Posts Tagged ‘hydroponic’

Photo: Jay Feinstein
Shawn Cooney and his wife Connie own Corner Stalk Farm, a container farm in East Boston, Massachusetts.

Do you get the radio show Living on Earth where you live? I find it fascinating no matter what topics they cover. Here is a recent episode on urban farming.

“HOST STEVE CURWOOD: Industrial agriculture today is a resource-intensive endeavor, requiring big machines, plenty of land, water, and energy to produce much of the food on a typical American dinner table. And as the public trends more toward plant-based foods, some are thinking outside the box by bringing farms inside the box. By retrofitting old shipping containers with grow lights and hydroponic gear, what would take about an acre of land to grow vegetables such as lettuce can be fit into just 8 by 40 feet. Living on Earth‘s Jay Feinstein and Aynsley O’Neill took a trip to Corner Stalk Farms in East Boston, Massachusetts to find out more. …

“O’NEILL: I see these shipping containers. I mean, right in the middle of these houses and behind the auto body shop … here we are!

“FEINSTEIN: You know, the funny thing is a farm like this would not have even been legal until 2013, when Boston revamped its zoning code. …

“COONEY: My name is Shawn Cooney. And I’m the partner and owner of Corner Stalk farm in East Boston, Massachusetts, and we started in 2014. So this is it. … Basically you’ve seen the whole of the farm by walking the 120 feet or so. …

“O’NEILL: Are those the plants in those columns all up and down?

“COONEY: Right. You really need just an industrial area [where] you can basically bring as many plants as possible into as little amount of square footage as possible. … In a real farm, you’re talking about square footage and acreage. Here, it’s really cubic feet. We’ve got so many feet on the floor, but we plant plants up to ten feet high. …

“We’ve got a climate control system, and a lot of fans keep the air moving so that everything’s happy. And the plants get a little bit of stress. If you just leave them without any movement, the plants actually get weak. …

“They do need to be moved around for them to have a good texture to them, so that the cell walls are thick enough, so that it’s not just eating a piece of water. …

“You can log into it from the outside world. If you want to fiddle around with settings, or just check on everything, you can do that from home, you can do it from from vacation. …

“FEINSTEIN: So how did you get into this?

“COONEY: I started three software companies and sold them. … My wife and I myself funded it, and we have loans [from] the US Department of Agriculture. …

“Mainly we grow lettuce. That’s our business. And we’ve grown tomatoes, we’ve grown lots of flowers, we’ve grown all kinds of herbs, and God knows what else. But [what] people buy every day is our greens, even our restaurants, that’s what they want. …

“FEINSTEIN: What type of environmental cost are you saving? …

“COONEY: One of the things we definitely don’t do is waste any water. No matter how good you are at growing outside, you could never grow with the kind of water use we have. We use, say 1000 plants we can grow in one unit, we probably use 25 gallons of water a week. So you couldn’t water your patio plants for a week with 25 gallons and keep them alive. …

“We adhere to the organic principles. Generally, the way we control any kind of a pest in here is kind of preemptive. We basically use ladybugs. We ship them in once a month or so, and sprinkle them around, and they pretty much do the policing of any kind of bugs in here. And when we have had to use something it’s called chrysanthemum oil. …

‘You guys want to try something a little, little further on the edge? This is called wasabi arugula. And I grow it for a couple of restaurants. And they use it instead of wasabi on their crudo and their raw fish and their raw meats. So here, take a leaf of that and be prepared. …

“FEINSTEIN: It does taste like wasabi. But it it’s a little milder, but I love it.”

More at Living on Earth, here.

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Photo: UTEC Inc.
A Massachusetts nonprofit that works with youth who got off on the wrong foot in life teaches job skills, including working effectively with others, at its in-house businesses. This business breaks down old mattresses for a range of clients.

Recent posts on recycling have overlooked one of the biggest challenges for landfills: mattresses. Fortunately, there are places that break down mattresses and recycle the components. I know of two: one in England; one in Massachusetts. If you know of others, do mention them in the Comments.

PRI’s radio show The World recently featured a recycling story from Sheffield, England. It’s about hydroponically “feeding the world with foam” from old mattresses.

“Tony Ryan, a professor at The University of Sheffield in England, and his team just did that at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.

“The mattresses are now repurposed as a growing medium for plants. The soil in Zaatari is salty and low in organic matter making it less than ideal for farming. Lack of space and water are some of the issues that prevent people at the camp from having their own gardens to grow crops.

