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Argus: Automated Irrigation Techniques

Argus Indoor Ag-Con Exhibitor News:

Argus Controls Seeding Knowledge video discusses irrigation techniques and the advantages of automating this process.  In the video Jeff Neff, Senior Applications Technician at Argus Controls, discusses considerations that can be important when deciding which system to choose.  He also covers advantages of automating this process.  Other topics include key considerations for implementing automated irrigation by using irrigation solutions for controls systems for horticulture, including greenhouse control systems and indoor control systems.

 

Irrigation is a necessary process for plant growth. While it can be done manually, automating this process could bring several benefits to growers. As with all types of automation, there are options to choose from, especially while using controlled environmental systems.

Computerized Control System for Horticulture

A fully computerized control system for horticulture incorporates all features of the simpler systems. It also adds support for a much wider range of input sensors, crop water use models. And,  most importantly, efficient irrigation system capacity management. Another approach, before considering a fully computerized controls system, consists of relying on sensors alone. This may not be the best method as they can, on occasion, fail. However, if they are combined with a modeling system, the result is optimal.

Another reason to use an automated system is the ability to include fertigation automation, which a simple solution normally cannot offer. One of the benefits of using an automated system is that it saves on labor costs by eliminating the need for employees to constantly monitor and water plants.

In addition to labor costs, hand watering could also affect the quality of the product. Using an automated system improves how production is controlled.

Using an automated system improves how production is controlled. On the other hand, there are certain applications where automated irrigation is not beneficial, such as in conservatories where there is a variety of plants, each with their own needs.

Factors To Consider

Automating irrigation in a horticultural facility is not an easy task. There are a number of factors to consider when planning and designing your irrigation or fertigation solution. Automating irrigation in a horticultural facility is not an easy task. There are a number of factors to consider when planning and designing your irrigation or fertigation solution.

Argus Controls has developed its own nutrient injection system that can provide anything from a single-tank formulation to many separate fertilizer recipes and feed strengths on the same irrigation system. This is all handled seamlessly by the Argus fertigation management software. Continuous improvement and development of solutions for the horticultural industry are a key and the future of irrigation controls promises more intricate, smarter systems with more sensitive sensors. This nutrient system has proven to be quite successful in diverse horticultural facilities, including when using Cannabis control systems.

For more Argus Indoor Ag-Con exhibitor news, check this site again soon or visit www.arguscontrols.com 

Urban Fresh Farms Launches New ZipGrow Facility In Dubai


ZipGrow_UrbanFreshFarms_Dubai_2_IndoorAg-ConIndoor Ag-Con
Exhibitor News From ZipGrow:

With more than 80% of food being imported into the UAE, Urban Fresh Farms, Dubai’s newest indoor vertical hydroponic farm from ZipGrow™, is doing its part to contribute to a more sustainable local food system.

A 1,000 square foot ZipGrow™ ZipFarm™ was recently installed in Urban Fresh Farm’s facility in the Industrial center of Dubai. In addition, it will soon be producing pesticide free fresh herbs and leafy greens for the local market. Urban Fresh Farms is a new company, founded by people who always had an interest in sustainable agriculture. But, they thought they did not have the knowledge or financial backing to get into the industry.

Vertical Farming In Dubai

“We, as a group, always found vertical farming really interesting. The team knew there would be a strong demand for it in the Dubai area”, said Scott Naude, co-founder of Urban Fresh Farms. “As a result, we were hesitant to jump in at first.  But, the combination of ZipGrow’s technology and ongoing training, the increasing demand for higher quality and fresh produce, and the Middle East’s booming tech sector all aligned perfectly for us to begin this venture.”

As with the rest of the world, COVID-19’s impact on the local supply chain has also impacted the Dubai area. It has caused food selections to be  limited in local grocery stores during the peak of lockdowns.

“Around the world we are hearing from all our growers that food retailers are actively looking for local food goods to supply,” explains Eric Lang, President of ZipGrow Inc. “We are also hearing from government’s around the world, including in the UAE, who want to actively seek out ways to reduce supply chain lengths to ensure a more consistent and high-quality food stream.”

Hydroponic Growing In the Middle East

Hydroponic growing, as an industry, is still recently new to the Middle East region. The UAE government is a leader in the Middle East region, and in 2018 launched a National Food Security Strategy 2051, led by the Minister of State for Food and Water Security, Her Excellency Mariam bint Mohammed Al Mheiri. This strategy aims to increase local food production in the UAE.  What’s more, it simultaneously maximizing the use of modern technologies to bring fresh and sustainable food to the region.

“There’s also a demand for healthy eating options. This  has given rise to a number of excellent meal plan services and  all-in-one meal ingredient boxes.  IThis is creating a need for the best, freshest vegetables to be readily available” adds Naude. “We’re planning on starting out growing primarily herbs such as basil, parsley and coriander. We hope to have our first crop available in December.”

