sustainable agriculture technology
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.
“Vertical farming isn’t futuristic; it’s already here,” says vertical farming visionary, Dr. Dickson Despommier. “In 2004 we put the idea on the internet and only got three hits on Google.” Eight years later that same search query on Google now yields 29,800,000 hits.
Although recently retired from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Dr. Despommier shows no signs of slowing down. He continues to spread awareness to universities, municipalities, architects and agricultural specialists on the importance of ecological principles in vertical farming design and introduce his sustainable vision for our future cities.
I recently sat down with Dr. Despommier to discuss his vision for vertical farms, whether certain locales are better suited for farms of this type, his studies on the correlation between unsustainable cultivation and rapid deforestation, and more.
Farmers Web is an 18-month-old start-up that aims to link local farms with local buyers through a wholesale “management tool,” and vibrant online marketplace that allows you to “shop and sell local online, anytime.”
The brainchild of co-founder and CEO, Jennifer Goggin, Farmers Web was born in downtown Manhattan from decidedly non-bucolic roots.
“I went into finance after college (Columbia University – political science), but my heart just wasn’t in it,” Goggin said. “So we decided that promoting small agriculture was something we could grab hold of.”
A Firm Believer in the Three P’s of Sustainable Growing, Craig McNamara Talks Walnuts, Water and WasteMarch 14, 2013 | Trish Popovitch
When it comes to sustainable agriculture, Craig McNamara, owner of Sierra Orchards, president of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture and son of former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, believes firmly in the three P’s of sustainable growing: planet, people and profit. Living in the organic walnut orchard that comprises the bulk of his farming business you could argue he’s living in and up to his principles.
McNamara began his career as a farmer in his late 20s. He began as a truck farmer, but soon found traditional produce was not right for him. “The marketing challenges of a truck farmer were very difficult. Being a small produce grower farming, harvesting, packaging and shipping my own product into the wholesale market was extremely challenging. I said ‘there’s got to be a better way.’ I’ve got to find a crop that has fewer harvests per year, is less perishable and a crop that I just have more control over and for me that was walnuts.” Sierra Orchards was founded in 1980.
Harvest Power is about dirt. It’s also about soil regeneration and managing the modern day intersection of waste, agriculture and energy, so that ongoing human consumption can be used as the engine to drive ongoing renewable energy.
In three and a half years, CEO Paul Sellew has created a company that diverts more than two million tons of organic waste material from landfills and turns it into some 29 million bags of soil, mulch and fertilizer products while producing 65,000 megawatt hours of heat and power-generating energy to run its facilities.
Harvest Power operates in 30 sites across the U.S. and Canada, using strategic partnerships with municipalities, haulers and state-of-the-art anaerobic digesters to create high value compost that is in turn used to create more high nutrition food that can be later be recycled into the system starting the whole process over again.
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.
Electrical Engineer Leverages Knowledge of LEDs and Green Tech to Sustainably Grow Organic MushroomsFebruary 6, 2013 | Trish Popovitch
Being an organic shitake mushroom farmer in Malo, Washington isn’t the easiest thing to do which is probably why electrical engineer, master electrician and green technology inventor Marc Keith decided to do it. Along with his wife Vivian, Keith runs Mountain Mushroom Farm, which he claims is one of the most self-sustaining low energy organic farms around. He may be right, and he would know, having built the farm from the ground…well, underground, up.
By carving out a chunk of his hillside and burying a shipping container, Keith was able to begin an underground shitake mushroom farm on his mountain property. His design choices and mathematical mind ensured the supports were perfectly aligned and the retaining walls perfectly sealed.
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.
Reno, NV Startup Sees Opportunity in High Tech, Inexpensive Irrigation Control Systems for Small FarmersJanuary 31, 2013 | Nicola Kerslake
When Reno, NV based sustainable agriculture enthusiast Eric Jennings noticed one morning that, yet again, his irrigation system had watered his sidewalk more than his backyard farm, he decided that it was time to put his engineering skills to good use. “Water is expensive and scarce in this area, and wasting it just bugged me so much that I started tinkering around in the garage” Jennings noted. Most of the commercially available water irrigation control systems were either prohibitively expensive or excessively complex; “there was just nothing around designed for the small farmer” he concluded.
Around six months’ later, he’d created Pinoccio; a small, cheap microcontroller with an embedded WiFi unit that could be combined with a soil moisture sensor to control irrigation remotely.
When Bill and Karla Chambers founded Stahlbush Island Farms in 1985, their goal was to not only grow certified organic produce but also to integrate sustainability into all aspects of their operation. In 1997, Stahlbush Island Farms was certified sustainable by Food Alliance (FA).
“Sustainability is a journey, not an end point,” says Stahlbush Island Farms marketing executive Emily J. Hall. “It’s about having an ongoing philosophy regarding how you operate as a company, and making the right choices every day.”
Traveling from farm to market has never been a shorter trip than it is for the produce grown by Green Sky Growers, a rooftop aquaponic farm, in Winter Gardens, Fla. The farm’s main client is a restaurateur housed in the same building. Delivering fresh produce is a mere one-minute commute in an elevator.
The unique aquaponic operation arose through the personal vision of Bert Roper, an aquaculture expert from Winter Gardens, Fla., whose ancestors settled the area more than a century ago. Although Roper passed away in late 2012, his legacy lives on. It’s visible in the lush, edible greenery that draws nutrients from a rooftop pond atop a multi-rise, 3,000 sq. ft. warehouse.
Try to imagine how a normal, modern-day, high school science classroom looks. If your mind fills with images of beakers, microscopes and memories of dreaded, early-morning labs, then the classrooms of Kevin Savage, a high school environmental science teacher at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, Cincinnati, OH, may surprise you. While teaching at the private school, Savage filled his classes with unique tools including aquariums, fish and plants that he uses to teach his students.
Savage, who originally worked in environmental consulting, began teaching chemistry at the school three years ago. Savage now teaches an environmental science AP class and a senior elective that focus on sustainable and urban agriculture, and aquaponics.
Greenhouse gardening might be a technology dating from Roman times (the emperor Tiberius reportedly enjoyed greenhouse-raised cucumbers daily), but Village Farms has taken their brand of hydroponic greenhouse horticulture to 21st century levels.
The publicly traded company was born some 25 years ago when CEO Michael DeGiglio was selling agricultural hardware to commercial greenhouses and decided to try his own hand. His first hydroponic greenhouse facilities covered a mere 10 acres. A couple of decades later, Village Farms facilities cover some 262 acres, providing fresh tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers to major retailers in the U.S., Mexico and Canada under the Village Farms® and Home Choice® brand names. Last year, the company saw more than $160 million in sales.