“The Zaatari camp is home to 80.000 refugees from the Dara’a region of Syria, many of whom are experienced farmers. Now, the foam in the mattresses became hydroponic systems that supports crops, giving farmers the opportunity to apply their years of experience and skills and at the same time produce food to eat and sell.

“Ryan says that this unconventional method uses just 20 percent of the water that it would take to grow something in the ground. The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR oversees the project.”

More here and here.

Closer to home, a Massachusetts nonprofit that works with urban teens who have gotten in trouble uses mattress recycling as a way to teach job skills. In fact, the nonprofit runs its own mattress-recycling business. See this.

In the past, I volunteered to write a couple newspaper articles to promote UTEC’s work (repairing bicycles, making cutting boards), and I’m always getting surprises about some new and important challenge the group has tackled.

To diverge from mattresses for a moment, I want to tell you that UTEC has been registering its participants and getting out the vote.

A recent email informed me, “We are proud to share that 100% of young adults enrolled in programming are registered to vote. #UTECVotes is our ongoing campaign to make sure all UTEC members and staff are registered and informed voters. See UTECvotes.org. On Super Tuesday, as on every election day, we made a day of empowering UTEC young adults to impact their communities of Lowell, Lawrence, and Haverhill.”

(Remember my post on the Movement Voter Project? Now you see how grassroots nonprofits can expand voting.)

Photo: University of Sheffield via PRI’s The World
Plants in a hydroponic system grow in the foam of former mattresses at Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.


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Photo: Thomson Reuters Foundation/Rina Chandran
A small farm on top of a mall grows herbs and leafy greens in a high-tech urban farming model that could improve Singapore’s food security.

As agricultural land becomes more scarce around the world, we can all learn from the way tiny Singapore is using rooftop gardens to help feed the population.

Rina Chandran at Reuters writes, “Visitors to Singapore’s Orchard Road, the city’s main shopping belt, will find fancy malls, trendy department stores, abundant food courts — and a small farm. Comcrop’s [6,450-square-foot] farm on the roof of one of the malls uses vertical racks and hydroponics to grow leafy greens and herbs such as basil and peppermint that it sells to nearby bars, restaurants and stores. …

“Comcrop’s Allan Lim, who set up the rooftop farm five years ago, recently opened a 4,000-square-metre farm with a greenhouse on the edge of the city. He believes high-tech urban farms are the way ahead for the city, where more land cannot be cultivated. …

“Singapore last year topped the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) Global Food Security Index of 113 countries for the first time, scoring high on measures such as affordability, availability and safety.

“Yet, as the country imports more than 90 percent of its food, its food security is susceptible to climate-change and natural resource risks, the EIU noted.
With some 5.6 million people in an area three-fifths the size of New York City — and with the population estimated to grow to 6.9 million by 2030 — land is at a premium in Singapore.

“The country has long reclaimed land from the sea, and plans to move more of its transport, utilities and storage underground to free up space for housing, offices and greenery. …

“Urban agriculture currently produces as much as 180 million metric tonnes of food a year — up to 10 percent of the global output of pulses and vegetables, the study noted. Additional benefits, such as reduction of the urban heat-island effect, avoided stormwater runoff, nitrogen fixation and energy savings could be worth $160 billion annually, it said. Countries including China, India, Brazil and Indonesia could benefit significantly from urban agriculture, it said.

” ‘Urban agriculture should not be expected to eliminate food insecurity, but that should not be the only metric,’ said study co-author Matei Georgescu, a professor of urban planning at Arizona State University.

” ‘It can build social cohesion among residents, improve economic prospects for growers, and have nutritional benefits. In addition, greening cities can help to transition away from traditional concrete jungles,’ he said. …

“At the rooftop farm on Orchard Road, Lim looks on as brisk, elderly Singaporeans — whom he has hired to get around the worker shortage — harvest, sort and pack the day’s output.

” ‘It’s not a competition between urban farms and landed farms; it’s a question of relevance,’ he said. ‘You have to ask: what works best in a city like Singapore.’ ”

The article was reprinted by the World Economic Forum and can be found here. One weird thing about this story: There are still small farms in the countryside, but they are not as efficient as the rooftop gardens and will be cleared — to give the land back to the military. Now, that is truly bizarre.

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Photo: Nick Hagen
Shelving for lights and hydroponic growing trays at Planted’s initial locale. The company aims to grow and sell food for profit while benefiting a blighted community.

After suffering one of the worst downturns of any city in the country, Detroit has benefited from young people looking for affordable housing and from a lot of artistic and economic experimentation. (Search this blog on “Detroit” for an array of stories.)

In one example, an urban farm aims to be both profitable and a boon to residents of a food desert.

