Visit to Lufa Farms' Rooftop
Delray Gives Veggies a Try
Watch it Now: Indoor Farming
Greenhouse Tomato Health
Plant Growth Regulator App
Growtainers: Farm Anywhere
Last week was spring break for me and I spent some time soaking in the warm sun, listening to rock music and eating cocktail tomatoes fresh off the vine. Even I could hardly believe I wasn’t in Cabo San Lucas. In fact, I was in a greenhouse on the roof of an office building in Montreal, Canada.
A Visit to Montreal’s Lufa Farms
At Lufa Farms, it all started with the love of food. Whenever Mohamed Hage and Kurt Lynn sat down for lunch, dinner or coffee, their discussions usually worked its way around to why it was so difficult to find fresh and high quality food in Montreal. They concluded that the fundamental problem getting fresh food was that food is often grown far away from where it's eaten. “This meant that our food—whether grown in Quebec or in South Africa—would be handled, packaged, shipped, stored, refrigerated and reshipped perhaps dozens of times before it could appear on our dinner plates,” Mohamed says. “And all along the way, it would become less fresh, less nutritious, less tasty, and be exposed to more potential hazards.”
The business and tech-savvy duo, along with a team of experienced greenhouse growers, set about to solve this problem. After four years of effort, a new kind of farm exists right in the city of Montreal, providing fresh quality produce to Montreal residents the same day it’s picked. The prototype farm is a 31,000 sq. ft. greenhouse on top of an office building in Ahuntsic-Cartierville on the north side of the city.
The ultimate goal of Lufa Farms is to develop a turnkey urban farms paradigm that can be implemented in any North American city. “Our prototype greenhouse is in a cold climate and on a small scale. This is the worst case scenario, so if we can do it here in Montreal, we believe we can do it anywhere,” Kurt explained while we toured their rooftop facility.
Unlike some of the large commercial vegetable greenhouses that Canada is known for, Lufa Farms has removed the distribution chain and sells directly to consumers. Similar to a CSA model, Lufa Farms has about 1000 subscribers who pre-pay for weekly baskets of premium produce. An important and unique component to Lufa Farms’ operation is they supplement what they grow in their own greenhouse with third-party organic produce from other Quebec farmers. There’s great consistency with greenhouse-grown vegetables, but customers don’t always want consistency. “We learned that there are only so many eggplants you can give a customer before they don’t like eggplant,” Kurt says with a smile. The supplemental produce keeps the baskets interesting, reflective of the seasons and helps support other small-scale local organic farmers.
Lufa Farms’ rooftop greenhouse isn’t like most greenhouses. To be suitable for the urban rooftop, the greenhouse had to be stronger, able to withstand greater snow loads and meet stringent building codes. The greenhouse also needed to provide multiple growing climates for the vegetables they cultivate. With over 25 varieties of vegetables being grown in a relatively small area, they rely on hot zones for some vegetables, cool zones for others, and several “micro-climates” within each zone.
Lufa Farms doesn't use any synthetic or unnatural pesticides, herbicides or fungicides, but because they use various hydroponic methods of agriculture, their operation isn't certifiable as organic. Their management strategies include predator insects for biological control, certain naturally-occurring bacteria, the use of weed-free growing media and rigid protocols for maintaining a clean, problem-free growing area.
The flavor quality of the vegetable cultivars grown at Lufa Farms is taken seriously. “Because our tomatoes aren’t packed, refrigerated, or expected to travel long distances, we carefully choose varieties on the basis of taste and nutritional value,” Kurt explained as he handed me a cluster of bright red, vine-ripened cocktail tomatoes, which I proceeded to eat like candy as we walked through the greenhouse. Point made.
Wishing to put the minimum burden on the city—both in use of water and disposal of used water—they capture the rainwater that falls on the greenhouse in cisterns and recirculate the water that’s used for irrigation of the plants. The facility is designed to absorb as much natural heat from the sun and the building before supplementing with high efficiency boilers. “We believe that we're able to grow and distribute high-quality vegetables using half the energy required by traditional growers and distribution," Kurt says.
