Category Archives: Vegetable Growing

Oceanside Unified School District Gets Into Greenhouse Growing

Students in Agra Tech Solar Light 24 greenhouse

Director of Community Engagement and Innovation Vicki Gravlin works for the Oceanside Unified School District that oversees 23 schools. She is in her 27th year as a teacher and administrator and a former principal of Palmquist Elementary.

Gravlin has played a pivotal role in getting the school its greenhouse and having it up and running, as well as developing the curriculum surrounding it. We recently interviewed Vicki about this long-term project, its mission and how Agra Tech helped the district to make it all happen.

Q: How did this greenhouse project start?

A: Before I arrived, the previous principal at Palmquist Elementary was Phyllis Morgan, and she was very interested in STEM Education (STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — in an interdisciplinary and applied approach) as well as sustainable food sources and that’s when she made the connection with Pierre Sleiman at Go Green Agriculture in Encinitas, CA. They started discussing the idea of what it would be like to have a student-run greenhouse. When I became the principal, Palmquist already had a half-acre in-ground farm and it was in disarray and needed some love. So, we updated the in-ground farming component and started researching about having our own greenhouse on-site and it kind of went from there. Since last fall, the greenhouse has been up and running at Palmquist and so many great things have happened since then.

Agra Tech Solar Light 24 greenhouse under consruction

Q: You had a lot of people helping you with this greenhouse project, correct?

A: Absolutely. Pierre at Go Green guided us through the process initially, to figure out the specs of the greenhouse and determining all of the additional equipment we were going to need. He has mentored us through the entire process and has been amazing.

Then, we began working with Jim Bergantz at Agra Tech and he was super and incredibly helpful throughout the entire process. He made sure to let us know what we were getting involved in (laughs) and indeed we have gone through some trials and tribulations along the way. But by accessing the knowledge and experience of Agra Tech and Jim Bergantz, we were able to avoid obstacles and problems that we may have encountered otherwise.

Q: Tell us about the structure itself and what types of crops are you growing?

A: The structure is 24 ft. by 48 ft. with 16 hydroponic tables that are all currently in use. The students are always looking for their own ways to configure hydroponic systems. They work in close conjunction with our resident farmer/teacher Mark Wagner, who organizes and operates the programs on three different school sites. The grades that are involved in these programs are predominantly third through fifth, although all of the children have access to both the greenhouse and our in-ground farms.

The students grow primarily leafy greens, including kale, spinach, red leaf lettuce, butter lettuce and other things such as strawberries. They do all of the work from monitoring the Ph levels of the water to all of the seeding and they touch literally every aspect of the growing process. We teach them how to get the produce out to the community, so they learn that aspect as well.

Q: Do you think the students will start eating healthier through their exposure to this on-site greenhouse and in-ground farming?

A: I think so, because we have already seen it. One day, several students were leaving the farm with a big head of red cabbage and they were eating it like candy. I walked by and they said, Mrs. Gravlin, do you want some, this cabbage is so good! Their hands were all red and they were munching away. So, we have learned that if they grow it, they will eat it. One parent said to me that my child would never eat these things at home, but if he grows them himself in the greenhouse, he will. Mr. Wagner did a food demonstration one day and made kale chips and the kids went crazy over them!

Q: How do you fund the programs?

A: Our produce is sold locally to restaurants and that’s how we maintain the program and keep the business going. Some of the restaurants come to us, but in many cases Mr. Wagner delivers it to their locations. The money we get is all funneled back into the greenhouse to buy equipment and supplies and it also helps out other two in-ground farms with the funds.

Q: What are the main benefits of your greenhouse to your school and your students?

A: It shows the students how food production works from seed to sales, empowers them to grow their own and helps them to understand about the nutritional value of the food they grow.

Finished Crop in Agra Tech Solar Light greenhouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

Article by Ed Attanasio

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Agra Tech and Lundberg Family Farms Create a One-of-a-Kind Greenhouse

Headhouse with Agra Tech greenhouse behind

By Ed Attanasio
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If you’ve ever purchased any organic rice or rice products at your local grocery store, there’s a very good chance that they were grown at Lundberg Family Farms in Richvale, CA. Today, Lundberg Family Farms is the United States’ leading producer of organic rice and rice products as third and fourth generation Lundberg family members are still carrying on the family heritage by using eco-positive farming methods to produce nutritious and healthy rice products while improving and protecting the environment for more generations to come. “Leave the land better than you found it,” Albert Lundberg told his sons, something they still believe and practice to this day at Lundberg Family Farms.

Eighty years ago, Albert and Frances Lundberg left their home in Nebraska to start a rice farm in Northern California’s fertile Sacramento Valley with their four sons. In the 1960’s, Eldon, Wendell, Harlan and Homer Lundberg saw the need to sell their products directly to the public, since it was being grown so differently from conventional rice. This gave consumers a choice in the rice they purchased and began the Lundberg Family Farms brand which now includes over 200 value-added products utilizing 17 different types of specialty rice, quinoa, beans and other whole grains.

Vice-President of Administration Jessica Lundberg first heard about Agra Tech back in 2013, when Lundberg Family Farms started thinking about replacing their greenhouses that had been serving them for many years. “We have a research nursery where we focus on our seed production, doing variety improvement and a wide range of organic material testing,” she said. “We were doing this work in two older greenhouses and started talking about replacing them, because the complexity of the work we were doing was increasing. We needed to upgrade, so we started looking around at the different types of greenhouses out there at places like UC Davis and Chico State University. In addition, we talked to other greenhouse growers, including the people at the California Cooperative Rice Research Foundation (aka The Rice Experiment Station), which is right up the road from us in Biggs, CA. They had just completed a greenhouse, so we visited them to take a look and we were pretty impressed by it.  The Foundation introduced us to Jim Bergantz at Agra Tech.”

