Meeting The Demand For Edibles: Go Green Agriculture Inc.

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Vilsack_4-18-2013 084, Go Green Agriculture

Go Green Agriculture founder and CEO Pierre Sleiman Jr. (front center) talks with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack (front right), who visited the hydroponic vegetable operation in April 2013.
Photo courtesy of Go Green Agriculture

This is one of four articles on how growers are appealing to the growing interest in edibles. Click to read about Altman Plants, High Meadows Farm and Peace Tree Farm.

Go Green Agriculture Inc. in Encinitas, Calif., got its start as a project in Pierre Sleiman Jr’s computer science class at the University of California-Riverside. Sleiman, who is the company’s founder and CEO, was learning about innovative models of organizing high tech businesses.

“I happened to think about taking a high tech way of doing things and applying it to the furthest removed industry that I could think of — and I thought of agriculture,” Sleiman says. “That led to an interest in greenhouses and hydroponics.”

Sleiman’s family has no background or roots in agriculture. His undergraduate degree is in computer science and my master’s is in business.

“My business model was to have a greenhouse vegetable operation in or near every major city across the country. San Diego was the starting point because this is my hometown.

When Sleiman graduated in 2009 he believed he had a great idea but no money to get started. He first approached family who provided him with the initial capital to put together a small pilot plant unit to demonstrate to potential investors what could actually be done.

At the time that Sleiman was doing his graduate studies at the University of California-San Diego, the Leichtag Foundation bought the 67-acre Ecke Ranch in Encinitas.

“The Leichtag Foundation is a supporter of UC-San Diego,” Sleiman says. “The foundation was looking for innovative tenants to use the Ecke facilities. The foundation contacted the San Diego County Farm Bureau director who mentioned me to the foundation. When I got together with foundation CEO Jim Farley both of our interests were extremely aligned. The foundation was looking for innovative growers of organic food and that was what we were doing. We were looking for organizations and people to support the project and to give us a platform to build on.

We were the first company to come onto the Ecke Ranch after the foundation’s acquisition and it has been a wonderful partnership ever since.”

Learning The Ropes

DSC_1153, Go Green Agriculture

Go Green Agriculture is growing organic lettuce, spinach and kale and recently added basil and arugula. The company is currently doing research and development on several other crops.
Photo courtesy of Go Green Agriculture

Sleiman said when he started the business he had to prove to himself that he could actually produce organic hydroponic greenhouse crops. For the first year everything that was grown was donated to the local food bank, which enabled him to perfect the production system he was trying to set up.

“Part of my business plan was not to jump into the market immediately until I knew that I would be able to supply a steady, consistent, quality product,” he says. “During the first year I lost many crops as I tried to perfect the production methods. In 2010 I went after my first customer and it was a real challenge because we were a new company and people wanted to be sure we were going to be around for a while and I was someone that they could trust. It took knocking on a lot of doors and slowly but surely building our reputation as a reliable business.”

Sleiman currently has about 3 acres of production at the Ecke Ranch including a packing house. He is in the process of adding another 2 acres of new greenhouses.

Go Green is organically growing lettuce, spinach and kale, basil and arugula, and the business is currently doing research and development on several more crops.

“We don’t want to reinvent the wheel or compete against established large growers who are already doing a great job producing commodity items including tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. We picked crops that are unique especially as we expand our production facilities eastward across the country,” he says. “I want to be able to grow these crops locally where otherwise they would have to be shipped in.”

Expansion Plans

Go Green Agriculture’s five-year plan is to double in production area every year.

“From that point forward it won’t be as doable to keep doubling in size,” Sleiman says. “We would like to get as close as we can to double digit growth every year after that. This year we hit our target by adding the new greenhouses.

“Once we have the infrastructure in place we would like to set up a franchise-like model. That would enable us to expand in-house, but we could also enable other growers to come under our wing and use our production system, marketing, label, packaging and distribution channels.”

Sleiman says the company is already considering other locations across the country including San Francisco, Las Vegas, Denver, Texas and other East Coast cities.

“Our model is to be in every urban developed area,” he says. “The question isn’t so much about the competition because there is going to be competition wherever we go right now. It’s really about having a unique value that we can offer to consumers. What we do that is unique is deliver a superior, quality product within hours of harvesting, year-round. We think that model is sustainable, viable and will work across the country.”

For more information contact Go Green Agriculture Inc., 760-634-2506 or visit the Go Green Agriculture website.

David Kuack (dkuack@gmail.com) is a freelance technical writer in Fort Worth, Texas.
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