In 1994, Mickey Lynch was working on a project in Florida to turn waste products from landfills into usable materials. This project brought him into contact with many farmers, including Blake Whisenant, who had recently lost a large tomato crop due to flooding and was developing a raised system to protect the crop and offer more control over the growing environment. The pair began a collaboration that resulted in EarthBox, a container farming system that reduces waste and takes the guesswork out of farming.
Frank DiPaolo, general manager of EarthBox, credits much of the success of the product over the years to its simplicity. Water is reserved at the bottom of the container. Layered over the water is an aeration screen, which prevents root rot and mold, and over that is a peat-based growing media, which draws up the water as it is needed. The EarthBox also works with a fertilizer strip and a mulch cover, which prevents weeds and conserves water. The system requires about a third of the water and half of the fertilizer as in-ground methods, according to DiPaolo.
From new farmers, aquaponicists and sustainable agriculture entrepreneurs to urban farming pioneers, microloan providers and crowdfunding evangelists, yesterday’s 2nd Annual Seedstock Sustainable Agriculture Innovation conference at UCLA Anderson School of Management provided clear evidence pointing to the desire, will and motivation to develop economically viable and sustainable farming solutions to insure that the food system of the future not only survives, but thrives.
The two-day event, which drew an audience of nearly 250 from as far afield as New Zealand, Mexico and Korea, kicked off on November 5 with a sustainable farm field trip to Houweling’s Tomatoes in Camarillo where attendees were treated to an in-depth tour of the company’s sustainable 125-acre hydroponic greenhouse. Following the tour of Houweling’s, attendees headed over to McGrath Family Farms for a farm-to-table lunch provided by Chef/farmer Adam Navidi of Green2GO Restaurant Market. Following the lunch, farmer Phil McGrath gave the attendees a tour of his 5th generation organic farm and explained how he has used sustainable growing practices and direct marketing to remain economically viable. One of McGrath’s keys to farming successfully: “Grow a huge diversity of things and grow in season.”
In 2011, playwright, theater director and technology consultant Erika Block started the company Local Orbit with the goal of facilitating more efficient local food networks. By providing sustainable food producers with sales and business management tools, Block hoped the company could help address some of the inefficient infrastructure issues in our modern-day food system.
Over the past two years, Block has watched her vision for the company gradually transform into reality.
“Our team has doubled,” says Block. “We’ve tripled the number of markets on our platform. We currently support local marketplaces and trading networks in nine states, with over 500 food producers and 2000 buyers using the platform.”
News Release – Since officially unveiling an 8.8 megawatt Combined Heat and Power (CHP) onsite energy project in August 2012, Houweling’s Tomatoes of Camarillo, CA has increased its onsite power generation capacity to 13.2 megawatts. As of November 1st, Houweling’s will be the first CHP installation to meet the requirements for participation in California Assembly Bill 1613.
AB 1613, began with a 2005 California Energy Commission (CEC) study investigating the CHP market and policy options for increased penetration in California. The result was the 2007 Waste Heat and Carbon Emissions Reduction Act, commonly referred to as AB 1613. This program operates under strict criteria designed to reduce waste energy, meet a minimum efficiency of 60%, and reach NOx emissions of no more than 0.07 pounds per megawatt-hour. Ultimately it provides qualifying projects a favorable Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with the state utilities.
Sanjay Rajpoot, founder of hydroponic nutrient control system firm Sustainable Microfarms, was an early starter when it came to sustainable agriculture. Fascinated by Singaporean rooftop gardens at an age when most of his peers were more interested in X-Boxes, Rajpoot began researching his business at the age of 16, and was spending time with greenhouse automation expert Dr. Heiner Lieth at his UC Davis lab by the age of 19.
“One of my mentors growing up is an embedded systems researcher, so I was fascinated by the idea of creating better, cheaper controls for hydroponic systems,” says Rajpoot.
According to Green Spirit Farms‘ Research and Development Manager Daniel Kluko, the future of farming is heading in one clear direction: vertical. “If we want to feed hungry people this is how we need to farm,” said Kluko.
Kluko believes that vertical farming offers a very important benefit in today’s world of scarce land and resources— the potential for unparalleled plant density. After all, how else can a farmer grow 27 heads of lettuce in one square foot of growing space?
Green Spirit Farms was started by Daniel’s father Milan Kluko under his engineering company Fountainhead Engineering LTD. The idea for the farm emerged while the company was evaluating indoor, urban farm models in North America for a non-profit client—a process which piqued Milan Kluko’s interest about the viability of a vertical farming operation.
CSA’s have taken the leap into the 21st century. Community Supported Agriculture has for years been the refuge of the urban food-conscious looking for reliable, locally-sourced whole food. But small-scale operations can’t always reach a critical mass and some people can’t always take advantage of Farmers Markets. Enter Azoti.
Developed by tech entrepreneur David Ranallo, Azoti provides the internet platform that efficiently connects local farmers with local companies – and all of their employees – for quick distribution of fresh, sustainably-raised food, to a populace hungry for healthier choices.
“We need to de-commoditize food,” Ranallo said. “Azoti can help farmers with marketing, manage wellness programs for employers and fill orders for customers all at once. And when we can help farmers forecast demand, we’ll see cheaper Farmers Market-quality food.”
After $50 Million Buyout, Entrepreneurs Return to Farm to Further Ideals of Sustainable Food MovementApril 17, 2013 | Melonie Magruder
In today’s cyber-driven universe, technology wunderkinds don’t normally go from $50 million buyouts by Google back to the farm. But that’s exactly what Rob Spiro, co-founder of the farm-to-fridge grocery delivery start-up in San Francisco, Good Eggs, did.
Spiro and his colleagues from Silicon Valley founded the company a mere 18 months ago, with the idea that their experience in the tech world could be put to good use in furthering the ideals of a sustainable food movement. After selling their social search service, Aardvark, to Google in 2010, Spiro, et al thought to lasso the burgeoning grassroots drive for local, organic food direct-to-consumer in the Bay Area.