The agriculture industry is full of stories of sons who have followed in their fathers’ footsteps, but Pierre Sleiman Jr. turned the tables on tradition. While working toward a bachelor’s degree in computer science and business at the University of California, Riverside, he “became inspired to combine technology and agriculture.”

The founder and CEO of Go Green Agriculture in Encinitas, Calif., who went on earn a master’s degree in business administration from the University of California, San Diego, got his start experimenting with hydroponic growing in his college dorm room and today oversees a 5-acre greenhouse operation with a vision of adding at least a half dozen more locations throughout the U.S.

“Nobody in my family has ever farmed,” he says. “I was able to bring my whole family to join me on this journey.”

Sleiman, his father, mother and sister work together to produce 500,000 heads of Happy Living brand hydroponically grown green butter lettuce, red butter lettuce and upland cress packaged in clamshell containers for customers that include Costco Wholesale, Whole Foods Market and Safeway Inc. as well as several local markets and restaurants.

Go Green is in the process of rolling out its newest item, romaine lettuce.

There are advantages to being a first-time urban farmer, Sleiman says.

“We don’t have any preconceived notions about how things should be done,” he says. “And we bring a very innovative outside approach to the way we grow, the way we work with customers and the way we brand ourselves.”

The results have been “a very unique energy that we’ve created” and a corporate culture that customers can feel, he says.

A key advantage to packaging living lettuce in its own clamshell is its extended shelf life, says Colin Bruce, Go Green’s director of sales and marketing.

The product lasts about 18 days, he says.

“That’s phenomenal for lettuce.”

Go Green living produce is sustainably grown, Bruce adds, and uses 80% less water than traditional field-grown lettuce thanks to its hydroponic recirculating system.

“The only water lost is what the plant uses,” he says.

Sleiman’s innovative efforts have not gone unnoticed.

Among other honors, he was listed among a handful of Champions of Change for Agriculture by President Barack Obama in 2014, and he has been appointed by California Gov. Jerry Brown to the 22nd Agriculture District Board of Directors for the Del Mar Fairgrounds, whose mission is to promote local agriculture.

Sleiman’s current operation is only the beginning.

“We want to have several farms across the U.S. serving the local communities,” he says.

“The beauty of that from the customers’ perspective is that they get to work with one farm, yet they get local at the same time,” he says.

The company already plans to open a facility in Northern California this year. (2017)

 

 

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