Research inside Lundberg’s greenhouse. “Fully integrated & automated controls for all operational aspects; fan speeds, lighting, cooling system, shade curtains and includes a PC based program interface that provides for monitoring system performance and set up.”

After the initial introductions, the process of planning and laying out the greenhouse was the next step. “We had a list of needs and wants and Jim at Agra Tech got us a bid, so that we could get an idea of pricing,” Lundberg said. “Then, we put it into our business plan and it took about a full year until we were ready to take down the old greenhouses and apply for permits. We wanted something that was unconventional and Jim Bergantz’s advice was instrumental in making it happen for us.”

By using his extensive knowledge and experience in the commercial greenhouse industry, Jim Bergantz was able to help Lundberg Family Farms in several areas that saved them time and capital. “We were able to re-purpose a lot of our lighting, because it was only a year old”.

“Since we are growing predominantly rice in the greenhouse, we had to figure out the bench layout to hold fiberglass tanks of water; the lighting requirements; the type of screen material we needed for insect exclusion; the heating and cooling operations in the greenhouse and how we could create a dual purpose “wet room” from the space of the cooling pad room so that we could use it to do pre-planting preparations to soak our experimental and headrow seed lines in water,” Lundberg explained.

The actual construction for the Agra Tech 36’ x 96’ x 12’ Solar Light greenhouse was completed in May of 2016, which means that the farm has been using the greenhouse for more than a year now with great results, according to Manager of Engineering and Continuous Improvement Bradley Thomson, who played a pivotal role in the design and implementation of the greenhouse project at Lundberg Family Farms.

“The team at Agra Tech met the challenge and did a great job from start to finish,” Thomson said. “The completed house system is state of the art with fully integrated & automated controls for all operational aspects; fan speeds, lighting, cooling system, shade curtains and includes a PC based program interface that provides for monitoring system performance and set up. When small build issues arose, as they will, the Agra team stepped up and responded quickly to resolve the challenge. The new greenhouse represents a significant jump forward for Lundberg Family Farms not only in the overall system but also in the Head House space that was custom created for our own team. Agra Tech and Ag-Con worked in conjunction with our General Contractor to tie in a custom head house built by our general with a state of the art Green House, they did an excellent job.

The Agra Tech research greenhouse

View of the beautiful facility area from the front.

Written by Ed Attanasio
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Brightwater Farms Doubles Capacity with New ATI Greenhouse

Brightwater Farms, LLC is in the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado, a hydroponic farm that uses two greenhouses made by Agra Tech, Inc. of Pittsburg, CA. They recently purchased their second structure from ATI to accommodate more sales and enable them to achieve better and bigger things.

Owned and operated by two brothers, Andrew and Robert Toews, the business began in 2014 and now Brightwater Farms is a flourishing farm that grows specialty lettuces, including Oak Leaf, Butter Leaf, Watercress and Frisee. USDA GAP certified and a member of Colorado Proud, Brightwater Farms is a highly-respected green company that believes in sustainability and helping the planet in everything it does.

A produce wholesaler in Denver buys 80% of all the crops grown at Brightwater Farms, with the remainder going to local restaurants and grocery stores. The business is strong and sales are robust, according to Co-Owner Andrew Toews. “Right now, our demand outweighs our capacity, even after doubling the operation after acquiring the second greenhouse from Agra Tech,” he said. “We sell our products alive, which means the roots are still attached. Some consumers put them in water and that way they stay fresher right up until consumption.”

Brightwater Farms knows that the quality of their crops has to always be spot-on if the business will continue to be successful, Andrew Toews explained. “We need these lettuces to be uniform and they have to look good, so that we can keep our customers and the consumers happy. We always make certain that everything is perfect before it leaves here and that’s why we make quality control a priority.”

By acquiring the additional Agra Tech greenhouse, Brightwater Farms was able to add 8,640 sq. ft. to its initial 10,400 sq. ft. greenhouse, also purchased from Agra Tech. The structure also includes a head house, offices and bathrooms, etc. which makes it 100% enclosed, so that everything can be performed on-site and protected by the weather.

Toews is delighted with his expanded greenhouse and how it has helped his business. “The greenhouse does everything we need,” he said. “We are now able to produce 750 cases per crop every week, which is keeping us busy around here all the time. Crops we harvest today were planted six weeks ago, so we’re turning them quickly and like clockwork.”

Toews became initially aware of Agra Tech in 2014 when he met ATI Sales Rep Adam Pound at the annual ​Greenhouse ​Crop ​Production ​& ​Engineering ​Design ​Conference, presented by the University of Arizona’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CEAC) and held at the university. “Adam made a very positive impression, so we decided to get a competing bid from Agra Tech, along with some other companies. After reviewing everything, we decided to go with Agra Tech and it was a great decision.”

With backgrounds in construction, the Toews brothers built both of their Agra Tech greenhouses themselves and are proud of the finished result. “Adam Pound told us that this is one of the best Agra Tech greenhouses he’s ever seen, which was satisfying,” Toews said. “Agra Tech provided us with a lot of useful information about how to assemble the structure and they’re very knowledgeable, so that was extremely helpful and allowed us to put together the best greenhouse we possibly could. We rely on our greenhouses to keep our production rolling and so we wanted to make sure that they were built correctly.”

Now with both greenhouses working well and helping Brightwater Farms to meet their production numbers, Toews is happy to be growing crops that are consumed by people throughout Colorado. “Collaborating with Agra Tech enabled us to double our business and if we had the space, we could double the production again, because the demand is there. People want our lettuces and that is surely satisfying.”

Written by Ed Attanasio
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