Feaster Charter School Loves its Greenhouse Entering Year #2


Growing produce to feed hungry folks while educating our students about innovative growing systems has been a great experience and our second year is going to be exciting.

With the greenhouse growers of the future learning valuable skills that can help them in every part of their lives, Mae L. Feaster Charter School in Chula Vista, CA is celebrating its Agra Tech hydroponics greenhouse’s first year anniversary.  By partnering with Go Green Agriculture, one of the largest organic-hydroponic producers in North America, Feaster Charter has great support, and by getting advice and direction from Agra Tech, the school is poised and prepared for continued success.

Feaster Charter instructs students in grades 1-8 and is part of the Chula Elementary School District. Their greenhouse classes are offered as part of its 7th-8th-grade science and math curriculum as an elective.  Associate Principal Angelica Sleiman has played a pivotal role in the greenhouse project since the very beginning, although it didn’t start out seamlessly. By working closely with the program’s instructor Marc Fraser, the greenhouse students are absorbing information just like their thirsty plants, she said.

Agra Tech Solar Light hydroponic greenhouse

“There’s been a huge learning curve for all of us, but a great experience for the students.  It took us the first semester to learn the proper chemistry for the hydroponics, because the ratios have to be exact. If the plants are lacking in one nutrient, for example, some will turn yellow and others will grow faster than the rest. We’ve determined that operating and managing a greenhouse isn’t easy, but with help from Go Green and Agra Tech, we’re in good hands.”

 

Tomatoes growing in Solar Light Greenhouse for Feaster Charter School

Initially, the students at Feaster Charter grew only organic leafy greens, but now they’ve added tomatoes, bock choy, cilantro and cucumbers to their list of crops. Their ATI hydroponic greenhouse features a completely controlled environment, where computers control the temperature, humidity and light levels.

Go Green Chief Executive Officer Pierre Sleiman, Jr. sponsored the greenhouse by donating more than $8,000 in materials in support of the school board’s $81,000 investment into the program, including materials, permits and construction fees for the ATI greenhouse.

Pierre Sleiman is excited about what is currently happening at Feaster Charter’s greenhouse program as the students learn about more than just agriculture. “I’m so happy to see how the school and the students have really embraced this greenhouse and the curriculum they’ve developed. They are learning entrepreneurial skills, science, math, engineering and so much more in addition to agriculture. This industry is exploding right now and investors are scrambling to be involved, because things are changing at a rapid rate. So, to get these young people interested in this industry right now is a big deal. As other schools see what we’re doing, more and more of them all over the world will realize the value in these types of programs.”

Feaster Charter recently won an award for its greenhouse project from the Classroom of the Future Foundation, a non-profit organization that honors business, community and educational leaders to create innovative learning environments in San Diego County public schools.

The main goal of their greenhouse in 2018 is to market the produce that they grow, Angelica Sleiman said. “We’re fine tuning that part of the project and we’re not there yet, but we’re hoping to have the students breaking into teams and selling our produce next year. Once we can control the quality and uniformity of what we’re growing, we will sell the lettuce in the community. But, we want them to be perfect until we do.”

Currently, the school donates its crops to places like Father Joe’s Village in San Diego where they serve 3,000 meals and provide a continuum of care to nearly 1,800 individuals every day from infants and adolescents to adults and seniors.

By acquiring an Agra Tech greenhouse and integrating a series of cutting-edge subsystems within the structure, Feaster Charter is teaching its students world-class growing techniques. “As we built it out, Agra Tech was instrumental in consulting us during every phase,” she said. “Now, we are constantly asking them questions and they are great. We send them photos and they get back to us promptly every time. They’re working with us to have the greenhouse operating at 100% efficiency and with their help, we know we can do it.”

Now that the word is out in the educational community about Feaster Charter’s greenhouse, Angelica Sleiman is getting calls from other schools all over the country about building their own. “Having the greenhouse has provided us with a lot of exposure and we often give tours for people who are interested in what we’re doing here. Growing produce to feed hungry folks while educating our students about innovative growing systems has been a great experience and our second year is going to be exciting.”

 

 

Written by Ed Attanasaio
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Sunridge Nurseries Undergoes Large Greenhouse Expansion

To change with the times and integrate some of the most innovative systems and processes in the greenhouse growing industry today into their operation, Sunridge Nurseries of Bakersfield, CA embarked on a large greenhouse expansion that started earlier this year. With greenhouses and accessories from Agra Tech and construction provided by AgCon, Sunridge Nurseries is entering a new age of mechanization as they continue their role as one of the largest producers of grape stocks in the world. Sunridge currently sells to grape growers that are as far away as Brazil, Peru, and Namibia–pretty much anywhere that does not have a quarantine situation relative to importing plant material.