Urban Fresh Farm and ZipGrow Inc. plan to use this new facility to showcase this vertical farming technology to the UAE and wider Middle East region. Naude adds; “We’re excited about our ongoing partnership with ZipGrow Inc. There is so much educational content available, as well as a fantastic team. So even for someone like myself who is new to all of this, ZipGrow provides all the tools needed to get growing.”

Look for more Indoor Ag-Con Exhibitor News From ZipGrow on this page. And visit  www.ZipGrow.com and www.UrbanFreshFarms.ae for more information. 

ABOUT ZIPGROW

ZipGrow Inc. is an international leader in indoor, vertical farming technology. Our flagship product, the ZipGrow™ Tower, is a core component of many of the world’s most innovative farms; from indoor hydroponic warehouses to vertical aquaponic greenhouses and high-density container farms.

Netled and SweGreen Collaborate In Sweden

Netled’s Vertical Farming System Delivered To In-Store Farm in ICA Focus Supermarket

Netled Swegreen Indoor Ag-ConIndoor Ag-Con exhibitor Netled  news:  Netled has delivered a vertical farming system to its partner SweGreen’s project in Sweden. SweGreen has agreed on providing ICA Focus, one of Sweden’s biggest supermarkets in Gothenburg, an automated in-store farming solution. The greens are grown within the store and harvested directly off the shelf. This kind of in-store farm is first-of-its-kind in Sweden and globally unique in size as well as production capacity.

Netled is specialized in developing and selling high-technology vertical farming systems. Its mission is to enhance vertical farming by providing the best technology, expertise, and guidance for vertical farming projects and actors all around the world. The collaboration with SweGreen has been outstanding and produced valuable next steps towards hyper-local vertical farming.

Netled’s CEO Niko Kivioja comments: “We have followed the markets for ultra-local vertical farming for quite some time now and seen that our technology has clearly many opportunities for the current markets. This first project we have executed with and according to the wishes of our Swedish partner SweGreen is a great reference for us. Their business model, Farming as a Service, is elegant and easy to implement by supermarkets. Our team is proud to be partners with SweGreen, making fresh production close to consumers possible.”

Look for more Indoor Ag-Con exhibitor Netled news as we update this page.

Hydroponic Seedling Propagation | 5 Tips For Success

Hydroponic Seedling Propagation Indoor Ag-Conversations“The only way to achieve high quality, uniform crops is to start with high quality, uniform seedlings,” said Joe Swartz, vice president, AmHydro. As  moderator of the “Hydroponic Seedling Propagation” Indoor Ag-Conversations webinar hosted by Indoor Ag-Con summer, Joe and panelists John Jackson, SIGS, Nick Green, Nick Greens Grow Team  and Dr. Vijay Rapaka, Smithers-Oasis, took a deep  dive into the topic, sharing a wide range of tips and innovations with the audience.

During the program, Dr.  Rapaka, Ph.D., Corporate Research Manager, Smithers-Oasis,  zeroed in on 5 critical tips for propagation success — regardless of the type of growing system you’re using:

#1. LIGHT

We know light is important for photosynthesis. It is also key for photomorphogenesis (the development of form and structure in plants which is affected by light).  Once the seed cracks, he says, you need to focus on proper light intensity and light duration. You cannot ignore one or the other.  Otherwise you will end up with a number of issues. These can range from elongation to yellowing leaves suffering from lack of chlorophyll development.

#2. WATERING

Frequency and duration are key, says Rapaka, whether you are running a multi-million-dollar facility controlled with a Priva system or a smaller operation using a Rainbird control system. Since most of us are growing crops like leafy greens and tomato seedlings rather than rice, you only need to water once a day or every other day. You do not have to bombard or flood your plants multiple times a day. The plant quality suffers because the roots can get excess water, which is not good for seedling growth.

#3. NUTRIENTS

To be clear, Rapaka is separating watering from nutrients.  He disagrees with old hydroponics textbooks that suggest nutrients are not required until day 3 or 4.  When growing crops in controlled environments where, for example, you’re providing light and CO2, if you do not have the right nutrients, you’re headed for trouble.  You do not have to put the plants on a restricted diet he says, using human gluten free diets as an example. But, as soon as the seed cracks, he adds, it needs to see nutrients. Regardless of the media you’re using, make sure you are treating with nutrients starting with the very first watering.

#4. PROPAGATION

Sometimes people think if they’re planting really high density, they can go with a smaller footprint or smaller plug size to save a few cents.  Rapaka explains that you will lose dollars in the long run here because once  leaves start emerging, there should be no shading effect.  If there is, propagation quality suffers.

#5. TIMING

Turns out, timing is, indeed, everything.  You have to do the right things at the right time, Rapaka explains.  It’s wonderful to grow beautiful, quality seedlings, but it’s critical to transplant them at the right time.  If plants get overcrowded or rootbound, you have a transplant delay. Whatever  quality you are achieving at the young plant stage will not be transferred once you transplant.

During his presentation, Rapaka also shared updates about Fortify, Smithers-Oasis’ new liquid nutrient supplement, designed to optimize the growth performance and increase harvest weights while reducing production time by up to 20%.

