“We’re on a mission to transform how and where fresh produce is grown,” said Viraj Puri, Co-Founder and CEO of Gotham Greens, at a ribbon-cutting on December 5. “Since announcing our expansion into New England… we have received tremendous support from elected officials, retailers, restaurants, and our community, who love that we can provide a reliable, year-round supply of fresh and safe produce.”
Viraj is 38 years old, a tall and charismatic figure, especially when he stands at a lectern, thanking scores of people for their help. If you pictured the CEO of a progressive, eco-friendly, agricultural empire, the image would fit Puri to a T. Gotham Greens is only a decade old, but the company has established futuristic greenhouses in New York City, Chicago, Baltimore, and Denver. Two months ago, Providence joined that list, with a nearly $13 million, 100,000-square-foot facility on Harris Avenue.
At the ribbon-cutting, Mayor Jorge Elorza and Gov. Gina Raimondo delivered effusive speeches about Puri and the significance of the new facility. As they tell it, the courtship was brief; both leaders were enthusiastic about the Gotham Greens proposal, which would turn an obscure brownfield, vacant for 20 years, into a colossal hydroponic farm.
“The official opening of Gotham Greens’ Providence location is an important step in our efforts to grow Rhode Island’s food economy,” added Gov. Raimondo. “It’s critical that Rhode Islanders have access to fresh, locally grown food all year round, especially during the cold winter months.”
Within, the new Gotham Greens structure is surreally huge, with sprawling glass walls and vast stretches of leafy greens. But unlike traditional farming, these crops seem to sprout magically out of steel platforms. Without soil to till, Gotham Greens uses 95 percent less water and 97 percent less land than conventional farms, resulting in six million heads of lettuce each year. Products are already stocked at local branches of Whole Foods and Dave’s Marketplace, among others, and Gotham Greens donated thousands of pounds of fresh produce to the Rhode Island Food Bank by the end of 2019.
The symbolism hasn’t escaped Puri or his local champions: The same location was once home to a GE plant, which manufactured incandescent light bulbs and significantly contaminated the site. Today, Gotham Greens uses 100 percent renewable energy for daily operations; the new facility has created 60 new “green” jobs in Providence. Tours of the greenhouse, for school field trips and interested adults, will commence soon. And an extended bike trail is slated to connect Gotham Greens to both Providence and the Woonasquatucket Greenway.
“Providence is gaining a reputation as a regional food production and distribution hub,” added Mayor Elorza. “This unique mixture of ingredients, along with our strategic location within the country’s most densely populated and economically powerful urban corridor, make up Providence’s recipe for inclusive and sustainable long-term economic development.”