land than larger, big-name competitors like Dole.
Spring Born’s story began three years ago, when president Charles Barr began planning the company. His goal was to create a farm that simultaneously blends new technologies with sustainable and traditional growing methods. Using some of his own private funds, a business loan from the bank, and a Colorado C-PACE green energy grant, Barr was able to get to work on creating his sustainable agriculture business.
Barr’s background in wireless internet technologies and entrepreneurial mindset gave him the knowhow he needed to develop a tech-savvy operation. The greens inside Spring Born, which officially launched last September, are grown in organic compost in individually irrigated gutters. By targeting water toward the plants’ root systems in a temperature-controlled environment—instead of in outdoor fields, where any moisture can quickly evaporate—Spring Born maximizes its yield while requiring less water than traditional farming operations. Plus, Barr’s methods and the farm’s proximity to the Front Range allow the products to reach Denverites via a smaller carbon footprint and maximizes their shelf life.
“Most of the lettuce in the United States comes from two areas: California and Arizona,” Barr says. “We wanted to move our operations away from those highly industrialized areas closer to the people who are actually eating from them.”
Spring Born’s washing and packaging process also helps the greens maintain their crunchiness and freshness for longer. While it isn’t uncommon for manufacturers to triple wash their products, essentially cutting their shelf life in half, Spring Born greens are never touched by any water, pesticides, or cleaning chemicals. In fact, the first time a human hand touches a Spring Born plant is when a customer opens the lettuce or arugula containers at home to wash themselves. This means Spring Born greens have about 23 days of shelf life (other brands typically last less than a week in the refrigerator), giving you plenty of time to toss your favorite salad with the freshest ingredients.
Steve Janedis—the vice president of business development for California-based JBJ Distributing (Veg-Land Organics) and a 40-year veteran of the produce development and distribution industry—supported adding Spring Born to his company’s lineup. “Spring Born products have a flavor profile that tastes like you were eating it right out of the farm,” Janedis says. “The flavor profile is rich and bold, and you get flavors that actually have texture to them. Since the greens aren’t touched or washed at all before being shipped out, you’re getting a product that is really straight out of the ground, leading to a longer shelf life.”
As the head of a small-but-mighty team, Barr knows that the key to success is having happy employees. Spring Born’s roster currently consists of 14 employees, with plans to staff up as operations grow. Wages generally start at $25 an hour, a rate usually unseen in the agriculture industry, especially for entry or mid-level positions, according to Barr. “The planting, the cutting, and the harvesting are all done using robotics,” Barr explains. “That allows us to raise our wages, give our employees an introduction to agriculture, and move our production closer to its consumption.”
Despite all of Spring Born’s successes in its short life, the company has navigated some murky waters, including when it first began construction. When Barr tried to obtain approval for the greenhouse in other Colorado counties, he was met with rejection. Thankfully, Garfield County helped Barr secure the necessary permits, licensing, and water rights to start Spring Born in the town of Silt.
Spring Born is still relatively new to Colorado’s agriculture business scene but plans for expansion are already in the works. Currently, the greenhouse has 12 of its 18 growing bays in active operation with plans to have them all filled with thriving plants soon. Barr and his team are also in the process of building a second greenhouse and an outdoor orchard on the same property, which could double their lettuce yield.
As Spring Born’s operations expand, the team has started reaching out to retailers, restaurants, and hotels across the Front Range. Spring Born products can currently be found at Tony’s Meats & Market in Littleton, multiple locations of Marczyk’s Fine Foods, and Leevers Locavore in Highland, and partnerships with larger retailers may soon be in the works. The company sent samples to local restaurants as well as chains like Mad Greens and Sweetgreen in hopes of distributing the product to more eateries. If it’s successful, Denverites might munch on some locally grown arugula during their next lunchtime salad run.
“Spring Born is still, at its simplest, a farm,” Barr says. “It still relies on soil, sun, and the intelligence of its employees. We just want to be a reliable source of food for Coloradans.”