In short, said Rapaka, hydroponic production is sexy, propagation is not … and it is often neglected.  Everything starts with propagation.  You’ve got to start strong to end strong, he adds.

The entire webinar, as well as many others in our new Indoor Ag-Conversations series, are available on demand. Simply visit our Indoor Ag-Conversations page to access the recording.

Indoor Ag-Con October Webinar Schedule

 

Indoor Ag-Conversations Webinar(September 28, 2020) Indoor Ag-Con October Webinar Schedule Announced:  What do space farming, greenhouse simplicity and triple bottom line farms have in common?  Each topic is part of the Indoor Ag-Conversations free webinar series schedule for October 2020.  Produced Indoor Ag-Con, LLC,  programs include:

This program is presented by the Association for Vertical Farming.  Over the decades there has been both the evolution and transformation of biologically-based life support innovations that have now been adopted — and are being improved upon — in today’s burgeoning global vertical farming industry.

In addition, the emergence of Industry 4.0 innovations from data analytics to automation to AI is certainly enabling and helping launch vertical farms into their exponential advancements.

And all these set the stage for synergistic public-private partnerships going forward for the successful implementation of biologically-based life support systems for long-duration manned missions on the Moon and on Mars — and all their powerful innovation multiplier effects extended further for application in the terrestrial vertical farming industry.

Our panel will be delving into the various aspects of such brave and exciting scenarios, both present and future.

What’s more, the Indoor Ag-Con October Webinar Schedule also includes:

Moderator:
Dr. Joel Cuello, Professor of Biosystems Engineering at The University of Arizona and Vice Chair of the Association for Vertical Farming

Panelists:
Dr. David Bubenheim, Senior Research Scientist,  NASA Ames Research Center
Ralph Fritsche  NASA Space Crop Production Project Manager
Dr. Gary Stutte, President, SyNRGE

What is the number one thing to look for in commercial horticulture and agriculture equipment? Simplicity.

So wrote our program moderator Chris Higgins in a piece he did earlier this year for UrbanAgNews that is both the title of this session and the topic we’ll be diving into during this hour.

Regardless of the product or the product category the best-selling and most successfully used products are easy to learn, easy to use and easy to fix. This is not to say that they are actually simple. They are usually far from that. But, they are engineered with simplicity in mind.

Why is that so important in commercial horticulture? Chris and our panelists will seek to answer this question during the session. They’ll explore why its so important for key equipment components to be simple and discuss what characteristics to look for in:

Lighting
Irrigation
Sensors
And More!

Moderator:
Chris Higgins, President & General Manager, Hort Americas LLC & Owner, UrbanAgNews

Panelists:
Paul Brentlinger, President, Crop King Inc.
Dr. Nadia Sabeh, President & Founder, Dr. Greenhouse
Isaac Van Geest, Sales, Zwart Systems

During this insightful program, our panel will cover:

The concept of the Triple Bottom Line: People, Planet and Profits

• B-Certification process and reporting
• Contributions indoor farms can make according to the Triple Bottom Line
• Lessons learned from sustainable indoor farms that apply to all forms of indoor farming
• And more!

The Indoor Ag-Con October Webinar Schedule will also feature a program hosted by the Center of Excellence for Indoor Agriculture.

Moderator:
Eric W. Stein, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Center of Excellence for Indoor Agriculture and Associate Professor of Business at Penn State

Panelists:
• Dave Nichols, Director of Strategy, AppHarvest
• Alexander Rudnicki, Senior Project Manager/Plant Manager, Aerofarms

Indoor Ag-Con LLC created the new Indoor Ag-Conversations series to share content originally planned for its May 2020 in-person annual conference that was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.   To learn more about this session, as well as other upcoming programs on the schedule, visit www.indoor.ag/webinar

ABOUT INDOOR AG-CON LLC
Founded in 2013, Indoor Ag-Con has emerged as the premier trade event for vertical farming | indoor agriculture, the practice of growing crops in indoor systems, using hydroponic, aquaponic and aeroponic techniques. Its events are crop-agnostic and touch all sectors of the business, covering produce, legal cannabis |hemp, alternate protein and non-food crops. In December 2018, three event industry professionals – Nancy Hallberg, Kris Sieradzki and Brian Sullivan – acquired Indoor Ag-Con LLC , so setting the stage for further expansion of the events globally. More information: https://indoor.ag

Farm Aid Virtual Festival 2020

Story Sourced from Farm Aid Press Release

https://youtu.be/hrNb_dLQYtU

Indoor Ag-Con is pleased to share news on the Farm Aid Virtual Festival 2020 and a link to the Farm Aid  YouTube channel live stream.  The goal of the virtual festival is to raise critical funds for and awareness of the organization and its mission, which it typically does through ticket sales to the annual in-person music and food festival. According to its press release,  Farm Aid 2020 On the Road, scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 26, from 8 to 11 p.m. EDT, will include performances from more than 20 artists. The 3-hour event will be streamed at FarmAid.org, on Farm Aid’s YouTube channel, AXS TV and Fans.com.

