Hydroponic Urban Farm Provides Year-Round Supply of Healthy, Organic Produce to Massachusetts Mill Town
October 15, 2013 | Jenny Smiechowski
Hidden within Durfee Union Mills Building, a historic textile mill complex in Fall River, Massachusetts, lies a hydroponic haven dedicated to providing fresh, organic produce to the local community.
S&S’s Urban Acres is a family-run operation which formed around the notion that people should have access to safe, healthy, pesticide-free food. More specifically, the Squillante family started the farm because they realized that the nutrient-void, chemical-laden food they were eating was making them and millions of other people sick.
“There was a sickness in the family that led us to look into what is really in our food,” said Brad Dean, Urban Acres’ President and Operations Manager, “We soon realized that many vegetables we were eating could cause health problems.” Dean is the son of Greg Squillante, the owner of the Durfee Mills Union Building. The Squillante family owns about 30 small businesses in the building including Urban Acres.
Shortly after the Squillante family uncovered the connection between the food they were eating and declining health, they began a small, indoor garden for family and friends. What they discovered in the process was that a lot of people needed a good source of local, organic produce.
To fill this need, Urban Acres developed a CSA which offers weekly pick-up of fresh veggies. CSA members can commit to either a 10 or 20 week package and are given flexible pick-up times and guaranteed house-grown, pesticide-free produce. Urban Acres specializes mostly in hydroponic lettuce and herbs because, according to Dean, they grow well indoors. Additionally, Urban Acres sells its produce to local restaurants and grocers, including Whole Foods Market.
On their website, Urban Acres emphasizes the advantages of participating in a hydroponic CSA versus a conventional CSA, the primary advantage being a reduced risk for CSA members. “In a traditional CSA you pay for your share of the crop whether or not a successful crop is produced. Because we grow indoors and are able to control the climate and the introduction of any contaminates, we’ve brought the risk down to almost nothing,” reads the Urban Acres website.
The fact that Urban Acres is an indoor operation also greatly reduces the need for pest control. When they do require pest control, however, they use only natural and organic methods. Since the farm is structured entirely around the idea of providing healthy food to the community, the use of organic pest control is an incredibly important component of Urban Acres’ business model. At this point, they rely mostly on natural oils and the introduction of beneficial insects like ladybugs to deal with pest problems.
The Squillante family chose a hydroponic growing system for their farm because it allowed them to provide fresh, organic food in an urban environment. Specifically, hydroponics provided them with the aforementioned benefits of being able to grow produce year-round under lights while also allowing them to avoid the use of chemical pesticides.
Dean emphasizes that hydroponics offers various other logistical benefits as well. “The amount of water you use compared to typical circle irrigation is around 10 percent, conserving a huge amount of water over a year,” said Dean, “Also there is no need for dirt in hydroponics. We can use cleaner substrates that do not interact with the fine balance of the nutrients.”
Despite the many benefits of hydroponic growing, Urban Acres still faces some of the same challenges as conventional farming operations. Mostly, says Dean, Urban Acres is challenged by equipment maintenance and labor costs. “It’s similar to every other Main Street USA business,” said Dean.
Being that the primary goal of Urban Acres is ideological, they are not particularly concerned with making a profit. At this point the business is self-sustaining and, according to Dean, they are satisfied with that. “We don’t ever expect this company to do more than [be self-sustaining],” said Dean, “But it creates jobs and produces something good for the community.”
Moving forward, Urban Acres remains dedicated to a simple goal: continue to provide fresh, nutritious food to the Fall River community—eventually on a somewhat larger scale. “We are in the process of expanding into a bigger space so that we can provide a healthier product to an even greater number of people,” said Dean.