Non-GMO. Pesticide-free. Nutrient-dense. Greenhouse-raised. What’s not to love? But if squeaky-clean, farm-to-fork-in-hours-maybe-minutes salad greens aren’t to your taste, how about lettuce with good karma? OK, maybe Rinchen Sanpo, a packer for the rooftop farmers Gotham Greens, is kidding about that. But not entirely.
Gotham Greens lettuce has something that probably no other produce in New York City can boast: it’s infused with beneficial Buddhist vibes. Thanks to the 40 or so Tibetans employed by the Brooklyn-based growers, Gotham Greens lettuce and herbs are tended, picked, and packed by workers who seed the greenhouses with their good humor, compassion, and Tibetan Buddhist prayers and chanting.
“Our lettuce is happy lettuce,” the Gotham Greens folks like to say. It’s an honest claim. The 12 different varieties under the company’s label are raised in hothouse splendor in three state-of-the-art rooftop greenhouses in Brooklyn and Queens. Names like Blooming Brooklyn Iceberg, Greenpoint Oak Leaf, and Queens Crisp attest to the product’s local origins. But by any name, these are poster greens for the kind of cosseting that separates hand-reared gourmet lettuce from the brown-edged wilting leaves in most supermarket produce aisles. Even green-market lettuce gets a run for its money: with hydroponics—water, not soil, as the growing medium—Gotham Greens stretches the growing season from a few months to all year.
“These are spoiled plants,” says the company’s cofounder and CEO, Viraj Puri. Their energy-efficient, climate-controlled environment is computer-monitored to stay at 75 degrees and 70 percent humidity, with lighting adjusted to maximize photosynthesis. The continually recycling water is laced with nutrients custom-mixed for each lettuce variety. Beneficial ladybugs and parasitic wasps patrol the growing troughs, replacing pesticides with what Nicole Baum, the company’s marketing and media maven, calls “insect warfare—the good kind.”
Puri credits the Tibetans with creating a harmonious environment for the 85 or so people in the New York workforce. “They’re kind to everybody,” he says. “We all spend so much time working hard, and to be around nice people is a beautiful thing.” At the Greenpoint facility in Brooklyn, before work and on the lunch break, the sound of murmured Buddhist chanting emanates from the greenhouse, where many of the Tibetans are hunched over their long, scroll-like prayer books or are reciting mantras.
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