Farm Aid 2020 On the Road artists include Farm Aid board members Willie Nelson and The Boys, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, and Dave Matthews, as well as Black Pumas, Bonnie Raitt and Boz Scaggs, Edie Brickell with Charlie Sexton, Brandi Carlile, Chris Stapleton, Jack Johnson, Jamey Johnson, Jon Batiste, Kelsey Waldon, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Margo Price, Nathaniel Rateliff, Particle Kid, The Record Company, Valerie June, and The War And Treaty, with other artists to be added.

“This pandemic and so many other challenges have revealed how essential family farmers and ranchers are to the future of our planet,” said Farm Aid President and founder Willie Nelson. “Farm Aid 2020 is going to give the whole country a chance to learn about the important work of farmers and how they’re contributing to our well-being, beyond bringing us good food.”

A Time of Unprecedented Uncertainty

Indoor Ag-Con Farm Aid 2020 Blog PostFarm Aid’s 35th anniversary comes at a time of unprecedented uncertainty, suffering and upheaval in our country. The COVID-19 pandemic, economic stress and the racial justice movement are urgent concerns that all of us share. The impacts of COVID-19 have revealed the fragility and injustice in our food system. As a result of the compounding challenges family farmers face, thousands are at risk of going under.

There is now even more urgency and a critical need for a national response to keep family farmers on the land.

“Since we started in 1985, Farm Aid has kept its finger on the pulse of farm country and deployed funds and resources to help farm families confront the challenges they face,” said Executive Director Carolyn Mugar. “It’s clear that this is a critical moment for farmers and ranchers. We risk losing their important contributions to our communities and our families if we do not adequately respond as a country.”

The virtual festival also will showcase stories from farmers from across the country who were invited to share why they farm, how they manage to stay resilient, and their vision of the future of agriculture.

This year, more viewers will have unprecedented access to Farm Aid’s annual festival than ever before as Farm Aid.org, Farm Aid’s YouTube channel, AXS TV and Fans.com will offer a multiplatform experience, streaming the event at no cost to viewers. Additional viewing options will be announced later. To find AXS TV in your area, visit www.axs.tv/subscribe/.

Exclusive Trips, Memorabilia and More

Farm Aid will again offer exclusive trips and artist-signed memorabilia, including a number of “from the vault” guitars and prints from previous Farm Aid festivals, for auction. The online silent auction will launch the morning of the festival, Sat., Sept. 26, and close on Friday, Oct. 9, with proceeds to benefit the organization.

Farm Aid accepts donations year-round at www.farmaid.org/donate.

Event Updates & Sponsor Info

For event updates, follow Farm Aid on Twitter (@FarmAid), Facebook (facebook.com/farmaid) and Instagram (instagram.com/farmaid), and visit farmaid.org/festival. Viewers are encouraged to use the hashtags #FarmAid2020 and #OnTheRoad to join the conversation on social media around this year’s virtual festival.

Sponsors include ButcherBox, Horizon Organic, Pete & Gerry’s Organic Eggs, Patagonia Workwear and Lundberg Family Farms. Farm Aid welcomes the participation of the business community. If you are interested in becoming a sponsor, contact Glenda Yoder at glenda@farmaid.org.

Farm Aid’s mission is to build a vibrant, family farm-centered system of agriculture in America. Farm Aid artists and board members Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews host an annual festival to raise funds to support Farm Aid’s work with family farmers and to inspire people to choose family farm food. For more than 30 years, Farm Aid, with the support of the artists who contribute their performances each year, has raised nearly $60 million to support programs that help farmers thrive, expand the reach of the Good Food Movement, take action to change the dominant system of industrial agriculture and promote food from family farms.

 

“Cultivating the Future” | 2020 Aquaponics Conference

Indoor Ag-Con News About 2020 Aquaponics Association Industry AlllyIndoor Ag-Con is pleased to share event and industry updates from our marketing |media industry allies like the Aquaponics Association. We wanted to share details of its upcoming 2020 Aquaponics Conference. Themed “Cultivating the Future” | the 2020 Aquaponics Conference is scheduled for October 16-18, 2020.  This comprehensive online event is packed with sessions, virtual tours, networking opportunities and more. Wherever you are in your aquaponics journey, there is a community for you at this event.  You’ll have the chance to engage with industry professionals and grow your aquaponics skills.

The Conference has 4 learning tracks with sessions from 50+ top-notch speakers:

Commercial Aquaponics — Experienced aquaponic growers can help you understand more about what it means to run a commercial facility in today’s climate

STEM Educators — Learn how to dynamically engage with your students using STEM principals by engaging with nature through aquaponics.

Research — Discover what is happening in the academic world with aquaponics and how it will affect the next generation of farming.

Community Aquaponics — Growing food for your family or learning how to do your first system?  Connect with people who are all doing the same thing.

In addition to conference sessions, attendees will also have access to the Aquaponics Virtual Showroom.  Here you’ll be able to explore featuring the best products and services in the aquaponics industry.  You’ll also have access to great networking opportunities.  Among them, direct messaging, chat rooms, live polls from presenters, and a  virtual cocktail hour.  What’s more, don’t miss your to chance to ask live questions to aquaponics experts from around the world and more!

