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Robotics meets farming in Silt

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On tour with Spring Born Director of Marketing and Sales Danielle Davis, the building is permeated with the dank stench of nutrient-dense peat. The recently-built, 3.5-acre lettuce factory, located in Silt, will deliver year-round, fresh greens that have touched no human hands. “The first time the greens will be touched is in your kitchen,” boasts Spring Born’s website.

Natural light pours through large windows and greenhouse walls. Finnish-made machines propel gutters full of peat along conveyor belts to catch seeds then rotate for roughly 30 days through the growing space, sprinkled with well water. Eventually, the greens-filled gutters are sent through machines that chop, shake and package them. A few employees keep an eye on the process, making adjustments as necessary. 

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According to Spring Born, their lettuce uses 95% less water than outdoor growing and less land. With less trucking to reach local stores, thus producing less emissions, Davis sees the organic-yet-mechanized model as both a “food waste” and “food mile” solution.

Owner Charles Barr comes to Garfield County by way of Northern California. Previously, he founded WebPass, an internet service acquired by Google Fiber in 2016. Barr said he’s “always been a fan of agriculture,” and wanted to be a producer to “change the way things are done.”

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Initially, Barr had planned for the facility to be built in Gunnison County. According to Aspen Journalism, when that location fell through, his idea was relocated to Silt, minus a geothermal power generating component. Because the building was financed with help from the USDA, it was important to remain within Colorado to keep that funding, and “Garfield County was receptive,” Barr told The Sopris Sun.

Spring Born also received assistance from Colorado’s Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy program, a financing tool that allows “commercial and multifamily property owners to finance qualifying energy efficiency, water conservation and other clean energy improvements on existing and newly-constructed properties” (copace.com). Additionally, Spring Born made use of the Rural Jump-Start Program, incentivizing new businesses “to start in or move into rural, economically-distressed areas and hire new employees.”

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“Sustainability means a lot of things!” said Davis, “in water and in business.” As the systems are dialed in, around 25 employees will enjoy livable wages and benefits, never a guarantee in agricultural professions. “I was working with high-tech vertical farms prior to working at Spring Born,” continued Davis. “So I’ve really studied all of the models of indoor farming. I think Spring Born is the best model — soil growing medium, sunlight, automation and skilled employees.”

Spring Born recently participated in Coventure’s Pitch Summit, Barr said, “as a way to introduce ourselves.” The company is actively recruiting growers that want a career in horticulture. Barr called the opportunity: “a great first job, last job or anything in-between.”

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“Spring Born is more than just a greenhouse,” explained Davis. The 2.6 acres of growing space in the operation is directly connected to packaging machinery and refrigerated storage. The facility exists on a 254-acre property that continues to be actively cultivated for hay by a traditional rancher. Barr sees his greenhouse as an extension of traditional agriculture. “They will come together,” he said. “We’re trying to reinforce the long history of agriculture in this valley.”

Essential to Spring Born’s process is organic peat, bought from suppliers in Canada. Peat is a carbon-sequestering, water-purifying resource that is regenerative, accumulating over centuries in swampy habitat. Peat has long been harvested and dried as a source of heat and energy by native peoples, and mined for its horticultural properties.

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Barr said that using peat transmits good flavor and nutrients into Spring Born greens, not found in other indoor cultivation systems, like hydroponics with no soil medium.

Organic peat can only be used once for the lettuce, yet it is “some of the best soil you can get,” said Barr. The ranch gives Spring Born an opportunity to extend its use in hay production, and there’s even talk of planting an orchard.

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Asked if there are any rumors he’d like to dispel, Barr responded, “It’s not marijuana! We’re growing food,” with a chuckle. Currently, Spring Born grows six types of greens, including mustard greens, kale and arugula, selected from more than 60 varieties sampled by the employees. The product is available in 100% recyclable packaging at Skip’s Farm to Market, and should soon be available soon inlarger retailers like City Market, Safeway and Whole Foods.

Learn more at https://springborn.us/

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Tags: #agriculture #farming #indoor farming #Silt #Spring Born
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