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Trevor Airola: The Student Becomes the Teacher

Trevor with the first group of FFA students to go through the program While most 24-year-olds are out there finding themselves and considering their career options, Trevor Airola has already landed the job of his life and if everything works out for the young man, it will be the only position he will ever hold.

A former graduate of the nationally renowned Agriculture Program at Bret Harte Union High School in Angels Camp, CA, Airola has returned to become an instructor for the school’s Agriculture Department after graduating from California State University, Chico with a BS in Agricultural Science in 2013.

Carrie Phillips, one of Airola’s teachers at Bret Harte, now works with Trevor. She recognized his enthusiasm for this field almost immediately, so she is not surprised that he is back as an instructor. “Oh absolutely, his passion was evident right away and he wanted to learn as much as he could,” she said. “Under the mentoring of Roy Beck, our former director (now retired), Trevor has accumulated extensive knowledge and is always excited to share it with his students. I predict a great future for Trevor as a teacher and a leader here at Bret Harte.”

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There are three pathways that agriculture students can choose from at Bret Harte High School, including Agriculture Science, in which they learn about basic plant and animal science, California agriculture, citizenship and leadership. The second pathway is agricultural mechanics, where they can study about things such as welding, woodworking and fabrication, for example. And the third pathway offered by the department is the horticultural concentration, dealing with subjects like floral design and plant science. For all of their classes every Ag student receives UC/CSU A-G credits upon completion.

Agra Tech’s Jim Bergantz is known as the school’s “Green Father”, because he has helped the program in so many ways, Airola explained. “Jim Bergantz is a wonderful person, because he cares about the greenhouse industry and is willing to consult us on how to do things the right way. He showed us what to plant and how to market it. He provided us with a manual that clearly describes each step and we refer to it often. We re-did our irrigation, made the greenhouse virtually turnkey and made it ready for plants. Without Jim and Agra Tech, we would not be where we are now.”

When Airola needed assistance with a greenhouse retrofit at a previous school, he called Bergantz for help. “I told him, I am going to need to contact Agra Tech and I asked him does he know anyone there?” Well, Jim told me–‘I am your guy’. He had just been hired as a sales rep by Agra Tech and I thought–wow, this is cool! So, by working with Agra Tech and Jim, we got it done!”

The Ag Department at Bret Harte is considered by many to be one of the best in the country, with one-third of the school’s enrollment involved in one or more of the school’s three pathways. “I used to have to recruit students to enter this program back when I was a student myself or when I was working with the department while attending college,” Airola said. “But, now that I am here–all of my classes are full. We have no more room so we’re literally turning kids away.”

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Newly married and now poised to perform at a high level in the best job he’ll ever have, he explained, Airola is both grateful and hopeful. “Yes, this is a dream job and a special opportunity. If I can even come close to filling Mr. Beck’s shoes after three decades in this position, I will be very happy. Teaching kids to becoming better people and leaders while showing them how to produce food–that’s a big deal.”

As the greenhouse growing industry continues to gain momentum, Airola believes that his students will be in a good position when they graduate from one of the pathways offered at Bret Harte. “There is a huge need for people who know how to manage greenhouses, so our graduates will be in demand. There are opportunities for college scholarships and so many other options for them to choose from. It is an exciting time in this industry, because of the technology and how it is changing all the time.”

So, in 30 years, when greenhouses produce a new crop every week and students drive autonomous cars to and from their personal greenhouses, will Trevor still be there showing them the way? “I sure hope so,” he said. “This is my hometown and I would really love to stay here for many, many years. As my students get out there in the industry, I am hoping that some of them too will come back and help us in some capacity, which would be great.”

Written by: Edmund Attanasio
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Agra Tech and Phoenix IRC Work Together to Create Community Farm

North Slope greenhouse

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic well being, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 26 U.S. cities helping people to survive, to reclaim control of their future and to strengthen their communities. Recently, Agra Tech, a leading manufacturer of commercial greenhouses, played an integral role in helping IRC in Phoenix, AZ to establish a small greenhouse in conjunction with their New Roots Program.

