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In 2019, another E. coli outbreak hit the U.S., affecting field-grown greens. Last year saw more big news as more greenhouse operations in North America expanded. Retail chains also invested in locally produced food, banking on the trend to drive sales. These stories and others shaped the market heading into 2020.

CDC issues E. coli warning about romaine lettuce

In November, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned consumers of an E. coli outbreak stemming from lettuce grown in the Salinas, California, region. It marked the second consecutive year where greens from the Salinas region were linked to an E. coli outbreak.

Following the outbreak, some CEA growers have marketed their product as a safe alternative to greens grown outdoors.

“The recall highlights the challenges and inherent food safety problems stemming from West Coast farming practices,” Paul Sellew, president and CEO of New England-based Little Leaf Farms, said in a statement. “We’re more certain than ever that our clean, sustainable greenhouse growing process cannot only ensure consumer safety but a fresher more delicious lettuce for the people of New England. We eat our salads to keep us healthy. We don’t need to worry about them making us sick.”

Kroger partners with Europe’s Infarm to offer in-store living produce farms

In 2019, United States-based grocery retailer Kroger partnered with urban farming network Infarm to bring modular farms to some of its stores. Two stores — both in Washington state — will feature on-site hydroponic farms and offer greens produced in the store.

“Our partnership with Infarm allows us to innovate by combining ground-breaking in-store farming technology with our passion for fresh, local produce and ecological sourcing,” said Suzy Monford, Kroger’s group vice president of fresh, in the press release announcing the partnership.

Infarm, a startup based in Germany, has also built farms in Berlin, Copenhagen and London.

Continued growth

Mastronardi Produce made headlines in late 2019 by announcing its new facility in Oneida, New York, will total almost 3 million square feet — making it one of the largest greenhouses in the U.S. But they weren’t the only business to add new space in 2019. Others include:

  • Little Leaf Farms beginning a 20-acre facility build in Yancey County, North Carolina
  • Canadian cucumber producer Big Marble Farms adding 10 acres of growing space, taking it to 45 acres of production
  • Fifth Season announcing plans to build a 25,000-square-foot vertical farm in Braddock, Pennsylvania, a historic steel town near Pittsburgh
  • Illinois-based hydroponic tomato grower MightyVine securing financing to expand from 15 acres to 30 acres
  • Bushel Boy Farms, based in Minnesota, spending $35 million to build a 50-acre facility for tomato production in Mason City, Iowa
  • BrightFarms announcing plans to invest $21 million to open a greenhouse in Hendersonville, North Carolina

It is unclear if the same level of growth will continue into 2020 and beyond. But 2019 showed that many operations are willing to spend money to continue growing their businesses and reach new markets.