Tag Archives: Hydroponics

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

Agra Tech Plays a Role in the Helical Outpost® Project

Helical Agra Tech

As one of the world’s leading manufacturers of commercial greenhouses, Agra Tech in Pittsburg, CA is always looking for new and innovative ways to improve the industry and a huge part of that is acting as consultants for cutting-edge companies. One of these examples is their involvement in the Helical Outpost® project, a sustainable, state-of-the-art, plug-and-play food, water, electricity and communication system that comes in a box and can be easily transported. It is intended to create global goodwill, reduce poverty and hunger and improve health for communities here in the United States and worldwide.

So, what exactly is a Helical Outpost®, designed and manufactured Helical Holdings, a company with its headquarters in Lafayette, LA? Well, in simple terms, it is a sustainable, integrated, and relocatable hydroponic greenhouse and power station featuring satellite Internet access and a water filtration system that produces up to 2,000 gallons of clean water daily, generating up to 10.8 kilowatt hours of commercial grade solar power and yields approximately 2,300 crop units per week.

Helical Agra Tech The-Outpost-can-utlize-several-different-growing-setups_-shown-here-is-a-hybrid-set-up_-half-NFT-and-half-vining-crops

Inside Agra Tech Insulator 30 greenhouse with NFT Hydroponics and Vine crops

The growing capacity with the Helical Outpost is impressive and designed to have an immediate impact on a community’s food and entrepreneurship options rather quickly once implemented. Its hydroponic farm uses 80% less water and produces more produce in 6,000 square feet than the equivalent of 3 acres of conventional farming in the soil.  All of these resources unpack from a shipping container with plug and play capabilities that can be easily deployed nearly anywhere in the world, according to the company’s website.


Helical leaf-lettuce


Helical lettuce

Lettuce ready to pick

How did this amazing project begin and how many Helical Outposts are currently in operation? We asked Helical Co-founder, Kohlie Frantzen. “We were inspired by the experiences of combat veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan witnessing the need for basic resources like food, water, electricity and communications,” he said, noting that the veterans observed, “If a man’s family is starving and he doesn’t have any options, when someone asks him to pick up a gun in return for food for his family, he will likely do it. But if he has options and his family is fed, he is more likely to say no to something like that.” Frantzen noted, “There are currently two Outposts up and running in Virginia and Louisiana. Both of these Outposts are training hubs for veterans to learn how the Helical Outpost operates and is used for fresh, local produce.”


Helical kids-humanitarian-relief

The concept is to provide humanitarian relief anywhere it is needed.

Interestingly, Frantzen noted that the need for Outpost standardization and relocatability is not limited to international applications. “We discovered the need for accessible resources is just as important across town as it is across the world.”

To refine and develop the concept, Frantzen decided to tap into the experience and knowledge offered by Agra Tech for advice about the greenhouse aspect of the Helical Post project. “The people at Agra Tech are committed to the greenhouse industry and we could see instantly that they wanted to be involved in some capacity,” he said. “Adam Pound and the rest of the Pound family brought their knowledge and skills to this project to come up with solutions that would work for us. We were working on making it as modular as it can be and also standardization is another big factor. We now have a standard system that can easily be set up and integrated into the community quickly and Agra Tech played a role in all of that.”

With a promising future and a goal of changing the world one Helical Outpost at a time, Frantzen is hopeful and not afraid to imagine big things. “In the song Imagine by John Lennon it says–‘You can say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.  And I hope someday you’ll join us…’ We have a group of artists, scientists, fabricators, war veterans and other great innovators working on this project and none of us are afraid to imagine and dream about a great future. This project will always be changing and evolving as technology evolves and changes,” he said. For instance, solar panels became more powerful and affordable now than when we began the project. If we could have 1,000 Outposts out there in the world helping communities to solve so many issues they currently face–that would be phenomenal. As we strategically rollout this solution and it continually proves itself and gets better, while working with Agra Tech and other industry leaders, we can only anticipate big, big things.”