COO Tom Bracken at Sunridge Nurseries has been at the helm of this $5 million project since day one and is delighted to see that it has gone seamlessly.  “We all know our roles here and we work methodically as a team,” he said. “Our Shop Foreman/Construction Manager Abel Martinez has been working closely with AgCon, Inc. to build 35 new greenhouses in five different sizes and it’s a mixed crew–with some of our people and several from AgCon. We have all worked together closely on greenhouse construction and design projects in the past, so it’s become like second nature at this point.”

Sunridge Nurseries has a long and fruitful history. After years of experience in the grape nursery stock industry, Glen and Terrie Stoller founded Sunridge Nurseries 40 years ago. Sunridge Nurseries’ main business is the propagation and grafting of grape nursery rootstock. Subsequently, the nursery is now considered to be a pioneer in the development of scientific techniques and cultural practices and a major expert in this field.

In the 1980s, phylloxera began to invade premier wine grape vineyards in Sonoma and the Napa Valley, so Sunridge came up with the solution in concert with U.C. Davis, which is high quality, phylloxera-resistant rootstocks. Since then, Sunridge has been supplying only the finest rootstocks to its customers through several expansions and additions to their modern, state-of-the-art facilities over the years.

Located at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley, Sunridge is a family-owned corporation and today Glen and Terrie’s son, Craig Stoller, is the CEO of the company. The nursery has the advantage of phylloxera-free sandy soils with a long growing season. With more than 600 acres of certified rootstock, scionwood increase blocks and outdoor nursery blocks, Sunridge is well positioned to produce certified benchgrafts and rootings to meet its expanding customer needs. The nursery’s growing, grafting and storage facilities now total more than 300,000 square feet.

Featuring hundreds of different varieties of wine and table grape vines, Sunridge produces approximately 10 million rootstalks annually, making them a leader in the industry. “We have patented 25 different table grape varieties and breeding others all the time,” Bracken said. “The market for table grapes has changed tremendously within the last few years and our customers are growing them right now all over the world. New flavors, sizes and shapes are coming up all the time and in fact, we have one now that tastes just like cotton candy. So, it’s definitely an exciting time in table grape production and we’re happy to be right in the middle of it.”

DropWall on sidewall with screen behind and polycarbonate stemwall at ground.

When the cost of doing business started skyrocketing, Sunridge began looking for ways to cut expenses, which prompted the new expansion project.  “It’s getting really expensive to do business and still make a profit. We used to have a $7.50 hourly minimum wage five years ago and in four more years, it will be at $15 an hour, Bracken said. “We want people to earn a fair wage, but the reality is that all of our costs have gone up considerably. So, what we’re trying to do is take a very active approach in minimizing labor inputs, which means that we are trying to mechanize as much we possibly can. All of our plants obviously have to be watered and we had sprinklers in our existing greenhouses, but now we have water booms that move from one end of the greenhouse to the other and provide us with a very measured, controlled water delivery apparatus. We will have automatic mowers now as well, so that we can deliver uniform plants to our customers. In the past, all of the mowing was manual as well as all of our irrigation and now we can do it with one-tenth of the people that we needed before.”

Bracken is delighted with the project and happy to be working with Agra Tech again. “We go way back with Agra Tech and all of our greenhouses are from ATI, so when the time came for us to discuss this project 18 months ago, ATI was the only company we considered,” he said. “We are very happy with them and their entire team, because they bring so much knowledge and design skills to the table.”

 

 

 

Written by Ed Attanasaio
TrustEDadvertising

 

Suncrest USA Shows the Way to a Better Day for Greenhouse Farmers: By Ed Attanasio

James Day, Suncrest USA in OKU's Solar Light Greenhouse

James Day, Suncrest USA in OKU’s Solar Light Greenhouse

By licensing its cutting-edge Deep Water Culture (DWC) hydroponic technology to greenhouse growers throughout the Western U.S., Suncrest® USA is changing the way lettuce is being grown on the planet. By making Agra Tech, Inc. of Pittsburg, CA its go-to source for greenhouses and accessories, Suncrest is at the cutting-edge of greenhouse technology and hydroponics, one of the fastest growing industries in the world today.

Founded in January, 2012 by James Day, a former Silicon Valley advertising and marketing guru, the story of Suncrest began several years before in Denton, Texas. It all started back in 1984, when Jim’s brother Robert Day bought a greenhouse operation called Melotex, which had been a hydroponic tomato operation starting back in the 1970’s. Rob Day converted the business into a very successful wholesale bedding plant operation that he named Suncrest Growers.