The New Roots Program is designed to help refugee farming families achieve food security, self-sufficiency and economic empowerment through their agricultural businesses. To achieve these, the IRC provides the following services to help new Arizonan farmers/ranchers: Agricultural education and business training; Agricultural business development; and Community agricultural partnerships.

koffi_newrootsWith three community gardens, aquaponics, and more than 100 participants gardening, the IRC in Phoenix provides training for new producers at multiple farmers markets around town and currently has program participants selling at four different farmers’ markets, three popup stands, and multiple retail locations. By also providing a John Deere tractor, implements, hand tools, processing supplies, and marketing supplies, the farmers involved are set up for success. Partners for the program include Rotary Club, Vitalyst Health Foundation, City of Phoenix, Redemption Church, Hickman’s Eggs, United Dairymen of Arizona.

By playing an active role in affecting city policy surrounding community gardens and farmers’ markets, the New Roots Program has changed the way people in low income areas attain food in Phoenix. Tristan Dunton, 25, is the Community Garden and Hydroponics Coordination and part of the New Roots Farm Program. We sat down with Dunton recently to discuss his most recent project and how Agra Tech, Inc. in Pittsburg, CA helped to make it all happen.

Q: Tell us about the genesis of your project for IRC Phoenix.
A: The project started in 2014 with the support of the Steele Foundation, and in the process we were involved in changing policy. Back in 2012, the city in conjunction with some people at IRC Phoenix developed the Community Garden Policy that allows us to build anything under 200square feet without electricity hookups and without a permit. Obviously, anything larger or, requiring an electrical hookup, requires a permit. Before we began this project, we had to get the language of the policy clarified, because without it we were going to have difficulty getting our greenhouse going–which we did.

Q: Tell us the genesis of your current project and how it came to fruition?
A: Right after getting hired by the IRC Phoenix, we signed a 10-year lease at a one-acre lot on 1616 Camelback Road. According to the City of Phoenix, any structure more than 200 square feet requires a permit. So, we needed to navigate through the process and make this happen without getting seriously delayed. We were moving a little faster than the City, so that’s where we encountered some problems. Long story short, we got our permit in January of this year, so I started working with local engineers to make it happen. It was pretty amazing. We started construction earlier this year and we just finished about a month ago.

Q: You ran into some obstacles along the way. Can you describe them?
A: Yes, it was definitely a learning process and I had to be a quick study on city politics as a result. First, I didn’t know how to formalize the language to represent the project appropriately. I had to define what I was building, which is a community garden greenhouse. When I called it a “teaching greenhouse” I think the city started looking at us as a school, which we are not. So, there was a period of time there where it looked daunting. But, with the help of a civil engineer, a local architect and a contractor–we eventually got it done.

Q: How is your community garden greenhouse doing currently?
A: It’s been great! The Agra Tech greenhouse looks beautiful and we already have so many people involved in the project. People in this area get limited access to fresh food and this project is going to change that. We’re receiving a ton of support from the community and people are volunteering right and left.

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Q: What are you growing?
A: Tomatoes, peppers and lettuce will be our main cash crops, but we will also be growing things like celery, turnip greens, Swiss chard and other items like that. The real important thing about our system is that we will be able to grow food year-round. We also plan to eventually raise tilapia here as well. The grant that we received for this project was to build a greenhouse and by the third year of funding we have to be 100% sustainable. We’re technically on our second year, so we have much to do.

Q: What was Agra Tech’s role in helping you with this project?
A: They were terrific. I guess I pretty much dealt with everyone there at Agra Tech at some point. Everyone was super friendly and really helpful. Jim Bergantz was a great proprietor on this project and he got back to us promptly every time. Anita Pound and James Roberts, their technical guy, was exceptional. They have so much knowledge and they’ve been doing this for so long that that working with them was a no-brainer.

Q: What do you think the future of 1616 Camelback Road will be like?
A: If we can grow food to feed the people of Phoenix and on top of that, sell much of it to make enough money for us to be sustainable, that will be very satisfying, to say the least. Now that we have a great greenhouse and are finally here growing food, I think we’ll achieve some impressive things here rather quickly.

Aquaponics tank
Aquaponics tank

Ed Attanasio Written by Edmund Attanasio

Micro Paradox Acquires Greenhouse System Designed and Installed by ATI

Randhawa Ventures getting started

Always on the cutting-edge of the commercial greenhouse industry, Agra Tech of Pittsburg, CA and Micro Paradox of Pleasant Grove, CA worked in close conjunction to create a commercial greenhouse system that is unique and unprecedented.