To learn more about the 2020 Aquaponics Conference, including the  full schedule and  registration rates visit the 2020 Aquaponics Conference site

About The Aquaponics Association 

The mission of the Aquaponics Association is to promote the benefits of aquaponics through education and outreach.

The primary goals and/or vision of this association are as  follows:

  1. Promote the benefits of aquaponic growing;
  2. Educate the general consumer and food safety officials about the inherent safety of food grown through aquaponics.
  3. Dispel myths and rumors about food grown through aquaponics.

The vision for this organization is that it will create educational materials.  It will also  facilitate an aquaponic speaker’s bureau and act as a resource or liaison to the press. Eventually it could also possibly offer legal and insurance assistance. It also hopes to offer standards and certification for our rapidly growing commercial aquaponic industry.

The Underutilized Labor Market For Controlled Environment Agriculture | CEA

Recently, Lou Driever, grower for The Abilities Connection (TAC), a 501(c)3 that provides vocational rehabilitation for adults with developmental disabilities,  reached out to us regarding the labor market for Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA).  He wanted to share what his organization and others are doing to help provide local greenhouse / nursery employers with trained, experienced workers ready to be employed in an integrated setting.

“CEA involves a lot of repetitive activity where clearly defined observations are crucial to efficiently nourish, harvest and pack produce,” said Driever.  “Regretfully, it’s not a great pathway to riches for average hands-on workers. It’s tough for employers to find enthusiastic workers that relish the scope of work who will show up for work faithfully while drawing minimum wage.  There is an underutilized labor market that can meet these needs.”

TAC IndustriesDriever went on to detail how TAC has operated a 3,000 square foot greenhouse and 1,000 square foot grow room raising leafy greens for the past 10 years.

“By teaching our individuals how to plant, transplant, harvest and pack produce (following strict QC / sanitary guidelines) we can provide local greenhouse / nursery employers with trained, experienced workers ready to be employed in an integrated setting.  We aren’t alone,” he added. “We are a member of the Growing Opportunities Partnership – a group of 10 different organizations sharing the same approach and methodology.  Even WE aren’t alone – there are probably at least 20 other groups across the country with the same mission.  That doesn’t include organizations providing vocational rehabilitation using greenhouse settings to veterans with PTSD, those previously incarcerated or in other socially disadvantaged groups.  Each of these can be a resource for employers – if they are aware of them.”

Driever shared information on the 10 organizations comprising the Growing Opportunities Partnership below and has offered to field any questions you might have, as he can connect you with an organization best suited to your geography  He can be reached at 937-525-7500.

The Arnold Center/We Grow – Midland, Michigan
Greg Knop | gknopp@arnoldcenter.org  |   ph 989-898-1592

The Arnold CenterLaunched in 2018, the indoor farm has approximately 6,000 square feet of space and capacity for 26,000 plants. The farm raises lettuce, kale, basil microgreens, amaranth, green and purple shiso, wasabi, cilantro and mint. Twelve full and part-time employees work at the indoor farm. They monitor the pumps, which dispense nutrients as they are needed. They transfer plants from germination to seedling stage and later to the area where plants grow to their desired size and are harvested. We have a great opportunity to explore agricultural sustainability and we’ve got a great opportunity to create jobs for people with disabilities. Arnold Farms uses no pesticides, and the founder Craig Varterian likes to call the facilities plants ‘purer than organic’. What’s Varterian’s dream for the future of Arnold Farms? He’d like to employ this kind of farming around the country, especially in ‘food deserts’ where food isn’t easily accessible.  “I’d like to see people with disabilities as leaders around the country in this type of farming,” he adds.  More information is available here. 

Developmental Disabilities Institute – Long Island, New York
Thomas Forester (Assistant Director) ph 631-360-4604

DDIFounded in 1961, DDI is a dynamic, non-profit agency with more than 30 locations throughout Long Island, NY.  It provides special education, vocational , day and residential programs, as well as healthcare services for more than 5,000 children and adults with autism and other developmental disabilities.  The Horticulture curriculum of DDI offers greenhouse opportunities to more than 300 adults served in Adult Day Services.  The greenhouse has been in operation for more than 30 years.  Some of the vegetables include peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, squash, kale and various herbs to name a few.  The greenhouse offers 1,500 square feet of growing space.  This enables the DDI team to grow vegetables indoors during the colder weather.  Vegetables grown are either sold at farmers markets or used at various site for cooking classes.  More information is available here.

