Which coir pellets to choose was a no-brainer for Aneeshan Tyagarajah of Honest Greens. “Everyone knows about Jiffy,” laughs the cofounder of Honest Greens, Sri Lanka’s first and only vertical farm. “In fact, Jiffy makes their coir pellets just around the corner from us.”
How to grow premium leafy greens
Aneeshan started Honest Greens with his friends Ashish Advani and Sanuja Cooray in 2017. After studying abroad, the three young entrepreneurs had come back to Sri Lanka looking for business opportunities. They decided to see if they could supply the local market with the kind of premium, high-nutrition leafy greens they had eaten at college.
Vertical farming intrigued them, but none of them had a background in agriculture. “So we started growing spinach in Aneeshan’s cupboard,” laughs Sanuja, “using a tiny hydroponics system and some coir pellets. But we were impressed by the potential of the crop right away, how premium it looked.”
Building a sustainable system
Seeking to make a difference to the island nation’s food security, the Honest Greens team made sustainability a core value of their CEA venture. They spent most of the next three years building their own resource-efficient and pesticide-free DWC system from scratch.
“There was a lot of trial and error,” Ashish admits. “We tried different lights, irrigation systems, and suppliers. Still, in terms of growing media we didn’t have to try too much because we knew what we wanted, and Jiffy were able to supply it.”
Jiffy-7Cs made in ISO food safety certified plant
Jiffy Sri Lanka helped Honest Greens work out that the 45mm version of the Jiffy-7C Pellets would best suit their ebb and flow irrigation method.
“Not only do the pellets offer excellent water-holding capacity and yields, they’re produced at a factory that’s ISO food safety certified,” explains Pathum Bandara, Jiffy Sri Lanka Sales Manager. “Food safety is important because Honest Greens sell their leafy greens with the pellet intact.”
Tech support and training from Jiffy
Jiffy Sri Lanka helped to sort out some early technical issues. At first, the coir pellet’s dibble hole was too wide for Honest Greens’ system, resulting in excess debris. Jiffy reduced the size of the opening, and the very next order contained the finetuned pellets. They also trained the start-up in the best storage methods and in how to reduce debris during the pellets’ expansion phase.
Consistent quality and reliability
Honest Greens have since tested other solutions including 50mm x 60mm and 60mm x 120mm coir Pellets, with support from Jiffy led by Pathum. The bigger pellets increase root penetration time and extend the transplanting time of some crops.
“It’s really easy to work with Pathum thanks to the consistent quality and reliable supply,” says Ashish. “Whenever we increase production, we know Jiffy will meet our needs.”
Data tracking to identify issues
Honest Greens currently grow over 60,000 plants – lettuce, kale, rocket, Swiss chard, and microgreens – using their fully computerized, climate-controlled system. They can quickly identify the source of any problems thanks to extensive data tracking.
Meanwhile, their own space-mapping software maximizes the farm’s available area, increasing yield per square foot, and driving unit costs down. “Output is up 400%,” says Sanuja proudly. “Without growing our footprint.”
Finding additional markets
Now that they’ve achieved greater efficiency, Aneeshan, Sanuja, and Ashish are ready to offer a wider variety of crops. They’re already trialling bok choy and dill, and aim to experiment with strawberries one or two years down the line.
“But it’s not just about growing great produce,” says Ashish. “We’ve developed business intelligence and other systems to help us identify buyers.”
Honest Greens runs a profit selling its produce to the local hospitality sector and consumers. Always on the lookout for new markets, they’ve just started exporting to luxury resorts in the Maldives.
Sharing CEA know-how
They’re planning to switch to solar power in the near future, and they continue to develop additional innovations and try out new Jiffy products to boost yields even more.
“In the longer term, we want to franchise a plug-and-play CEA model,” says Sanuja, “for people who have the funds and the land but lack the expertise.”
“The whole beauty of vertical farms is everything is under your control,” adds Aneeshan. “But that’s also the problem: Messing up one thing can ruin your harvest. There are just so many moving parts. We’d like to share the know-how we’ve built up.”