By Evan Bromfield
Look, I’m not interested in hopping on the vertical farming hype train. I’m interested in farming effectively and cheaply. And I think I’ve found the winning recipe.
I run the proof of concept vertical hydroponics farm Rosemont Horticultural located right outside DC. We provide chefs who want to differentiate their menus with year-round, affordable, exquisite crops grown with no environmental waste.
The entire farm is designed with the idea of closed-loop production, something extremely familiar to regenerative and aquaponics farmers, but a concept that’s oddly missing from most vertical farms. So what we do, unlike most aquaponic and hydroponic systems, is compost literally everything besides the system-infrastructure (no net pots, no rockwool) for future re-use. You read that right. We’re using compost in our hydroponics system.
We start our seeds in fast-draining compost plugs and within a few weeks, transfer them to the full recirculating shallow water culture system. Introducing soil and choosing a shallow water culture (similar to a deep water culture system) over something like NFT means we have a much higher biological buffer. This means that as nutrients, pH, and other variables fluctuate in our system, our plants are better able to continue thriving.
While that’s just one example, the whole system is designed for simplicity, ease of use, minimizing failure points (mechanical timers versus digital, reducing moving parts, etc.), and resilience. This reduces our labor costs, and because we are re-circulating our inputs, production costs are lowered too. This lets us focus on our primary directive: selling food effectively.
Remember, we’re just testing this out. We started with a run-down garage and transformed that into a farm that’s sold out to local restaurants and distributors since we started. It’s been great and I can’t wait to scale.
Evan Bromfield has been involved with vertical farming for 3 years with experiences in the industry ranging from private consulting to publicly funded urban agricultural development. In addition to his own vertical hydroponics farm, he also runs the Urban Vertical Farming Project, one of the few dedicated websites covering vertical farming, to teach others about the industry. Recently, he worked with the global Association for Vertical Farming to examine international biopharmaceutical production to help write and publish the most comprehensive industry white paper to-date, “The State of Vertical Farming.” Sign up for his free email list to learn more.
Working with Neto Construction in Sterling, VA on the next model of our indoor aquaponic system, the Hootie 2.0.
It has a 55-gallon fishtank on wheels for roll-out easy access. (See Hootie 1.0)
Here we see Danny Neto cutting some Ultra-Skrim FGC liner, a great product from Global Plastic Sheeting. It’s handy for aquaponics because it’s:
1) very puncture/tear resistant;
3) food grade; and
4) only 13 microns thick, whoa baby!!!
Here we see Bill installing the “Filtration Skid” @ PR Harris Community College in Southeast Washington, DC.
This pic is from last Fall. Hey, gotta blog sumthin’…
The Filtration Skid is akin to the organs and nervous system of an advanced aquaponic system. On the Filtration Skid are a drum filter, bag filter, bio-filter, UV sterilization lights, oxygenation devices, and various pumps and sensors.