Greens Do Good – Hackensack, New Jersey
Jessalin Jaume, Farm Manger and Jennifer Faust, Operations Manager.   ph 201-960-2355

Greens Do GoodGreens Do Good raises microgreens, basil and butterhead lettuce hydroponically in Hoboken, New Jersey. They donate 100% of their proceeds to REED Next, a nonprofit organization supporting adults with autism. This helps provide continued education, life experience, and work opportunities so that these individuals can achieve greater independence and participate meaningfully in their communities. Greens Do Good also provides these individuals the opportunity to work at our farm. Our focus is on providing local businesses with top-quality, locally grown ingredients year-round. We hand-pick and pack our produce at the height of freshness and deliver them straight to our customer’s door for peak taste and nutrition. In the future, we hope to open more farms with the goal of expanding and continuing to create sustainable funding for REED Next. More information about our work is available here

Lettuce Dream – Maryville, Missouri
Charlie Clodfelter  (Director) ph 660-224-2203

Lettuce DreamLettuce Dream is a social enterprise engaged in hydroponic farming that exists to provide meaningful employment and job training programs for persons with cognitive or developmental disabilities so that they may enjoy the benefits of living, working and fully participating in our community.  Lettuce Dream was founded in 2016 and operates a 6700 square foot hydroponic greenhouse. Lettuce Dream helps to provide workplace skill training for young adults with intellectual disabilities. The people with disabilities in Lettuce Dream’s program take part in an internship alongside volunteers from the community, staff and their college peers from Northwest Missouri State University growing 500-700 lbs of leafy greens and living basil per week. The interns in the program help with all aspects of Lettuce Dream’s business operations including- seeding, transplant, packaging, food safety recordkeeping, data entry, invoicing and customer service. After obtaining the necessary pre-vocational skills and developing their resumes through the internship program, Lettuce Dream helps the interns transition to community employment. Lettuce Dream helps the individuals in the program secure jobs and provides further on the job support through job coaching. Since their founding, Lettuce Dream has helped provide employment supports for 24 people with disabilities and has an 83% placement rate for individuals that have completed the program.  More information is available here.

Medina Creative Produce – Medina, Ohio
Cheryl Kukwa (Greenhouse Manager) ph 330-591-4434

Medina Creative PRoduceMedina Creative Produce provides vocational training for students from Medina County School Districts and adults with physical and developmental disabilities, many whom are residents of Medina Creative Housing. Workers develop skills such as cultivating, harvesting and marketing locally grown, nutrient rich Butter Bibb and Romaine lettuce. Our hydroponic greenhouse is fully handicapped accessible to accommodate the broad spectrum of individuals with disabilities that we serve. In 2011, a Ribbon Cutting Ceremony was held celebrating the opening of our hydroponic greenhouse, which supplies local restaurants, schools and area businesses with gourmet lettuce. A weekly harvest produces on average six hundred heads of lettuce and proceeds pay the workers’ wages. Our lettuce is used to support our café’s located at local hospitals. More information available here.

The Murdoch Center – Butner, North Carolina
Hayley Tate (Recreational Therapist) ph 919-575-1253

Murdoch Developmental CenterMurdoch Developmental Center in Butner, NC is one of three state operated developmental centers, primarily serving 25 counties of the Central Region. Murdoch provides services and support to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), complex behavioral challenges and or medical conditions whose clinical treatment needs cannot be supported in the community. Murdoch operates four specialty programs including children and adolescents programs which are available for individuals residing in all regions of the state. Our hydroponic greenhouse is a vital component of our vocational rehabilitation program. More information is available here.

Peacehaven Farm – Whitsett, North Carolina
Buck Cochran (CEO) ph 336-449-9900

Peacehaven Community FarmPeacehaven Community Farm is a sustainable farm established in 2007 and located on 89 beautiful acres of organic gardens, rolling pastures, and lush woodlands that connects people with special needs to their community – and connects their community to them! After high school graduation, there are few housing and programming options for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Peacehaven seeks to offer these folks in our community the choice to live in a farm setting within a community where people with and without disabilities live and work side by side. We use the term “Core Members” to describe the individuals with disabilities who live and work at Peacehaven. That term reflects their central status in our community. They are at the core of all that we do and are the best teachers of the values of community. Major expansions in our vocational and housing programs are planned for this year. In our hydroponic greenhouse we focus on raising lettuce, greens and culinary herbs. Partnerships with other organizations in our community and the Growing Opportunities collation represent a keystone practice for Peacehaven. More information is available in this video.

The Trellis Center – Ellensburg, Washington
Heather Odenthal  heather@thetrelliscenter.com |  ph 509-968-4040

Trellis CenterCurrently more than 85% of individuals with developmental disabilities are unemployed due to lack of transitional support, job-site training, and employment opportunities geared for success. The Trellis Center aims to fill this gap for young adults with developmental disabilities who are approaching this transition time or adults who have graduated from high school but still need a structured environment designed to match programming to individual capabilities. With a focus on agriculture, the Trellis Center provides vocational skill development, stimulating activities, and a social community of peers. More information is available here

TAC Industries Inc. – Ohio
 Lou Driever (Hydroponics Coordinator) Springfield, Ohio ph 937-525-7500

TAC IndustriesBuilding on the success of the indoor hydroponic operation, TAC Industries Inc. built a 3,000 square foot hydroponic greenhouse in 2010. Twelve adults with developmental disabilities regularly work there to raise lettuce, kale, cilantro and orache. The produce is served at our sister restaurant “Fresh Abilities” and is also available at the local farmer’s market. Our customers have also included both public and private local schools, restaurants and the local culinary institute. We aim to donate 40# of produce each week to 2nd Harvest Food Bank (supporting over 60 pantries in 3 counties). More information is available here

