Posts By Danielle Davis
The hydroponics industry has the power to eradicate world hunger – if we’d only take it seriously, says agricultural expert Matthew Geschke. But that can be hard to do. Hydroponics trade shows cultivate a party atmosphere that caters to grow-your-own stoners. Decorated with kegs and half-naked women, there is very little talk of saving the world. For Geschke, a hydroponics designer who desperately wants to be accepted in mainstream agricultural circles, it’s an embarrassment that relegates a critical farming alternative to the shadows.
Geschke explains that, as is commonly accepted among agricultural circles, a well-designed hydroponic system is “capable of producing seven to 10 times more produce than traditional agriculture in the same given footprint, assuming all necessary demands are met.” These systems, which grow plants in water using mineral nutrient solutions without soil, are built to recreate the plants’ natural environment. This is what makes it such an efficient and sustainable operation.
Growing shiitake oyster mushrooms for Michael Alt’s family’s restaurant proved to be a tricky operation in snowfall manic Syracuse, NY. Maintaining ideal conditions required a complicated set-up of seemingly endless triggers, humidifiers, fans, dehumidifiers and miscellaneous controls. At his day job, Alt was making radar technology for the US Department of Defense as a software engineer – stuff like forward facing detector installations for Afghanistan bases. It seemed far from related to his mushroom cultivating hobby, but then one of his hardware tech co-workers came in with something that had the potential to change everything for Alt’s growing operation.
It was a remote weather monitor and door controller for the guy’s chicken coop, set up through a short wave radio. This was a few years back when Alt didn’t know that something like that was even possible to rig up.
Employing web-based social networking technology to simulate old school neighbor-to-neighbor information share, Farm Hack is a farmer-driven, collaborative project that develops, builds, documents and shares tools for resilient, small-scale agriculture. The secret behind it all is its use of an open source web platform that allows users to edit all the pages on the site – it’s basically a wiki site for farm technology and innovation – resulting in a user-driven community that self-evolves according to the needs of its members.
“It’s not a new thing for farmers to repair their own equipment, adapt their equipment or design new tools – this is something that’s been happening for centuries on small family farms – but the idea of Farm Hack is to use new forms of communication technology and organization to accelerate that process,” explained Kristen Loria, Farm Hack Coordinator.
It’s 10:30 AM at the Saturday Santa Monica farmer’s market and the 600 plus baskets of Pudwill Farms blackberries and raspberries are already sold out. A few flats of plump, crisp looking blueberries are left but they’re going fast, too. One customer asks when those “incredible alpine strawberries” will be back. “Soon,” promises Roy Soto, the vender, with a knowing wink. It’s the middle of winter and this is why the public and the finest California restaurants revere Pudwill – for producing a varied selection of flavor-boisterous berries year round.
“We’ve got at least 12 varieties of blueberries, 10 or more of red raspberries, six of blackberries, three of golden berries, three of black raspberries, five or six different varieties of currents, and black and white mulberries” says Randy Pudwill, who runs the farm now, his voice brimming with pride.