BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Whether we are working in the farm, visiting chefs for tastings, working through our process engineering, or Skyping other countries for technology collaboration, no one day at Green Sense is like the next.
–Piper Halpin, Relations Manager/Hydroponic Farmer
Piper Halpin could never have posed for a Grant Wood pitchfork scene—this 25-year-old farmer moves with millennial energy from the Portage, Indiana-based Green Sense Farms, which grows pesticide-free produce for some of Chicago’s finest restaurants to spread the word about the freshest microgreens and culinary herbs around. One of the world’s largest indoor commercial vertical farms, since 2014 it has been growing greens under LED lights and harvesting year-round for markets within an average distance of 75 miles. She is definitely its Pied Piper.
We asked Piper to tell us not only about Green Sense, where her CEO Robert Colangelo is building a global network of farms so that produce is always locally grown, but also how we can focus on fresh. A radio show and podcast narrated by Colangelo reaches millions of listeners and presents entrepreneurs, academics, policy makers, and innovators sharing their perspectives.
Piper, an Arizona native who was first introduced to sustainable farming when she visited Panama, told us why leafy greens are so important:
“Healthy eating, and leafy greens go hand-in-hand. Plant-based diets are exploding, and leafy greens are the basis for any well-rounded, nutritious eating plan. I would advise that people search for freshly harvested living produce—as the nutrient content is at its highest when the plant is happiest. We raise 8 different types of lettuces.”
Salads first or after the main course—what is most popular now?
What we are seeing now is that people are having salads as their main course, combining it with meat if they so choose. My favorite is a shaved flank steak salad, with the steak marinated in my mother’s secret recipe. Salmon, grilled shrimp, and chicken are also terrific. Arugula, Swiss chard, and kale are great to mix with lettuces.
What are your favorite salads to prepare?
I love to make an herb-based salad, starting with thick leaf parsley, which makes a great base for tomatoes, olive oil, avocado, and olives. Dill is great to add to salads, basil and parsley if you are planning an Italian meal. I love cheese in salads—shaved Parmesan, feta, blue cheese, or gorgonzola if you want something heartier, and brie if you want something sweeter. A vinaigrette is the best for bringing out the flavor of the greens.
What advice would you give to young people who want to get involved in organic farming?
I would advise young people to get their hands dirty as soon as possible. Farming is a lifestyle! Getting involved in local community gardens, university agricultural clubs, or nearby farms will give young people a taste for whether farming is a career they want to pursue. It’s a lot of hard work but growing your own food is one of the most rewarding jobs a person can do.
What does your job entail?
I work for our Founding Farmer, Robert Colangelo, on special projects for Green Sense Farms. It’s a fantastic position for me because I am able to be involved with a wide variety of projects that include farm development, marketing, sales, and sustainable packaging alternatives—and, of course, farming.
What is Green Sense all about?
We are about bringing innovative technology to a long-lasting tradition: growing and eating farm-fresh vegetables. We want to bring the farm back to the table and allow everyone to know their local lettuce power. We focus on fresh, living produce and practice the four Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot (composting where we can). We believe everyone should have access to nutritious food at an affordable cost. By farming locally and selling direct, we can lower operating costs.
How did you get to Indiana and Green Sense?
After realizing I wanted to pursue a career in recirculating farming, I researched the top companies specializing in this type of agriculture. At the time, Green Sense Farms was the largest network of indoor vertical farms. Excited about their mission, I drove across the country to interview and was lucky to get the position.
Have you always been interested in healthy eating?
I have always been conscious of eating healthy. I think it leads to a happier mindset and overall active lifestyle. I was first drawn to sustainable farming when I was introduced to aquaponics in Panama. In the past, communities in the rural regions could not grow any fruiting crop due to their topsoil being continuously washed away by heavy rains. Aquaponics introduced a simple way to recirculate water without depending on topsoil and provide nutritious vegetables to a malnourished area.
My dad started a hobby garden when I was in high school. His interest in it has grown exponentially since I’ve started in the field.
How has your educational path contribute to what you are doing now?
I went to school at the University of Colorado at Boulder majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology and minoring in Spanish. Biology gave me a really clear understanding of how important sustainable living is. We are all connected and need to mimic the earth’s natural recycling patterns as much as we can.
We asked Piper to share a few of her go-to leafy recipes. Visit the links below to try them out:
For further information about Green Sense Farms, visit greensensefarms.com.