Zeponic Farms – Woodbridge, Virginia
Zach Zeph (Founder) ph 571-296-4477

Zeponic FarmsThrough the use of innovative urban farming models, we provide supported employment for adults with special needs and autism. We grow greens and micro greens for local restaurants, colleges, and individuals within the community. All of our produce is non GMO and grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides. More information is available here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Produce Trends & Business Opportunities In the Covid Crisis

Indoor Ag-Con kicked off its Indoor Ag-Conversations webinar series in June 2020 . Partnering with United Fresh , we hosted a webinar addressing produce trends & business opportunities in the Covid crisis.  Moderated by United Fresh President & CEO Tom Stenzel, the panel included Paul Lightfoot, CEO and founder of BrightFarms, Alex DiNovo, president and COO of DNO Produce, and Victor Verlage, senior director of Agriculture Strategy Development at Walmart.

Kate Spirgen, editor of Garden Center, Greenhouse Management & Produce Grower magazines penned a terrific recap.  In it, she outlined five key takeaways from the panel touching on produce trends and business opportunities in the Covid crisis:

1. Berries are big on the horizon.

Panelists agreed that berries will be among the next hot items in CEA since growers can provide tastier options with longer shelf lives than conventional farms. “How variable is a strawberry’s taste when it’s conventional?” DiNovo asked. “You can have one that tastes fantastic and you can have one that tastes like dirt. You can have the same flavorful berry without Mother Nature wreaking havoc on it.”

Highly perishable items with complex supply chains are ripe for disruption, panelists said.

“What we’re interested in is beyond the shelf life, we want home life for the customers,” Verlage said. “We don’t want them to waste produce because it goes bad quickly.”

2. Create value by standing out.

From a marketing standpoint, DiNovo said indoor agriculture operations shouldn’t fight a conventional battle. By creating new names for products and branding them to stand out, growers can change the game.

“Create its own value by calling it something else,” he said. “If you call it by a conventional name, you’re going to compete on a conventional price basis.”  The coronavirus has impacted everything from supply chains to shopping habits.

 3. COVID-19 has increased consumers’ desire to keep money local.

DiNovo said the economic impact of the coronavirus has led to a greater demand to keep money in the local economy.  this is true whether it’s spending inside the community or providing jobs.
“That’s what local means to me more than anything else — it’s local impact,” he said.

4. Labor and supply chain concerns could lead to opportunities.

Lightfoot said he sees an opportunity to promote safety due to a smaller supply chain.  He added   that the current salad industry has seen issues with safety in the recent past.

“One farm’s contamination could have a bigger impact since more products are coming into contact with each other,” he said, stating that a longer supply chain makes tracking more difficult. “Those structural challenges don’t exist in our model as they do in the incumbent supply chain model.”

Creating new names and brands for products can help your CEA operation stand out in the marketplace. The year-round nature of indoor agriculture could also give CEA operations a leg up on labor.

Farm labor shortages, which he said have worsened due to the current administration’s policies on labor and immigration, have only been made more difficult by COVID-19. Housing and transportation have left farm employees more vulnerable to the disease.

“When this is over, borders will probably be less open, not more, so this issue will probably become worse,” he said.

“That’s what local means to me more than anything else — it’s local impact,” said Alex DiNovo, president and COO of DNO Produce.   CEA operations are better equipped to control entry to facilities.  And, year-round labor provides more stability in the workforce.

5. Retailers are looking for the right size solution for their stores.

Verlage said Walmart is looking for ways to mix big and smaller growers since different growers will bring solutions better suited to different communities.

“We are trying to figure out what is the right size project for the demand we face in different stores,” he said. “It has to be affordable, good nutritious food so that we can help everyone enjoy healthy food.”

The full session covering produce trends & business opportunities  in the Covid crisis was recorded and you can watch it here!

Re-Engineering America’s Fresh Produce Supply Chain Post Covid-19 for Greater Resilience, Inclusiveness and Sustainability

How Vertical/Indoor Farming Plays a Key Role in the Much-Needed Upgrade
by Prof. Joel Cuello, Ph.D.

Americas Fresh Produce Food Supply Post Covid-19The UN World Food Programme recently announced that over a quarter of a billion people around the globe could suffer acute hunger by end of this year in large part owing to the coronavirus crisis — a doubling of the 130 million people estimated to experience severe food shortages last year.

Such forecast makes all the more notable the three-way split screen that has been flickering  in the news recently across the United States — showcasing barren shelves at grocery stores, miles of cars and people lined up at food banks, and milk by the millions of gallons being dumped in Wisconsin and Ohio as well as tons of fresh vegetables being plowed back into the soil in Idaho and Florida.

