Pierre Sleiman Jr.
Founder and CEO of Go Green Agriculture
By Olivia Groell
January 14, 2021
“I don’t want to be an observer, I want to be a participant.” Although Pierre Sleiman Jr., founder and CEO of Go Green Agriculture, was referring to growing crops on Mars when he said this, it resonated with me. This philosophy also largely describes the outlook that the founders of The Farmlink Project embody. At this past week’s Monday orientation for new team members, Farmlink Project CEO James Kanoff shared his story of feeling a similar sentiment to Pierre’s. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when he and Aidan Reilly saw produce going to waste and people going hungry, they didn’t just want to talk about the problem, they wanted to take action to solve it. Similarly to The Farmlink Project, Go Green Agriculture’s story began with a college student determined to make an impact on the world around him.
A little over a decade ago, Pierre was studying computer science as an undergraduate at UC Riverside when he developed an interest in developing and innovating farming technology, as he described to me and as the About Us section of Go Green Agriculture’s website details. He described one of his professors who had worked on a project to “grow lettuce on the space station for NASA,”—a major inspiration for him. He told me that despite not having any farmers in his family, he “wanted to create this technology on Earth.” He also discussed wanting to lead an “innovation space” and thought this technology was the “coolest thing.” What exactly is the technology in question?
Controlled Environment Growing. Pierre explained how Go Green Agriculture grows crops in a film of water and reuses every drop not taken up by plant roots, which makes it possible to reduce the amount of water used by 80 percent or more. It also has many other benefits, including being cost-efficient, yielding over 20 times more produce per square foot, and saving water, which Pierre emphasized as a “precious resource” in California. There are three farm locations—Encinitas, Patterson, and San Marcos, California—across which Go Green Agriculture has 25 acres of controlled environment growing space. They grow full-sized romaine lettuce, butter lettuce, and upland crest. Their newest facility in Patterson is in partnership with Costco. Go Green Agriculture’s technology and efficiency produces about 1.7 million heads of lettuce each month. The manual farmwork, including planting seeds, transporting crops, and harvesting, is done by machines, “enabling 25 people to do work that would usually take 300 people.” The use of these machines also cuts down cost and increases the quality of the produce. By utilizing environmentally controlled greenhouses, Go Green Agriculture avoids the restrictions that the climate and natural growing season have on lettuce production, allowing them to grow year-round.
But back to Pierre’s story. He told me that when he was about 19 years old and got his first credit card, he would use it to purchase items that he used to create the farm technology in his shared college garage. Around this time, in 2008, Pierre documented a business plan and began raising money from his friends and family to help him start Go Green Agriculture. His family supported him and his passion heavily throughout this process, and his mom, dad, and sister all work with him at Go Green Agriculture. When I asked Pierre who the most influential person in his life is, he said, “My dad. My dad has been my mentor and backbone.” He went on to describe how when he was first starting Go Green Agriculture, he would go to business meetings and feel like businessmen viewed him as a kid with no credibility. Pierre told me that his dad would sit beside him in these meetings to be his credibility.
Go Green Agriculture has grown significantly since it was founded in 2009. Early on, Pierre “wore every hat possible,” but now the company has a corporate infrastructure with around 100 employees, allowing him the opportunity to delegate some of these responsibilities that he had previously taken on himself. He works hard to create a dynamic atmosphere for his employees, noting that his greenhouses have a “night-club” sound system and are always “bumping” with music. He described Go Green Agriculture as being “Google meets agriculture,” with a “startup vibe” as well as a “family feel internally.” Pierre has developed this “fun, energetic, enthusiastic” workplace setting so that his excitement about Go Green’s mission extends to his employees.
In Pierre’s words: “I enjoy building leaders.” He does this both at Go Green Agriculture and outside of the workplace. He immerses himself in the external community by going to schools to teach students “about the future of agriculture.” As Pierre told me, the career “combines so many disciplines...you don’t have to be just a farmer.” He also said that he has helped to establish two “greenhouse classrooms” in California elementary schools. Talk about being passionate about one’s job!
It’s incredible to think that Pierre was a college student, just like many of us at The Farmlink Project, when he started Go Green Agriculture. Pierre is pleased with how far the company has come: “We are becoming a world class organization. I’m proud to be working with Costco. I’m extremely proud to be making a difference. We are creating jobs and helping the environment.” Pierre doesn’t want Go Green Agriculture to stop here, however. He looks to develop more greenhouse locations across the United States and hopes to have twelve facilities built in the next seven years. Pierre emphasized how these “local producers” serve the community by generating both fresh food and employment opportunities. He also looks to expand beyond the produce that Go Green currently grows. His insatiable ambition is inspiring. Pierre’s most lofty long term goal is to “be one of the designers of a growing system for the 2032 Mars mission.” Pierre told me, “I gravitate towards doing the hardest thing possible, the most challenging, meaningful thing. In my lifetime, I will see a person land on Mars. I want to be part of that. It’s a milestone for humankind, the first crop on another planet.” Pierre’s drive and love for the work he does inspires us at The Farmlink Project. His determination, hard work, and passion represent the values we hold in our internal Farmlink Project community, as well as the values we seek in the farms and organizations with which we partner.