New Jersey Hydroponic Farm Transforms Vacant Lots into Microgreens for Local Chefs
January 22, 2014 | Trish Popovitch
Inspired to make a sustainable dent in the modern food system, Tony and Lorraine Gibbons drove around their New Jersey neighborhood looking for possible sites for an urban farm.
What they found were empty city lots covered in garbage and old car parts.
“We ended up talking to some of the people that owned some of these empty spaces and they were willing to lend us the space essentially for nothing because for them the value is beautifying some of the neighborhood and for us its free space,” recalls Tony Gibbons.
The Gibbons are mother and son cofounders of Garden State Urban Farms, which began back in 2008 as a cityscape of EarthBox container gardens on underdeveloped city lots. Today, it is a thriving, sustainable business that has moved away from demonstration container gardens into a hydroponic greenhouse-based farm providing New Jersey chefs sustainably grown microgreens.
Garden State Urban Farms is centered on its Orange, New Jersey greenhouse that produces a wide variety of seasonal greens, which are big favorites of area restaurants.
“Chefs were really interested in being able to visit the farm and meet the farmers and be a part of the community their vegetables were grown in, which I think is something we lack around here,” says Tony Gibbons. “It’s hard for chefs to be able to go and actually visit the farm in the morning on their way to the kitchen, so it’s really been a cool experience for them.”
Garden State Urban Farms uses a hydroponic growing system incorporating ebb-and-flow water systems, 12-foot long gutter tables and a limited amount of artificial light. Plants are grown in oasis cubes and the water, kept at seasonally appropriate temperatures, cycles through the closed loop system. The Orange greenhouse has 10,000 square feet of growing space, producing 600 pounds of produce every week.
“I think the water is such an important thing, especially moving forward,” says Tony Gibbons. “You’re growing so efficiently. You can grow four acres of traditional field-grown greens in 2500 square feet of greenhouse because you are growing so densely. There’s no washing or processing because it’s so clean. For me, hydroponics is a definite part of the answer to our food-sourcing problem. I don’t think it’s the only part but I think it’s certainly something we’re going to be looking towards more in the future.”
Gibbons views sustainable agriculture as an opportunity to increase urban employment, assist the displaced in society and beautify inner city neighborhoods. Garden State Urban Farms’ first greenhouse was a partnership with Arthur and Friends, a local group that helps place disabled people in sustainable employment. Over the years, Garden State Urban Farms has consulted on numerous projects with partners running the gamut from property developers and halfway houses to schools and hospitals.
Increasing grow space remains high on the priority list, and the Gibbons are currently negotiating with a long-time community garden partner, Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, to construct a greenhouse that will help to increase yields.
For Tony Gibbons, the overall goal is raising awareness.
“We’re going to have to find the right way to feed the planet,” says Tony Gibbons. “We need to manage our food waste and manage how we eat. It’s like a weird problem that we have where we have issues with food supplies but we also have health issues like obesity and diabetes. We need to make people aware of the value of the food they’re eating.”