By RAEGAN MILLER
Daily News Staff Writer
One of Ketchikan's newest businesses is aiming to provide a variety of fresh vegetables from a local source.
Ketchikan Ever Greens, run by Jess and Geoff Jans, focuses on growing, harvesting and delivering a plethora of vegetables — all grown in Ketchikan through hydroponics methods in a custom-built vertical farm, housed in a shipping container.
The Janses met in Ketchikan — Jess Jans' hometown — and left town to pursue other jobs related to tourism in 2009, they told the Daily News during a recent interview.
Now back in town with their young son, the family is back to business in the First City.
"We got into kind of bigger systems and remote systems, and vertical farming was kind of getting bigger in 2013 as a concept, and we took an interest in it," Geoff Jans explained. "And it's only now that we've been able to jump into something at this scale. So we're still pretty new at hydroponics commercially."
Vertical farming refers to growing produce or crops indoors, lined up vertically on walls. Hydroponics is a method of growing vegetables without soil, in mineral-rich water or another substance.
Jans said that hydroponics and vertical farming isn't something you can ease into — "it's kind of sort of an all or nothing thing, and not something that you start small and build slowly."
The container that houses Ketchikan Ever Greens measures at about 40 feet long, and is located north of town.
"It looks like the standard Reefer shipping container on the outside, but it's been specifically built, purpose-built I guess, on the inside to be a vertical farm," Geoff Jans said. "It was built in Boston, Massachusetts and we transported it up here."
Jans explained that they chose the particular container because of the "density of planting space" that it offered.
"And other containers that we looked at required having multiple containers, one for seeding and one for the main grow area, so we really liked how this was able to incorporate all of this into one space and really efficiently," Jans said. "And it's production specifics met our goal through our business model."
The Janses plant an estimated 800 heads of lettuce in their vertical farm every week.
From planting a seed to when it is time to harvest is about seven weeks, according to the Janses. Harvests and planting happen weekly at Ketchikan Ever Greens.
"We also harvest about 15 pounds of what we would call leafy greens, kales ... and Bok Choys, (and) arugula," he said. "We are guessing that when it's all said and done, especially as we introduce some other products to the system, that we can produce about four and a half tons of food a year, out of the one container."
He noted that the most popular offering is a blend of kale, arugula, muzina and tatsoi greens.
And there's growth on the horizon for Ketchikan Ever Greens.
"Our exciting news is, we're in the process of purchasing a second container, so we'll be doubling our production. And that is set to arrive in late December, most likely early January," said Jess Jans.
"Which was always part of the plan, but we weren't anticipating we would do it so soon," she added. "But why not?"
Jess Jans attributed the need for a second container to Ketchikan's enthusiastic response to what Ketchikan Ever Greens offers.
Orders can be placed online through www.ketchikanevergreens.com.
"And we are able to deliver to their doorstep, and that's going really well," Geoff Jans said. "And we've been encouraged about not only our regular customers who see us each week, but the new ones who are coming onboard."
There are two available veggie bundles from Ketchikan Ever Greens. The "farmer's bundle" includes a blend of three to four varieties of baby lettuce, along with a half-and-half mix of arugula, kale, mustard greens, swiss chard and Asian greens.
The "lettuce bundle" includes between three and four kinds of baby lettuce.
The challenge, he noted, was getting enough product to everyone who wants it.
"By that, meaning that we do sell out quite quickly," he explained.
Produce goes on sale on Thursday afternoons, and quite often, supplies are sold out by Friday.
As of this past Friday afternoon, the online storefront was sold out of available product.
"So it's really exciting to see how hungry Ketchikan is for this kind of stuff," he said.