For more than two decades, Suncrest Growers was well-known for growing the finest bedding plants in the Southwest. Then the “Great Recession” hit and Suncrest Growers, along with one-fourth of all the flower growers in this country, went out of business. As an investor and partner in his brother’s business, Jim Day took over the company’s assets and began figuring out a way to change the business model and to leverage the use of the Suncrest brand.

By combining his brother Rob’s greenhouse growing expertise and his own background in marketing and technology, Jim began focusing on how to grow food more efficiently, year-round in greenhouses. As his research into hydroponic technologies and markets gained momentum, he realized that he was onto something potentially huge.

Deep Water Culture in Solar Light Greenhouse at OKU Nursery

During the research stage, Jim discovered that growing leafy-greens in Deep Water Culture (DWC) for local niche markets was going to be a business model he wanted to pursue. He took the basic concepts that he had learned from Cornell University’s Horticultural Department and further developed them into a series of patentable ideas and trade secrets that would improve the efficiency and performance of DWC systems.

Deep Water Culture: Lettuce being grown in AgraTech Solar Light greenhouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turning crops faster with DWC means better production and by using less water it just makes better sense than in-ground growing. “We can turn the crops 11-13 times a year with our system while in the ground they can only do two or three. We can produce 25 heads per square foot while less than ½ of a head in the ground. In addition, when compared to field-grown lettuce, they use 16-38 gallons of water to grow one head of lettuce, while our hydroponically grown lettuce needs only one gallon of water. In our DWC hydroponic tanks, we start with drinking water and circulate the water each day through a series of mechanical filters and UV sterilizers to keep the growing water extremely safe. It is tested regularly for pathogens and unwanted elements like iron and arsenic. Another factor is that the plants are not watered from above, so the leaves always stay very clean and the roots are the only connection with the tank water.”

In late 2011, Jim shared his business vision with the renowned Silicon Valley graphic designer, angel investor and friend, Lawrence Bender. In January of 2012, with initial seed funding provided by Larry, Jim re-booted Suncrest as a DWC hydroponic technology company to grow Bibb, Red Romaine, Red Oak and Little Gem lettuce for local markets and high-end restaurants. All of his research was finally paying off as Suncrest entered a new exciting chapter.

One of the first moves he made was hiring Dr. Gordon Snyder, a former classmate who had earned his Ph.D. in water science, and had worked for NASA, to join his team as a co-founder. Between their shared knowledge of chemistry and technology, this formidable team continued its skills and experience to develop their unique system.

In 2013, Suncrest’s very first licensed deal was signed with a small flower grower on Whidbey Island, north of Seattle — Plum Hill, LLC. Their greenhouses were retrofitted with Suncrest’s DWC hydroponic systems and by 2014; lettuce was being sold to local chefs and retail consumers who validated the company’s products. Suncrest’s greenhouse growers simply grow the crops and Suncrest does the rest.

By the end of 2014, Suncrest had signed its second licensing deal in the San Francisco market with a major cut-flower operation — Oku, Inc. A year later, 55,000 square feet of greenhouses in Pescadero began producing lettuce under the name Pescadero Growers. Currently, Suncrest has two greenhouse operations, one in Seattle and the other in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Steve and James OKU

Steve Oku, the owner of Pescadero Growers is happy that he is working with Suncrest USA. “Our flower market started shrinking, so we decided to find something else to grow and that’s when we met Jim Day,” Oku said. “We were already thinking about lettuce and going with hydroponics and that’s when we decided to start growing lettuce using Suncrest USA’s Deep Water Culture system. We have a ten acre greenhouse here, but we’re currently using only one acre right now for lettuce. Hopefully, we will add more as we expand our operation in the future.

“Greenhouse growing is safe, because there is a very minimal risk of E-coli since there are no animals inside the greenhouse and we have complete control of the process and the product. We met and talked with most of the major greenhouse manufacturers in the country during our development stage and we chose to partner with Agra Tech, because they believe in our approach of local growing using Deep Water Culture,” Jim said. “They have been very supportive of our business model, because it helps the grower, but just as importantly, they make an outstanding greenhouse that can be optimized for indoor produce.”

Agra Tech is the only greenhouse supplier that Suncrest uses for a wide range of reasons. Agra Tech has developed some highly innovative greenhouse cooling systems that do a great job at cooling the greenhouse and for us, they are what we call a ‘best of breed” supplier.

OKU Nursery, Pescadero, CA

“The team at Agra Tech–from their customer service people all the way to their engineers–possess a lot of experience and knowledge about every aspect of the greenhouse growing industry and that is why they are our exclusive provider of greenhouses,” Jim said. Agra Tech is very active all over the country, helping greenhouse farmers and attending all of the industry conferences and trade shows that happen every year. We have worked closely with the Pound Family and Jim Bergantz and I can say without hesitation that they are among the best in the industry.”

Written by Ed Attanasio
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