Micro Paradox provides high-quality clonal rootstock to orchard owners and nursery growers, consisting of clonal rootstocks for walnuts, cherries, pistachios and almonds. In addition to providing rootstock, the company can also do custom projects by providing customers with specific types of clonal rootstalks.

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Dr. Parm Randhawa

With over 20 years of experience in the seed health industry through CSP Labs, Micro Paradox was founded by Dr. Parm Randhawa in 2010 to provide high superior rootstock to growers worldwide. In addition, he is also the founder and owner of California Seed and Plant Lab, Inc. (CSP Labs), a company that performs seed health testing for the vegetable seed industry. The company was incorporated in 1998 and expanded its services to include seed germination, seed purity, disease diagnosis, resistance screening, hybrid purity, variety fingerprinting and Non-GMO testing.

CSP Labs is located on-site in a separate facility from Micro Paradox but located on the same property. “This close proximity enables us to conduct high quality testing of our products,” Randhawa said. “It’s convenient and useful, because it saves us time and allows us to work without interruption.”

A clonal rootstock is a vegetatively propagated (cloned) rootstock. Rather than using germinated seedling rootstock, nursery owners and growers can carefully select a clonal rootstock of their choice. This clonal rootstock, in turn, can be “budded” to a variety of the grower’s choice, according to www.microparadox.com.

Clonal rootstocks from Micro Paradox are superior over seedling rootstocks, because the latter suffer from genetic variability in that one seedling is different from the other seedling and their perforwalnutProductmance is unreliable. An orchard produced from seedlings may not be productive as some seedlings may lead to inferior trees, Randhawa explained.

“Clonal plants from high-quality trees are genetically alike and therefore perform similar to such characters as vigor, uniformity, budding compatibility, disease resistance and yield,” rootstockPicRandhawa said. “Clones are generally well studied and their characteristics documented by multi-year research before their release to the growers. For example, our walnut clone VX 211 is resistant to nematodes and this resistance lasts for the life time of the tree planted in soils containing nematodes.”

Micro Paradox is well-known for producing some of the best clonal rootstocks in the world. “Several companies can clone walnuts but a very few are good at it,” Parm said. “We are good at it and our reputation lies in “trees with good roots”. Our trees have roots that are at 45 degree from stem, multiple and air pruned to provide an edge when planted in a nursery row or in the orchard.”

“Our process is simple to produce high quality trees,” Randhawa said. “By establishing a contamination-free clone in tissue culture in the lab and increasing cloning in the lab to generate large number of very healthy cuttings, we then root them in the laboratory to a well-rooted plug. Once we’ve established the plug to a well-rooted plant in the greenhouse, we let it grow to a specific size. Then, it’s ready for sale.”

Randhawa was already familiar with Agra Tech, because they had acquired several commercial greenhouses from the company for CSP Labs, but this project for Micro Paradox was a completely different project with different specs and a lot of design required. “This was a truly groundbreaking project and we knew that a lot of the work would have to be custom,” Randhawa said. “By working closely with all of the people at Agra Tech, including John Pound, Ray Pound and Anita Pound and our sales rep, Jim Bergantz, we were able to get this greenhouse and all of its systems up and running by February of this year.”

2015-08 Randhawa 21By designing and building an Agra Tech  Sawtooth framework greenhouse featuring seven separate rooms for different stages of growing, it includes 7 energy curtain systems; connecting doors to each chamber; heating and cooling systems. It also includes a mobile tray system with six transfer carts and a complete railing system to move the trays throughout the entire greenhouse; a Biotherm under bench heating system: a True Leaf Fog system in each of the seven rooms and seven separate center water drip water brooms. It’s a huge project, but after it was completely designed, it took less than six months to make it 100% operable.

Everyone at Micro Paradox is thrilled by the results of their new system and relieved that it went so well. “The customer service provided by Agra Tech has always been exceptional and on this project they really did a spectacular job,” Parm said. “They did their research and came up with solutions that were designed specifically for us. We asked them a ton of questions and they answered all of them promptly and accurately.

“The greenhouse was built by Ag-Con and Ray Pound made it a seamless process, he said. “Every time we needed something–they were right there. It took about six months to get everything up-and-running and today we’re happy to say that our greenhouse is half full already. When we reach our goals, it will be more like three quarters full, which will be full capacity, because, of course, we will always have root stalks being shipped out to our customers.”

Randhawa AgCon Construction

Ag-con Construction

Ed

by Ed Attanasio