The global indoor agriculture market is expected to grow to more than $27 billion by 2020, fueled by consumer demand for fresh, local produce, a growing population, an ability to produce food in otherwise unfarmable locations, and heavy investment. But that growth is all speculation unless there are actually growers to grow the food and fill those jobs of the future. With this in mind, several universities and experienced growers have begun offering an array of programs and short courses designed to get the growing class of controlled environment farmers up and running.
Housed under the university’s Department of Agricultural & Biosystems Engineering and the School of Plant Sciences, CEAC is a hub for indoor ag education, research, and networking. The center includes a 5,200 square ft. training greenhouse, labs for plant physiology and engineering, a hydroponic growth chamber, and a “smart classroom” kitted out with technology that incorporates live data from the greenhouses into the classroom and shares lessons and visiting lecturers with distance learners. Through its own extension services and public curriculum, the CEAC also engages the public with opportunities for people not enrolled in the university to gain crop-specific hydroponic production experience, along with training on greenhouse management and design.
With the embrace of aquaponics growing in tow with the urban agriculture sector, Santa Fe Community College in New Mexico wants to stay ahead of the curve and insure that its students are positioned to become the farmers of the future.
“The aquaponics industry is growing—10 years ago no one had heard of aquaponics and hydroponics—now people are excited,” says Adam Cohen, lead faculty member for the college’s greenhouse management program. “In the next five years, where do we go? We want to get information out to people and provide students with a way to go out and find jobs.”
Cohen says that aquaponics is a great agricultural technology to employ and teach in New Mexico as the state has a very arid climate and trenchant water resource challenges.
Home gardening continues to grow in popularity across the country in tow with the rise of local food movement. According to the National Gardening Association, 35% of all households in America, or 42 million households, are growing food at home or in a community garden, an increase of over 17% in the past five years. However, with 63% of the American population living in cities that comprise only 3.5% of the country’s land area, many urban apartment dwellers with growing proclivities often lack access to land on which to plant even a micro garden, and have difficulty obtaining plots in crowded and oversubscribed community gardens. Fortunately, the growing challenges of apartment-dwellers haven’t gone unnoticed by urban gardening entrepreneurs, who have created a number of innovative growing systems to help city dwellers and micro-gardeners in almost any location grow their own produce. Here’s a list of five urban home growing systems worth checking out.
Indoor growing and hydroponic agriculture is not just for adults. So says Pine Grove Middle School in Valdosta, Georgia, which began construction on a new hydroponics learning laboratory for its students this past march.
One of the primary reasons for the new facility is the school’s desire to become STEM-certified.
STEM-certified schools are recognized by the Georgia Department of Education as offering top-level education in science, technology, engineering and math. Because hands-on learning is seen as vital for this type of education, Pine Grove Middle School decided that hydroponics is an ideal teaching tool.
The school is funding the hydroponics learning laboratory with a $700,000 ‘Boosting Learning Through Authentic STEM Learning’ grant that was awarded by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement Georgia Innovation Fund.
Jesse Adkins was working a landscape design and installation job in Pelzer, South Carolina when he saw a sign by the side of the road that read, “Hydroponic Tomatoes.” His curiosity piqued, Adkins sought out the grower, Paul Lee. Lee entertained questions about his operation and hydroponic growing that provided Adkins, a 35 year landscape design and nursery industry veteran, with the impetus to take on a new career challenge.
“It seemed to be a profitable way to grow and offered a way to use marginal land to grow a large amount of clean, healthy produce on a small footprint,” Adkins says.
Under Lee’s tutelage and after taking a short course in hydroponic growing from Mississippi State University, his confidence grew. When Lee retired, Adkins took the plunge and bought his greenhouse and growing equipment. He also procured a USDA loan to buy a second, larger greenhouse to accompany the one built by Lee, and by 2006 his fledgling hydroponic venture Hurricane Creek Farms was up and running.
When the mushroom company he was growing for closed down its operation, Allyn Brown, who has been farming for nearly 40 years, wanted to find something similar to mushrooms that would provide him with year-round cash flow.
That’s when Brown decided to grow hydroponic lettuce. But he knew he had to learn how to run a hydroponic operation from an expert to become successful. So, he spent some time at Cornell learning from Lou Albright, a well-known hydroponic guru.
“I did a short course in hydroponics and started to convert my facility over to lettuce,” Brown says. “That got successful and within one year, it doubled in size.” He christened the operation, Maple Lanes Farms 2.
To meet demand, Brown immediately started looking for another greenhouse space.
The land used for Snuck Farm has been in Page Westover’s family for more than 100 years; her family helped to settle the idyllic town of Pleasant Grove, Utah, where it is located. Westover says the idea to use the remaining land (much of it has been sold or parceled off over the decades) for sustainable farming came out of a desire to preserve a piece of history while serving their community.
“My dad grew up on this property. We decided that we would revitalize it and preserve a piece of our family history,” says Westover. “We wanted to preserve the pasture, and we wanted to maintain the animals that have been there.”
The farm, which has been in operation for about one year, offers leafy green vegetables grown using hydroponics. Their greenhouse is currently growing different kinds of kale, lettuce, and other salad greens, in addition to chard, basil, and many other herbs.
Westover says the farm is also in the process of developing an outdoor farmyard where they will grow fruits and other vegetables to round out their selection.
Traditionally, farmers have grown plants in nutrient-rich soil. Now an increasing number of growers rely on hydroponics, which uses a variety of soil-less media in a controlled environment.
But which is better—soil or soil-free?
Seedstock ventured to find an answer to this question by talking to a farmer, a hydroponics expert, a horticulturist and a chef. They each have different opinions, but one thing is clear: while soil-less growing techniques can offer incredible benefits, we still need dirt.
Here’s what they had to say.