Brian Allnutt writes at Model D Media, ” ‘I never had a dream of being an urban farmer, or farming really, until I started feeding people.’

“That’s what Kimberly Buffington says about the transformation that led her to start a non-profit and in turn a for-profit urban farm. 12 years ago, while working in the pastorate of a suburban church, she began to wonder why they were doing mission-work in South America, but nothing closer to home. Through a friend who worked at Trader Joe’s, she began picking up donated food from one of its stores each week. …

“She eventually realized, however, that just providing food wasn’t solving the underlying problem of food insecurity. … Buffington imagined that by growing produce herself she could help provide jobs and establish another local food source.

” ‘It creates food security in our community,’ she says. ‘We don’t have to ship our lettuce from the Central Valley of California.’

“But instead of a traditional soil farm, Buffington started Planted, a hydroponic farm on Detroit’s east side that will focus on growing for local restaurants, institutions like universities and hospitals, and meal-kit companies like Hello Fresh and Blue Apron. …

“Perhaps her biggest selling point [was] producing a number of things locally like herbs and greens that are normally brought in from California and Mexico, especially in the winter months. This would cut down on transport costs and deliver a fresher product.

“Buffington received funding and support from Michigan Women Forward (MIWF), an organization looking to change the investment ecosystem by making loans to women and other underserved individuals. …

“Says Carolyn Cassin, president and CEO of MIWF, ‘We funded Kimberley’s pilot project, which she did in one of her partner’s basements.’ …

“This was the first time they had funded a hydroponic operation, which is a system for growing crops that uses soil-less media like gravel or rock-wool to grow plants in a solution of nutrients dissolved in water. Growers have the ability to control most of the factors that go into producing food, allowing them to grow plants more quickly and with a minimum of pressure from pests and disease. …

“Energy will remain one of the major costs for a business of this kind. Buffington believes that constructing their own building, with attendant geothermal climate-control and solar panels, will help insure long term sustainability. …

“They currently employ eight people in full- and part-time positions. ‘We’ve got the potential to hire a lot of farm hands over time,’ Buffington says. ‘And we’re really committed to a livable and better-than-livable wage. Our business model allows us to do that as we’re successful.’ …

“One of those Buffington has brought on board is local grocer Meg Burritt who previously worked with Blue Apron and other grocers. …

” ‘I can speak from experience,’ Buritt says, ‘I think the way that Planted could interact with these type of companies that are modeled after Blue Apron is to provide a more regional supply for things like tender greens that do travel far, but perform much better if they travel shorter distances.’ …

” ‘As our business becomes profitable we’ll be able to donate products weekly to Eden Gives that will go out into the community,’ she says. …

“For Buffington, it’s a labor of love. ‘It’s joy-filled work every day,’ she says. ‘It’s hard work, it’s concentrated, it’s fast-paced. But there’s a lot of joy in it because every person who connects is happy to be here.’ ”

More here.

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I’m grateful to Scott, a former colleague, for putting this cool thing on Facebook. Looking at these healthy, growing plants is especially warming today, now that the temperature has gone back to 15 F.

Tim Blank at Future Growing LLC (which produces vertical aeroponic food farms) writes, “When you hear about a farm that supplies all-natural, sustainable produce, using 90% less water and 90% less land, one that utilizes the most advanced vertical aeroponic technology on earth, you surely would not guess it would be an Amish farm.

“Yet in Topeka, Indiana, you cannot get produce that is more local, fresh, healthy, and sustainable — even in the middle of an Indiana blizzard — like you can get at Sunrise Hydroponics, an Amish farm.

“Sunrise Hydroponics is owned and operated by husband-and-wife team Marlin and Loretta Miller on their rural farm in Topeka. I have had the privilege of working with the Amish community for more than half a decade, and have come to learn that, while their lives seem simple to many outsiders, their homes, farms, and businesses are highly innovative. The Amish utilize cutting-edge and creative forms of technology to improve their lives, while still falling within the guidelines of their belief system.” Read more here.

Greenhouse at Sunrise Hydroponics

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Looking at streams swollen by yesterday’s rain, I began thinking about Scuffy the Tugboat.

“The water moved in a hurry, as all things move in a hurry when it is Spring. Scuffy was in a hurry, too. ‘Come back little tugboat, come back,’ cried the little boy.”


A farmers market in Providence was undaunted by the rain. The farmer at the farmstand here joked that the puddle was just a matter of hydroponic gardening. In other photos, I show peonies and a sign buffeted by the storm — and a rabbit too busy foraging to worry about cameras.

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