Category Archives: Structure

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 with any questions regarding the farm and hydroponic project.

Article by Ed Attanasio of 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


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
TrustED Advertising