The future for Lufa Farms is bright. They're now working with green industrial-park specialist Le Groupe Montoni of Laval to develop LEED-certified industrial buildings capable of supporting commercial greenhouses. The agreement is expected to result in several new rooftop farms in and around Montreal beginning this fall.
Delray Gives Veggies a Try
My boss Chris Beytes files the following vegetable report from Florida:
We’ve been writing about bedding and potted plant growers giving fresh vegetables a try, but Delray Plants is the first foliage grower we know of to delve into produce. Randy Gilde and his brother-in-law Ed Koornneef have a 2 ½ acre test block of red peppers and grape tomatoes in one of their shadehouses at the Venus, Florida, operation.
The test came at the urging of Mark Campbell, a former Farm Credit lender-turned CFO of J&J Produce of Loxahatchee, Florida, who asked if they were interested in giving protected vegetable culture a try. “We were,” Randy says.
Why was the offer made? “Greenhouse-grown vegetables are the new future of vegetables,” Randy replied. The shadehouses offer sun protection to prevent blemishes in the summer and the ability to provide freeze protection in the winter. Randy says red peppers can sell for $35 a bushel if there’s a freeze, compared to $12 when there’s oversupply. In addition, protected culture allows you to guarantee a supply and grow on contract rather than on the open market.
Delray started out with a 1/2-acre trial, but that was too small to be conclusive. Hence the larger 2 ½-acre trial. They’re working with a consultant on growing techniques, adapting much of what they do from the field, except in pots. They’re testing spacing, varieties, staking vs. no stakes and other variables. As mentioned at the beginning, Mark suggested grape tomatoes and red peppers as the highest return items to focus on. One of their full-time growers with vegetable experience is in charge of the crop; a dozen other employees help with planting, production and harvest. They’ve got a PhD statistician on board who’ll determine if the venture is profitable or not. We visited the trial in late January and they were just finishing up the crops, so we should know shortly.
Granted, pots in a Florida shadehouse is a long way from Dutch glass and hydroponics, and high-tech isn’t something you’re liable to see at Delray … at least “not at this time,” Randy says guardedly. But as for the future of veggies at Delray?
“We’d love to be more diversified. We have the second trial [of vegetables] in, and if it’s more profitable than foliage plants, I see the first 20 acres going in within a year.
Watch Now: Profitable Indoor Farming Webinar
I tuned in live last week for LumiGrow’s webinar on Profitable Indoor Farming featuring the case study of Green Winter Farms of Palmer, Alaska. If you weren’t able to catch the webinar live, no worries, the video is now available on demand from Lumigrow. Click HERE to access the video on LumiGrow’s website. You’ll need to register, but it’s quick, free, and definitely worthwhile if you’re interested in indoor farming and/or LED lighting.
During the 30-minute webinar, Crystal Boze, founder and owner of Green Winter Farms, talks candidly about the inception of her indoor farm in Alaska, its implementation, the role of technologies such as LED lighting and her plans for future expansions.
Crystal is a young grower and entrepreneur who recognized an opportunity to meet consumer demand for “Alaska-grown” produce in her region, and she set out to grow year-round herbs in an energy-efficient controlled environment. After just two months in operation, Crystal had created a profit-positive business growing hydroponic basil for local supermarkets, farmers markets and restaurants. During the design of her indoor growing environment, Crystal chose LED over HID lighting and says that her LED lighting system uses just half the energy that an HID set-up would have required.
Chris Beytes moderated the session and asked some great questions of both Crystal and Kevin Wells, an expert in LED lighting solutions at LumiGrow. Kevin provided a great overview of the advantages of choosing LED lighting in growing environments and the hard science behind the rewards of this up-and-coming technology. Check it out.
Physiological disorders in vegetable crops
Need to brush up on the basics of physiological disorders in greenhouse tomatoes? Paula Costa, Ph.D, a consultant for R&D Applications at Growstone, provides a back-to-basics article discussing the most common and significant physiological disorders in greenhouse tomatoes, their causes, and what corrective measures can be implemented.
