Tag Archives: Hydroponics

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

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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

Parsons Homegrown Grows Tomatoes That Get Attention

Kelly Parson showing off her tomatoes grown in her Agra Tech greenhouse

Kelly Parsons showing off  tomatoes grown in their Agra Tech Solar Light greenhouse

The Parsons family grows grapes and tomatoes in Fulton, Calif., a farm they established in 1994. Today, Kelley and Tom Parsons at Parsons Homegrown grow some of the finest tomatoes in California, by using a greenhouse the couple purchased from Agra Tech, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of greenhouses designed for vegetable growing and all other types of greenhouse farming. Currently Parsons Homegrown grows three varieties of tomatoes–Favorita, a cherry tomato; Geronimo, a red beefsteak, and Yellow Boy, a yellow beefsteak.

The genesis of this thriving farm started randomly and unexpectedly in the early 1990s. Kelley was selling insurance and looking for a way to make a profit from the land they currently owned in Fulton. While working on insurance for a hydroponic greenhouse operation Kelly recognized that it might be a viable business for her and her family. The Parsons also starting growing grapes in 2001, when they replanted on old vineyard and now they sell 8.5 acres of pinot noir to Siduri Wines each year.

During that first year, Parsons Homegrown sold their tomatoes to Oliver’s Market in Cotati. By 1997, she became a vendor at the Santa Rosa Original Certified Farmers Market and at the Healdsburg Farmers Market. Today, she also attends the Windsor Farmers Market and sells to several other markets and restaurants.

“At the beginning, we were using a greenhouse provided by another company,” Parsons explained. “But we discovered that their greenhouse was not designed specifically for our part of California. It was designed more for a colder climate. So, I contacted Agra Tech and we knew right away that they were going to be a local supporter of our business. I like the fact that Agra Tech is nearby, so if we want to go there and meet with them, we have that option.”

The switch to an Agra Tech greenhouse has helped Parsons to produce amazing tomatoes time after time, she said. “We plant our tomato seeds in our 5,800-square foot Agra Tech greenhouse every September and in a typical season, the harvest begins in January. The greenhouse holds exactly 1,512 plants, yielding roughly 1,200 pounds of tomatoes  weekly. Solar panels deliver power for our fans, lights and irrigation and natural gas generates the heat the plants will need.”  When there is a surplus of tomatoes, Parsons calls in some volunteers to help harvest the tomatoes, which she then donates to local organizations such as The Living Room and the Redwood Empire Food Bank.

The tomato plants grow in purlite, a volcanic sand that is extremely light and airy.  As a hydroponic greenhouse operation, water does all the work by delivering nutrients to the plants and carrying away waste.

To do her due diligence and conduct research about the right way to use her Agra Tech greenhouse, Parsons visited Emerisa Gardens in Santa Rosa, CA, another Agra Tech customer. Emerisa Gardens  is a wholesale nursery that specializes in four-inch plants emphasizing hardy and unusual perennials, herbs, and ornamental grasses, and also carries a selection of perennials and shrubs in one-gallons, unusual and classic roses in both the one-gallon and five-gallon size and a selection of Phormiums primarily in one-gallons. It was an eye opener for Parsons and she was instantly sold on the Agra Tech greenhouses.

“I liked how the Agra Tech greenhouse looked and what a great job it was doing for the people at Emerisa Gardens,” Parsons said. “Ray Pound, owner of Ag Con Construction and part of the Agra Tech family,  actually came here and laid it out for us. He set the posts and delivered the parts and we really liked working with him. Everyone at Agra Tech is passionate about what they do and you can see it quickly that they’re dedicated to customer service.”

By using an Agra Tech commercial greenhouse, Parsons Homegrown is now a greener company, Parsons said. “We’re more sustainable now and I don’t have to take a lot of plastic to the dump anymore. We used to have to replace our roof on our former greenhouse all the time, but with our ATI greenhouse, we don’t need to replace anything. Now our fans aren’t on all the time, which saves us on energy, which is essential. If we want natural air, we simply open up the side vents, so it’s a much better setup overall.”

If you live in the Northern California’s North Bay, you can find them at Shelton’s Market and Big John’s Market in Healdsburg, Molsberry’s Market in Santa Rosa, Speers Market in Forestville and to all three Oliver’s Markets. John Ash & Co. and Rosso Pizzeria and the Duck Club in Bodega Bay also buy Parsons tomatoes. If you want to meet this passionate farmer, you can always find Kelley Parsons at her stall at the Santa Rosa Original Certified Farmers Market.

By Ed Attanasio

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Kelly Parsons and her beautiful tomatoes.