Tag Archives: #Agra Tech

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

The Burchell Nursery Takes on Enormous Project with the Help of Agra Tech

By embarking on an ambitious three-phase project consisting of a screen house, a head house and a greenhouse for insect exclusion and a standalone propagation house in conjunction with Agra Tech, Inc., the Burchell Nursery is poised to start a new chapter in almond and citrus tree production.

The story of growth at Burchell Nursery is astounding and takes place in both Fowler and Oakdale, CA.  Since its inception in 1942, the operation has grown from 10,000 trees annually to over 3 million; 1.5 acres to more than 1,000; and from 5,000 square feet of greenhouse space to more than 130,000. This third-generation company is literally growing in front of our eyes and now their current project is taking them to a whole new level.

It all began in 1942 with “one man, a small patch of land and a very big belief”, according to the nursery’s website.  The man was Irvin Burchell, who started with an acre and a half acre of good Central Valley land on the outskirts of Modesto, CA.  With a B.S. from UC Berkeley in Pomology (the science and culture of fruits) Burchell began growing peach trees.  Today, Burchell Nursery grows more than 300 varieties of almond, apricot, cherry, nectarine, peach, plum, prune, and walnut trees.  The nursery has also patented more than 80 of these varieties over the past 75 years and also grows pomegranate, citrus and olive trees, plus a few ornamental varieties as well.

Burchell Peaches. Yum!

Beginning in the 1960s, Burchell Nursery worked to eliminate viruses from commercial tree varieties and establish clean sources of bud wood.  Their ongoing sampling process to ensure virus-free trees became the model that is now used by the State of California and their certified and  virus-free selections are now known as Healthy Start Trees.™

In 1970, Irvin’s son Bill Burchell took over the nursery’s reins and oversaw explosive growth, including the addition of 700 acres in Oakdale, CA; opening its Fowler branch in 1983; and its first greenhouse in 2000.

In 2004, Bill handed the business over to his son, Tom Burchell.  While some experts estimate only ten percent of the nation’s 2.1 million farms survive to the third generation of family ownership, Tom has seized the opportunity and helped the nursery to grow even more.  His stewardship has also advanced the firm’s breeding program, which currently holds more than 44 patented varieties to its credit and more coming each year.

Greenhouse Manager Jeremy Bahne, 39, has been working at Burchell since 2006 and has 17 years of total experience in the industry.  He has been leading the team as they coordinate a large, four-phase greenhouse project that includes a head house, a screen house, a greenhouse, and an additional standalone propagation greenhouse, all provided by Agra Tech of Pittsburg, CA, and built by Ag-Con of San Jose, CA.

Bahne explained each component within the project: “One of these structures is our propagation facility and the other, our citrus complex, was designed primarily to achieve Asian Citrus Psyllid exclusion,” he said.  “This was built in three phases.  When we started the project, we were anticipating the coming of the Asian Citrus Psyllid, so we started with a one-acre screen house to keep these pests out while complying with CDFA and USDA regulations.  After the one acre of screen we added the headhouse and 1/2 acre of greenhouse, and we will eventually be adding another 1/2 acre of greenhouse in the future.”

Ray Pound of Ag-Con discusses construction with the greenhouse manager in one of the screen houses.

“The screen house is one of Agra Tech’s Insulator series and is 312 ft. long 140 ft. wide,” Bahne explained. “We will be using it as a ‘hardening off’ facility to toughen up the young citrus plants before they enter the real world.  It’s a good way to reduce the humidity while protecting the plants from insects and we can also use it for frost protection during part of the year.  The temperatures in the screen house are similar to those outside, but we have more control there and can keep the pests out.”

The Burchell Nursery grows 30-inch tall citrus trees, mostly mandarin oranges, lemons and grapefruits. The other commodities they grow have different height standards, but commercial citrus growers prefer them at that size and the nursery has become very good at accommodating them, Bahne said.

Phase 2 of the citrus project is a head house where Bahne’s crew can work on citrus plants without exposing them to any insects and acting as the main conduit between Burchell’s greenhouse growing area that is a little more sophisticated and with more bells and whistles.  “We will be able to use this head house to move plants from our greenhouse into our screen house to harden them without worrying about exposure to the Asian Citrus Psyllid,” Bahne said.

The second project is a propagation house, which is a 1/2 acre structure where Burchell will propagate things like rootstocks and other products that they sell such as vegetative cuttings and tissue culture of rootstocks that are used for almond and peach production and other fruit and nut trees for retail garden centers.

Bahne is delighted to be working with Agra Tech on this enormous project because he values the company’s knowledge, experience and expertise in every facet of greenhouse construction and design, he said.  “Jim Bergantz, our Agra Tech rep, played a huge role with this project and he couldn’t have been more agreeable.  One of the best things about hiring Agra Tech is that you also get Ag-Con, which is great.  They have done all of the construction for each phase and it has been amazing.  Ray Pound and the job foreman, Jaime, are on top of everything and their problem-solving skills have been very helpful.”

A drive-through breezeway from screen house to the Solar Light headhouse area without allowing insects in.

Bahne talked to three different companies before signing with Agra Tech, he said.  “They came back with a plan that was flexible and they we’re really willing to work with us at a reasonable price.  We met with them and they helped us adjust the design.  What they came up with was very similar to our original design, but they made it much more practical.  They thought about things that we didn’t think of and that was a big deal, to say the least!”

Written by Ed Attanasio
TrustED Advertising

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.”


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.”

BrettHart Students transplanting50

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
TrustED Advertising