Breaking Ground on a New Urban Farm
With the floors in the farm area covered with epoxy, we finally broke ground on our first Sprout Food Hub farm in Meriden. This farm is our showcase, the shining example of viable small-scale urban farming. Part of proving out the viability of the farm will be showcasing the farm to the public, running tours, workshops, trainings, and professional development programs with farmers, teachers, and entrepreneurs to get them the knowledge and resources to try aquaponics for themselves. Not only feeding our community but inspiring others to do so as well.
In addition to the small-scale commercial urban farm, we are building out another farm for research, supported by the Connecticut Department of Agriculture (DOAG) and Department of Economic Development (DECD). We are building this research farm in stages, testing out the efficacy of various vertical farming systems and a variety of high-efficiency LED lighting to establish the most efficient methods to use going forward. It is our hope that this grant will help us verify even more efficient farming methods, making the model even more attractive to farmers, educators and entrepreneurs alike. It is part of our mission to create the City that Feeds ItselfTM by encouraging more farmers to grow for their communities. The results of our research will be made widely available, so keep your eyes peeled!
Breaking Ground on a New Urban Model
The goal of this Sprout Food Hub in Meriden is not to prove a repeatable model just for us. In fact, that’s why we called it a Sprout Food Hub. Just like a single sprouted plant grows and creates hundreds of seeds, which in turn become their own sprouts, we believe the Sprout Food Hub model will inspire other community members to grow for themselves. After all, we know we cannot grow all the food for a city by ourselves, it really comes down to creating a network of farmers in each city. Our end goal is not just to create a successful urban farm, but also establish a repeatable model to empower others to create their own successful urban farms. Cultivating the Hidden Farmers living in our cities to grow more with aquaponics, we can sprout enough farms to create the City that Feeds ItselfTM.
In the City that Feeds ItselfTM model, we aim to empower Hidden Farmer groups that can use our sustainable model and technology to provide food for their communities while benefiting themselves or their organization. These Hidden Farmers are individuals or organizations that already have a foothold in their communities and benefit from growing in some way, like education, therapy, or skill-training. These groups can strengthen their programming and their community ties by providing food to their neighbors. Together with our Sprout Food Hub, these Hidden Farmers create a networked, distributed farm to provide a base level of food security to any city. Working with traditional field and greenhouse growers, this local food network grows in strength and diversity and prepares the world for disruption to the traditional food system.
The Trend Heard Round the World
The World Health Organization has publicly stated that by 2050 we will have over 9.6 billion mouths to feed. In addition, it estimates that over 70% of those mouths will be living in Urban areas. That will put a huge strain on our food supply, especially if we do not change the model in which we grow food for city dwellers. Currently, that burden falls almost exclusively on rural farmers to meet all the protein, and produce needs of urban dwellers.
Meat and leafy greens are an especially big burden. Growing greens in a field takes a lot of water and a lot of land to be economically viable. In our current food model, states like California are growing greens destined to be consumed in far-flung cities like New York and Boston. This will be unsustainable in 2050 when we have another 2 billion mouths to feed and 70% live in cities like NYC.
What we need to do is take the burden off of our rural farmers by intelligently splitting production between new urban and traditional rural farms. Urban farms focus production on crops that are well suited to an urban setting, like leafy greens, herbs, and fish, while traditional farms focus on large crops unrealistic for cities, like beef cattle, cereal crops, and orchards.
We are not alone in recognizing the need for urban farming to address rising urban populations. As we saw last week, there is significant investment happening in the controlled environment agriculture (CEA) industry. In 2010, the CEA industry had no measurable data. Fast forward to today with over 50 commercial farms of various scale across the country. The industry is seeing huge growth year after year and as a result, we are seeing similar growth in investment across the industry.
The focus of that investment? Companies that are trying to create repeatable urban farming models and the technologies those farms will use. Smart money knows that it will take more than a few farms that inspire a world of urban-focused farming. It takes a compelling market force: economic proof of the sustainable business model for urban farms.
How did Mcdonalds scale to serve billions and billions? They created a business model that others could use to create a sustainable small business for themselves. That same concept is at play here.
We all want food security, especially the farmers working to make it happen. We know it takes the participation of more than any one person or company to solve. We need others to take up the pitchfork, so to speak, and join the mission. To incentivize that action we need to show them there is a gameplan they can follow to succeed and provide for themselves and their families.
That’s why our mission is to create a repeatable model for the City that Feeds ItselfTM and build this first Sprout Food Hub in Meriden. We’ve already identified the hidden farmers that will benefit most from participating in feeding their fellow city dwellers. And we’ve already begun working with many of these hidden farmer groups.We’ve seen them benefit from aquaponic farming while growing food for their communities. With this new Sprout Food Hub in Meriden, we can show them their growth potential and inspire even more hidden farmers in the area and in other cities with what could be if they started aquaponic farming on their own.
The Final Push
With our lighting configured the last piece is in place for us to build out the rest of the farm. With any new farm, “measure twice cut once” is the rule of thumb. We’ll place all the tanks, filters and grow beds in their places and measure everything a few times before we cut the plumbing and attach it all together. From there we fill her up with water, add our fish and let them populate the system with some nutrients. Finally, we’ll add our seedlings to the system once we have a usable level of nutrients from the fish. We’ll be taking plenty of pics and notes from our buildout to help those that want to use our model to start their own operations. Together if we can inspire enough people we can make CT the first state with a City that Feeds ItselfTM.