“Physiological disorders in vegetable crops are caused by a complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors. These disorders reduce marketable yield—the growers’ bottom line. Therefore, understanding the environmental and endogenous factors that influence these disorders may help reduce or eliminate their occurrence,” explains Paula.
According to Paula, the most common physiological disorders in greenhouse tomato crops include fruit cracking, russeting, blossom end rot (BER), Goldspot and blotchy ripening. In the article she explains each disorder and appropriate corrective measures to take specifically in controlled environment greenhouses.
For example, a grower experiencing fruit cracking will need to examine their crop management practices, greenhouse temperature management, and irrigation strategies to address the disorder. More specifically, she recommends maintaining a low yet constant fruit growth rate, reducing the leaf/fruit ratio and installing a shade screen to avoid excess fruit temperatures. Air temperature should increase gradually from night to daytime, and the difference between day and night air temperatures should be minimized to reduce fruit maturation period. Irrigation strategies recommended by Paula to manage cracking include allowing the growing media (slabs, specifically) to dry slightly through the night, reducing the slab weight by 10%. Read the full article HERE.
Smartphone App for Calculating Plant Growth Regulators
The University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension has launched its first mobile app called “PGR Mix Master”.
PGR Mix Master was developed at the University of New Hampshire with the support from Fine Americas, Inc. Available in Android, Blackberry and iPhone formats, the free application is an easy-to-use tool to assist greenhouse personnel in calculating correct dilutions for plant growth regulators.
PGR Mix Master is an extension of the popular web calculator PGRCALC, but with the convenience of being on the home screen of your smartphone and optimized for mobile devices. PGR Mix Master is capable of calculating dilutions for all PGRs registered for greenhouse use. The app can be downloaded for free by searching iTunes and the Android Market for Apple and Android devices, respectively, or visiting www.nhfloriculture.com for the Blackberry version.
Growtainers: Park Your Farm Anywhere
Glenn Behrman, a 40 year veteran of the horticulture industry, recently announced the launch of the “Growtainer” project, a new concept in controlled-environment farming. Growtainers are specially equipped insulated shipping containers complete with the most advanced low energy consumption LED lighting, water conserving hydroponic systems or drip-irrigation systems, adjustable shelving for optimum vertical production and a state-of-the-art HVAC system, all controlled by a specially designed PC-based microprocessor system. Growtainers may be purchased as complete growing systems with nothing to set up or install. You can park your farm anywhere, connect to a power source and just start growing.
Glenn spent a year researching and meeting with major players involved in the development, design and manufacturing of the components required for the controlled growing environments. He traveled the globe, investigating options for LED lighting, hydroponic systems, HVAC systems and greenhouse controllers and learning from Dutch universities researching optimum production environments. “I've learned a lot from each of these industry experts and combined with my own instinct and experiences, I came up with a product and a concept that I think makes sense and can generate revenue while the CEA concept becomes more mainstream."
The basic growtainer was designed with five levels for production so any crop that can be grown in a 20" vertical space is a candidate for growtainer production. The basic design includes one door in the center of the container and two separate production chambers so there are two separate environments for production.
“My own research has shown that are many items that will work in a growtainer environment and some of them are high value niche products,” Glenn explained. Growtainers may qualify for grant money through state or federal programs such as the USDA’s Value-Added Producer Grant. Glenn also sees a niche for growtainer farms in the military and for relief efforts in disaster-stricken areas.
“Things have changed dramatically over the past 40 years,” Glenn says, reflecting on his long career in the horticulture industry. “People have changed as well. CEA and creative ideas like Growtainers are the future of production. I think that the marriage of technology and agriculture is exciting and will inspire people. I want to be part of this. It's an unbelievable way for me to begin the end of my career."
For more information visit www.growtainers.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
That's all for this week. As always, feel free to email me at email@example.com with comments, questions, news and views.
Until next time,
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