Article by Edmund Attanasio

Helical AgraTech Lights

Commercial Greehouse - Noth Slope

War Veteran/Second-Generation Farmer Embraces Greenhouse Way

Commercial Greehouse - Noth Slope
Eric Boyd, 29, grew up on a 16-acre family farm in San Luis Obispo, CA., so he knows that farm work is hard and the hours are long. But, through a life-changing series of events, Boyd is now farming at his family farm but in a different way–by using a commercial greenhouse that he purchased from Agra Tech, Inc., one of the world’s leading manufacturers of commercial greenhouses and greenhouse growing systems.

Boyd joined the army at the age of 17 as a Cavalry Scout with his brother and served two tours in Iraq. He was shot in the leg and has a Purple Heart as a result.  In 2006, he returned to his hometown and started strategizing his next move. “I decided to go to school at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo and studied soil science. I’ve always been interested in soil management. While I was attending Cal Poly, I found out about Archi’s Acres.”

Commercial Greenhouse - North SlopeArchi’s Acres is an organization that teaches military veterans about how to start sustainable, hydroponic, greenhouse, organic farms.  To reach out to these veterans and give a hand up (not a hand out), Colin and Karen Archipley created the Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training (VSAT) program, an intensive six-week agriculture entrepreneur school.  By making business opportunities available to veterans through farming, and capturing the entrepreneurial spirit with rigorous training, Archi’s Acres has helped countless veterans to pursue careers in farming nationwide.

Boyd wasn’t initially excited about the prospect of becoming a career farmer after graduating from Cal Poly last year, he said. “I wanted to do something with my B.S. in Soil Science and I certainly didn’t want to work at a farm. I grew up doing that—pulling weeds and running the tractor and living that life 24/7, so I didn’t want to spend my life working that hard. I saw what Archi’s Acres was doing, so I thought why not give it a try? I got a scholarship to attend their program, so I went ahead and did it.”

It was a fruitful undertaking, to say the least and it changed his mind about farming.  “At Archi’s Acres, I learned the basics of growing crops hydroponically in a greenhouse environment,” Boyd said. “But more importantly, they taught me some business skills—how to get funding, how to manage the business and how to do a business plan.”

After graduating from the program at Archi’s Acres, Boyd was highly prepared and poised to take on the world of hydroponic greenhouse farming. “With a full business plan ready to go, I was able to walk into the offices at the Farm Service Agency and get a loan at a great rate. It allowed me to put up my Agra Tech greenhouse and start my farm.”

Boyd sells his products with his family at farmer’s markets and Eric’s mother and his sister’s family is still running the family farm. But now, there is a 4,300 square-foot commercial Agra Tech greenhouse on their property and it’s called Pepper Creek Farms. “I have one quarter of an acre and that’s where I set up my greenhouse,” Boyd said. “I don’t need a lot of space and I can produce a ton of vegetables quickly. Coming from a background of conventional in-ground farming, this is the best way to go for what I’m growing. I’ve only been doing this since April, but I already love it.”

Pepper Creek Farms is currently producing leafy vegetables, primary lettuces and with an emphasis on Asian greens such as Bok Choy and Tatsoi, for example. The farm also grows living lettuces with root balls, which means they can stay fresh and last up to three weeks, if watered properly and/or kept in the refrigerator.

By growing a wide range of different leafy vegetables, Boyd was able to find the ideal crops for his operation, he explained. “I have tried 28 different varieties since I started to see what will grow well and what people want. Now I’m down to growing four types of Asian greens and I’m comfortable with that.”

Boyd is also selling his produce directly to chefs at top local restaurants, he said, benefitting from some free meals as a result. “I grow some specialty items for certain restaurants, such as watercress,” Boyd said. “The chefs will invite me in and ask me to try their dishes using my products and I really enjoy that. We sell directly to restaurants, because they value the organic, sustainable nature of what we’re growing.”

Boyd is a rookie when it comes to greenhouse growing, but he loves the challenge and wants to thank all of the people who helped him on the journey that has taken him to Pepper Creek Farms. “Adam Pound, Jim Bergantz and James Roberts from Agra Tech were great and, of course, Colin and Karen at Archi’s Acres deserve my thanks. The people from American Hydro are also amazing. I’m learning more every day about this type of farming and I can see a great future for me. My hope is to expand and get another greenhouse eventually and start growing other types of things, as well as start selling to grocery stores in my area.”

Article by Ed Attanasio

North Slope greenhouse