An Atlanta Hydroponic Farm Flourishes
Located pretty much in the middle of nowhere south of downtown and east of the Atlanta airport is a farm of the future. And yes, it's legal.
Imagine you’re south of Atlanta standing in the middle a vacant lot of red clay – barren soil where surely nothing can grow. You’re looking for a produce farm called PodPonics, but all you see are rows of seemingly abandoned shipping containers. Taking a closer look you realize that inside the containers is the future of farming and produce so fresh you might want to slap it.
Atlanta’s PodPonics is the brainchild of software developer Matt Liotta. After selling his telecommunications company, Liotta couldn’t sit still playing video games and took over a lot of the grocery shopping duties from his wife. As he walked up and down the aisles, he started reading a lot of the packaging. He was a new dad and the source of his family’s food was even more of a priority.
“I walked into the produce section, read the labels and realized that so much of our food was being shipped to us from all parts of the world,” said Liotta. “My onions are from Peru? How much jet fuel was used to get them here?”
Looking for a new venture, Liotta began researching hydroponics and learned that most of the lettuce consumed in the United States is shipped from Salinas, Calif., the salad bowl of the United States. He then designed a growing system for lettuce housed in recycled shipping containers and took the idea to investors. They were sold, and eight shipping containers were placed in a parking lot on Ponce De Leon Avenue in the Old Fourth Ward. They did so well that they expanded to the Southside Industrial Park in Atlanta where they now operate 100 pods.
Expanding to Southside makes use of land that has lain dormant for many years while creating jobs and opportunity to help revitalize the economically depressed Southwest area of Atlanta. They now produce many varieties of lettuce such as arugula, red oak, black-seeded Simpson and romaine as well as micro-greens like cressida and watercress.
PodPonics now employs 31 people including new additions to the senior management team: J. Connor Seabrook, vice president of finance and administration; Dana Gerle Clemens, vice president of operations and Gerard Gunthert, vice president of infrastructure and real estate.
According to Liotta, a conventional lettuce farm produces 9,600 to 12,000 heads a year per acre. That acre of land is constantly watered, fertilized and is subject to damage at the hands of Mother Nature and pests. One PodPonics container is guaranteed to yield 26,559. No chemicals are used; the temperature is controlled and watering is not necessary. The science is so exact, that the buyer’s contract includes a guarantee of the volume and price for one year.
“We’re also debunking the myth that organic lettuce in the grocery store today is better than ours,” explained Liotta. “That bag of lettuce was constantly watered, washed three times and probably in chlorine. Think of all the water that was used. PodPonics lettuce is not washed because there is no need. We use no pesticides and we’re not affected by changes in the weather. We’re not breaking down the soil either. We don’t need soil.”
PodPonics is distributed by Atlanta’s two largest produce vendors that sell to local restaurants such as 4th & Swift, Serpas, Rathbun’s, Pura Vida, Farm Burger and Goin’ Coastal Seafood. They also participate in the Atlanta Farmer’s Market.
“I went into Goin’ Coastal one night and ordered a salad. I was so thrilled when it arrived to the table as just this heaping bowl of my lettuce with the dressing on the side,” Liotta enthused. “Needless to say, it didn’t need the dressing.”