LED lighting feeds the produce at Pittsburgh vertical farm

April 12, 2022
We doubt the Steelers will change their name to the Romaine Racks, but lettuce and other greens are rising indoors next to an old industrial mill.

Next to one of the few steel mills still operating in the Pittsburgh area, a much greener industrial site is cranking out a different product: vegetables. One of its key raw materials is, as you might imagine, light.

But Fifth Season vertical farm is a windowless facility, so the light is not from the sun. Rather, it comes from 27,000 LED fixtures mounted a foot-and-a-half above each of the 18 layers of spinach, romaine lettuce, mustard kale, and other greens stacked atop each other across 25,000 ft2 of the 60,000-ft2 facility in Braddock, PA, which also houses packaging, processing, loading, warehousing, and employee operations.

Fifth Season began growing crops a little less than two years ago, using Current's 4-ft-long Arize fittings. The startup farm is not yet revealing its yields, although it stated early on that it was targeting 500,000 pounds of produce after the first full year of production, and that it was hoping for a million pounds in its current year.

Whatever their reasons are for not providing specific numbers, the farm operators seem pleased so far with its results.

"We are seeing growing densities that I havent seen anywhere else in the industry," said Fifth Season automation manager Tim Morgan, who oversees other technology processes at the facility, such as heat and humidity control. "This is allowing us to deliver fresh crops to customers faster and live up to our mission of solving the worlds most pressing problems with thoughtful action and the latest technologies. With a boost from Current's LED fixtures, our goal of 1 million pounds of fresh greens this year appears within reach."

As tends to be the case at vertical farms, where the lights sources are close to the crops, there are no high-pressure sodium (HPS) lights in the mix, because the heat they emit would damage the crops.

With all the different crops rising at Fifth Season, is there a variety of spectra coming from the lights?

No. Although GE Current (the company’s full name is GE Current, a Daintree company) provides nine different spectral models, Fifth Season opted for one. Neither side elaborated on why, or revealed the spectral makeup. Whatever the recipe is, it’s fixed, because the system does not include controls. It’s a setup similar to Signify-supplied vertical farm GoodLeaf Community Farms in Guelph, Canada. Current and Fifth Season would also not say how much Fifth Season paid for the lights.

LEDs Magazine hopes to stay in touch with Current and the growers, and to keep you posted on developments.

More horticulture from GE Current

SSL business news: GE Current and hort, GE Lighting, Asahi, and Kyocera

Horticultural lighting news: Hernandez to keynote HortiCann; Current, WUR and Aero

Horticultural lighting news from DLC, Fluence, and Current

MARK HALPER is a contributing editor for LEDs Magazine, and an energy, technology, and business journalist ([email protected]).

For up-to-the-minute LED and SSL updates, why not follow us on Twitter? You’ll find curated content and commentary, as well as information on industry events, webcasts, and surveys on our LinkedIn Company Page and our Facebook page.

About the Author

Mark Halper | Contributing Editor, LEDs Magazine, and Business/Energy/Technology Journalist

Mark Halper is a freelance business, technology, and science journalist who covers everything from media moguls to subatomic particles. Halper has written from locations around the world for TIME Magazine, Fortune, Forbes, the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Guardian, CBS, Wired, and many others. A US citizen living in Britain, he cut his journalism teeth cutting and pasting copy for an English-language daily newspaper in Mexico City. Halper has a BA in history from Cornell University.