As jarringly incongruous and disturbing such split-screen images are, they have helped bring into stark relief the surprisingly sclerotic rigidity of the U.S. food supply chain amid the prodigious disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

A Double-Stranded Supply Chain

At the heart of America’s fresh-produce supply-chain predicament in the time of Covid-19 are the double strands that make up this supply chain — running in parallel and perhaps even looping around each other, but never quite meeting and converging.

One supply-chain strand supplies the food service channels of restaurants, schools, hotels, offices and coffee shops, while the second strand supplies the retail channels of grocery stores, supermarkets and other retail outlets.

Never do these two fresh-produce supply-chain strands converge in normal times, but remain distinctly discrete and resolutely independent of one other.

And this explains how when Covid-19 shuttered in quick succession myriads of restaurants, schools and coffee shops across the country, the producers and the roughly 15,000 suppliers that cater to the $300-billion U.S. food service industry are suddenly unable to sell the bulk of their produce.

And in attempting to pivot from the food service supply chain to the retail supply chain, they find themselves confronted, not only with the time-consuming and costly repackaging and relabeling requirements for their produce, but also with the daunting task under time duress of finding proper contacts as well as developing the needed contracts to deliver and sell their produce through the retail supply chain instead.

With many producers and food service suppliers completely unprepared and ill-equipped to accomplish the foregoing, many are forced to make the final dreadful choice of destroying millions of pounds of fresh food that they can no longer sell.

The industry trade group Produce Marketing Association estimates that an approximately $5-billion worth of fresh fruits and vegetables have already gone to waste in the United States.

Thus, redesigning America’s fresh-produce supply chain post Covid-19 to make it certainly more nimble and flexible in routing and rerouting as needed the logistical paths that connect from which farms to which tables is absolutely imperative.

Equally imperative in such redesign is also to make the fresh-produce supply chain definitively more inclusive and sustainable.

Re-Engineering for Upgrade

Here are six essential touchstones that should inform the much-needed re-engineering of America’s double-stranded fresh-produce supply chain after Covid-19.

(1) Regionally and locally-based — greater geographical proximity between the re-engineered supply-chain sources (producers) and sinks (retailers and food service providers) fosters increased resilience in terms of shorter distance, quicker access to produce, and allowing for time to repackage and relabel produce in events where there is need to switch supply-chain strands; proximity also promotes sustainability in terms of shorter food miles, lower concomitant greenhouse-gas emissions, less food waste during transport as well as greater produce quality and freshness;

(2) Inclusion of small and medium-scale producers — Addition of medium and small-scale producers in the re-engineered supply chain not only promotes economic inclusivity, but fortifies the supply chain’s resilience given the relative ability of medium and small-scale producers to react more quickly and nimbly to projected changes in demands in the supply-chain sinks;

(3) Mixing of food service and retail clients in the chains — Combining to the extent possible food service and retail sinks in the re-engineered supply chains fosters resilience in regard to establishing and maintaining clients in both strands of the supply chain, and thus providing greater facility in events where produce needs rerouting from one supply-chain strand to the other.

(4) Inclusion of indoor and/or vertical farm producers — Addition of indoor and/or vertical farms significantly boosts the resilience of the re-engineered supply chain in terms of increased supply reliability (independent of weather, season, climate and geography), higher produce yield and quality, increased food safety owing to cleaner and controlled-environment operations, and amenability to automation of operations for labor efficiency. The recent decision by Wendy’s, for instance, to source all of its tomatoes for all of its 6,000 restaurants across North America from indoor hydroponic greenhouses has helped enable the American fast-food company to uphold its motto of Always Fresh by way of ensured quality as well as enhanced food safety, predictability, reliability and product traceability for its now far more dependable fresh-tomato supply chain;

(5) Linking producer farms with sources of renewable energy — Incentivizing and linking producer farms to ready sources of renewable energy, including solar and wind power plants, promotes enhanced environmental sustainability. Especially in temperate regions with reduced solar irradiance in certain periods of the year, producer farms may also be linked with wastewater treatment plants that generate renewable natural gas from digested organic wastes as exemplified by the Newtown Creek Watewater Treatment Plant in Brooklyn, New York City; and,

(6) Certification of the supply chain nexus — Certification for resilience, inclusiveness and sustainability (that is, a RISe certification) adjudicated and awarded by an independent body to  supply-chain nexus of producers, suppliers and retail/food service clients would be a great boon to the fresh-produce distribution industry as well as to consumers, the general public and the environment.

With Covid-19 temporarily decimating the global economy and in the process exposing the vulnerability of partial paralysis of the American fresh-produce supply chain amid the chaotic disruptions wrought by the pandemic, a silver lining that has emerged is that America’s fresh-produce supply chain can very well be re-engineered for a much-needed upgrade — toward greater resilience, inclusiveness and sustainability.

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Dr. Joel L. Cuello is Vice Chair of the Association for Vertical Farming (AVF) and Professor of Biosystems Engineering at The University of Arizona. In addition to conducting research and designs on vertical farming and cell-based bioreactors, he also teaches “Integrated Engineered Solutions in the Food-Water-Energy Nexus” and “Globalization, Sustainability & Innovation”. Email cuelloj@arizona.edu.