At Heinen’s healthy living is very important. At the root of it all, a healthy life starts with what we put into our bodies. When we think of a healthy diet, most of us probably picture a spread of our favorite fruits and veggies. It goes without saying that produce is a star of the clean eating show. That’s why our team of produce experts work hard to find growers who believe in the importance of clean, sustainable food.
Luckily, we don’t have to travel far to find produce that meets our standards. In fact, it can be found in our backyard. When it comes to greens, John Bonner and his team at Great Lakes Growers in Burton, Ohio define what it means to promote healthy living through clean, sustainable growing.
After growing up on a farm and studying business finance in college, John Bonner always understood the important role farmers’ play in helping feed families. With lifelong roots in farming, an awareness of the national interest in local, green healthy foods and a desire to remain a part of the agricultural community, Bonner and partner, Tim Ryan launched Great Lakes Growers in 2012, a small greenhouse that would quickly turn into a 80,000 square foot hydroponic growing facility.
Just one year after Bonner and Ryan embarked on their greenhouse venture, they came to know the Heinen’s Produce Team. With a shared desire to provide communities with local, green produce, a valued partnership was quickly formed. Over the last 6 years, the two teams have worked collaboratively to develop all of Great Lakes Growers’ retail products from herbs, to living lettuce to pre-cut, packaged lettuce. Today, Heinen’s carries 15 different varieties of Great Lakes Growers Produce year round.
What makes this partnership even better is that greenhouses are incredibly beneficial for growing produce, especially with unpredictable Midwest weather. Unlike traditional farms that rely heavily on weather for healthy crops, greenhouses allow for year round growing. With the help of technology and LED lights, Bonner and his team don’t have to worry about unpredictable weather or a lack of rain or sunlight. All of these factors that are out of a traditional farmer’s control are easily managed in a greenhouse to create an optimum growing environment. With a controlled environment, the need for chemicals and pesticides is completely eliminated, which allows Great Lakes Growers to provide clean, high-quality lettuce all year long rather than a single crop in the summer.
We love the consistency that Great Lakes Growers provides both in the supply and quality of their product, and much of this is thanks to their hydroponic growing system. Although the name sounds fancy, the definition of hydroponic growing is simple, it’s a method where water is used as the medium for growing produce. There is no soil, everything is nourished through water. While traditional farmers manually mix nutrients into the soil with hopes that everything is distributed evenly, there is no guesswork with hydroponic growing systems. Optimal nutrition is guaranteed as a constant feed of nutrients is cycled through the water ensuring that the plants get everything they need to thrive.
A Hydroponic growing system not only makes for healthy plants, but allows for efficient and sustainable farming practices. The growing cycle for a head of their high-quality lettuce typically takes about 42 days- around half the time it takes to grow lettuce on a traditional farm. Additionally, space and water usage is minimized. In fact, one Great Lakes Growers greenhouse is equal to about 25 acres of traditional farmland, and with a hydroponic growing system, all of the water is either recycled or naturally released through transpiration, so nothing is wasted.
Today, with a continuously-growing 60,000 square foot hydroponic greenhouse, Great Lakes Growers is overseen by John Bonner and his 29 employees. With a 9 varieties of lettuce and 12 varieties of herbs, that are harvested and within our stores within 24 hours, it is safe to say that they have grown tremendously in the past 7 years, and they only plan to expand over the next few years. In fact, in September of 2018, Great Lakes Growers broke ground on an 80,000 square foot expansion which will double their growing capacity to 160,000 square feet and elevate their production capacity to nearly 6,000,000 heads of lettuce. Yet, no matter how much they grow and develop, their passion for promoting healthy living through providing communities with clean produce grown ethically, sustainably and transparently makes their local product something we are proud to carry.