Mad River Community Hospital Farm Celebrates First Hydroponic Greenhouse Harvest

Agra Tech Solar Light 18 greenhouse

In January of 2017 Mad River Community Hospital (MRCH) celebrated its first harvest from its recently built, 450 square-foot hydroponics greenhouse manufactured by Agra Tech in Pittsburg, CA.
Since 2008, the hospital has produced much of the fresh fruit and vegetables that is serves in the café and to patients from the hospital farm located on the Mad River Community Hospital property. With the addition of the Agra Tech greenhouse and AM Hydro systems MRCH has expanded is production capacity particularly in the winter months. The hospital will be able to provide even more healthy food to its patients and staff all year long. Produce grown in the hydroponic systems include  lettuce mixes, cucumbers, baby Swiss chard, bok choy, baby kale, tomatoes, spinach Asian greens and basil.

Todd Heustis, Mad River Community Hospital’s Food and Nutrition Services Manager in conjunction with CEO Doug Shaw, initially began exploring the concept of using a hydroponics greenhouse in 2012.  In November of 2016 construction was finally complete.

“Our goals were simple to expand our off season growing capacity while demonstrating an innovative way to produce more in a smaller space.”  Heustis said. “We have come a long way. In 2008, we started our farm project with a one-acre dirt farm and in 2011, it was so successful that we added a second acre. We learned as we went along, we got a lot of support and advice by reaching out to the local farming community. We are now able to provide 30-80%, season dependent, of our produce needs to our patients, doctors, visitors and staff.”

Hydroponics in Agra Tech Solar light greenhouse

Mad River Community Hospital employs a full-time farmer, Graham Gagne, to manage both hydroponic greenhouse and the farm. He works closely with the kitchen to coordinate daily produce needs. At the weekly menu meeting the dept. manager, kitchen supervisor, café cook and farmer design the café specials for the following week specifically written to include farm fresh produce.   By holding weekly menu planning meetings, Heustis and the hospital’s chefs are able to use produce that is seasonal and guaranteed to be ripe. “Our chefs are doing some really creative things with our weekly menus. We sit down and discuss our inventory and try to use as much as can from the farm into everything we serve.

Am Hydro, a global hydroponic company based out of Arcata CA, provided the hydroponic equipment, startup knowledge and recommended the Agra Tech Greenhouses.  After doing some research; we decided to buy an 18′ x 24′ Agra Tech greenhouse, a 6’x12’ NFT hydro table, a 10’ Dutch bucket system, computer monitoring system, and dosing pumps. Since then we have doubled our hydroponic systems.  In hind sight we should have started with a much larger system, we could be operating a larger greenhouse with the hydroponics computerized monitoring system we have.

The hospital’s plant operations department built the greenhouse. Heustis and Gange set up the hydro systems in the structure. Plenty of advice was needed from ATI along the way. “We were calling their tech support line all the time with questions and they were great at helping us throughout the process. We tapped into their expertise whenever we needed it, and they came through each and every time.”

Producing crops in the Agra Tech greenhouse coupled with American Hydroponics’ system provides the ideal growing environment. When compared to in-ground farming, hydroponic gardening in the Agra Tech Greenhouse is consistently 25% faster. “Out in the field, it takes approximately 60 days to turn a crop, but in the greenhouse, we can do it in just 45 days,” Heustis said.

The farm project has provided numerous other benefits, in marketing, staff pride, support to our local food bank, an in-house farmers marked, physician and staff recruiting tool.  “Providers are amazed first, that we have a farm and second, by the innovative use of hydroponic system in the Agra Tech Greenhouse” Heustis said, “The farm project has allowed us to further align the organization with community priorities in Local organic food.”

About Mad River Community Hospital

Mad River Community Hospital is a locally-owned and independent hospital that provides a complete range of acute care inpatient services, including OB, Trauma level 4 emergency medicine, physical therapy, ICU, med/surg and radiological services for the people of Arcata, CA and neighboring areas. The facility is also associated with an adult day health care, home health care department outpatient rehabilitation clinics, wound care and hyperbaric oxygen program.

Please contact Todd Heustis theustis@madriverhospital.com with any questions regarding the farm and hydroponic project.

Article by Ed Attanasio of TrustEDadvertising

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
TrustEDadvertising

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