Tag Archives: #Natural Ventilation

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.


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

Lassen Canyon Nursery Produces the World’s Finest Strawberry Plants

Lassen Canyon new Solar Light

Founded in the 1950s, the Lassen Canyon Nursery grows a quarter billion strawberry plants in California, Mexico and China every year while also growing hay on 930 acres. With its headquarters in Redding, CA and multiple locations worldwide, this company is well-known for producing strawberry plants that are healthy and strong for their customers all over the world, including huge growers (such as Dole, Sweet Darling and Naturipe Farms) all the way to small do-it-yourselfers with modest backyard gardens.

Clip_2Pete Stone, 57, has been working for the nursery for the past 30 years. He started out in the office and today he is the company’s Tissue Culture Lab Manager and also in charge of its Caneberry Project. The caneberry is a family of delicate berries that grow on tough but thin woody canes and thrive in a cool, moist climate. Caneberries include raspberries, blackberries and boysenberries and the company is currently performing research in order to produce caneberry plants that will be healthy and thriving in any environment.

Lassen Canyon Nursery is a long-time customer of Agra Tech, Inc., commercial greenhouse manufacturers. Stone has a total of eight greenhouses that were purchased from Agra Tech and has plans to buy eight more in the very near future. He values Agra Tech’s knowledge and experience and often relies on them for new, innovative ways to be productive and efficient.

One of these ideas concerned rolling benches for Stone and his operation, he explained. “Jim Bergantz at Agra Tech and I started talking about rolling benches and we wanted them too, but previously we were using solid benches and they offered us zero flexibility. These rolling benches give us a large walkway that can be moved and they allow us to use every square inch of our greenhouse. They make a lot of sense and have already paid for themselves, because now we’re saving time and we’ve increased our volume as a result.”

Rolling Benches

Lassen Canyon Nursery uses two types of structures to grow strawberry plants and perform research and development—screen houses and greenhouses, Stone explained. “We use our screen houses that don’t have real walls—they’re made out of screens, because we want that chill on the berries. For that reason, they’re not completely enclosed. Then, we use our conventional greenhouses primarily for seeding the strawberries and taking them through their formative weeks. The two have very distinct functions and that’s why they look so different.”


Ray Poundagcon

Stone called upon Ag-Con, Inc. in San Jose, CA to construct the new greenhouses, an experience Stone said was seamless and drama-free. “Ray Pound and Lisa Schultz at Ag-Con make an amazing team and they made the construction easy for us. They built all eight of our greenhouses for us and they took roughly a week to do each one—complete and ready to use. I would suggest to anyone that they should use Ag-Con for the construction, because they’re totally professional and great to work with. They know how to get the right permits, which is a big part of the process and if they run into obstacles, they know how to take care of it, which is important.”

Starting in September, the strawberry plants go out to be grown in soil by Lassen Canyon’s thousands of customers. “Our goal is to ship the strawberry plants and have them in the soil within 72 hours,” Stone said. “Right before we ship them, we expose them to 240 hours at 45 degrees, so that we trick them and they store energy. That way, they are robust and ready for planting once they reach our customers’ farms. In 60-90 days, our customers will have beautiful, juicy strawberries that are consistently of the highest quality you’ll find anywhere.”

The future looks berry, berry good for Lassen Canyon Nursery, according to Stone. “We’re going to expand and get more greenhouses to accommodate our Caneberry Project as well as increase our volume overall. In everything we do, were looking for a better berry so that when they show up in grocery store produce departments, they look right and taste right. By working with Agra Tech and Ag-Con we’re able to excel and grow as we strive to find the perfect berry!”

Lassen North Slope inside

Lassen North Slope inside


Seeds and Transplants Help Keithly-Williams to Grow

Thermolator 35 transplant house

Keithly-Williams new Agra Tech Thermolator 35 transplant houses

Keithly-Williams has been one of the world’s leading growers of vegetable and fruit seeds for nearly three decades and is known for providing high-quality seeds to farmers worldwide. Through its highly-trained and knowledgeable sales force, Keithly-Williams has been making its customers happy since 1981, led by Kelly Keithly, age 70, who has been in the seed-growing industry for nearly half a century and has seen it evolve at a rapid rate. Keithly started back in 1970 as a seed salesman and today he runs a large operation that grows seeds and also grows transplants for farmers throughout the country.

29 years ago, Keithly-Williams Seeds was founded in response to one very significant need for a wide variety of quality vegetable seed products, according to Kelly Keithly. “We realized that it’s much easier for farmers to buy seeds as opposed to growing their own for a lot of reasons. For a farmer to grow seeds, he has to commit to that part of the business—they can’t do both. Plus, our seeds are of the highest quality anywhere. We’re constantly looking for the best seeds that will produce the best crops, so we’re continually testing different hybrid varieties; in order to see if they will flourish out in the field. Our clients value that knowledge and our experience and that’s why we’ve been successful producing quality, healthy seeds for so many years.”

Seven years ago, the company began taking its seeds and growing them into transplants for re-sale to farmers. To achieve this, Keithly-Williams began purchasing greenhouses to produce the transplants and rather quickly this nursery became an integral part of the company. With its state-of –the-art nursery facility in Holtville, CA (two hours East from San Diego, CA) Keithly-Williams grows a wide range of quality vegetable transplants for growers in its region, with a list that goes from artichokes all the way seedless watermelons and anything else you can imagine in between.

Thermolator 35 with drop walls

Thermolator 35 x 8′ eave height with drop down walls

Nursery Manager Paul Chambers has seen the company’s transplants division grow and today he oversees 40 greenhouses, 16 of which were purchased from Agra Tech, Inc. in Pittsburg, CA. Agra Tech designs and manufactures commercial greenhouses and accessories as well as distributing a wide range of equipment for commercial, horticultural, and agricultural growers, retail nurseries, research and education facilities.


Agra Tech’s Jim Bergantz

Most recently, Chambers worked closely with Agra Tech and its representative Jim Bergantz to coordinate the acquisition of the 16 greenhouses. Kira Construction assembled and built the greenhouses and the entire process from start to finish took only six months, Chambers said. “Agra Tech and Kira Construction helped us to make this process as seamless as it could possibly be. Agra Tech has been doing this for a very long time and we’ve definitely benefitted from their experience and expertise. Jim came here several times, which is quite a drive and every time we talked to him he was giving us great ideas—real solutions. The greenhouses are up and running and doing exactly what we expect them to do—producing transplants that are healthy and ready for the field.”

Many farmers prefer transplants over seeds for a plethora of reasons, Chambers explained. “If a farmer plants a seed, they are a lot of intangibles, because you can’t be precise and plant uniformity can often be compromised. Plus, when you water crops in the field, you have to water the entire field, which obviously wastes a ton of water. Using our techniques, each transplant gets just the water it needs. For instance, in just one of our one-acre greenhouses, we can grow the equivalent of 80 acres of seedless watermelon transplants. So, you can easily see that there is a huge savings in water right there.”

Also, in-ground growers can be confident that the transplants they get from Keithly-Williams are disease-free. “All of our transplants never touch the ground, because we grow them on benches. We keep our growing environment clean and we’re able to control all of the factors (heat, no insects, humidity, etc.) and that means our transplants are going to grow up to be strong and vibrant.”

By taking these baby plants and helping them as they enter adolescence, Chambers takes on the responsibility of raising all the company’s fledgling plants carefully and with the utmost care. “In essence, they are indeed babies and for the first two months of their lives, we’re taking care of them. They go from being in a small plug to being in a big field and we make sure that they’re going to make it to our markets and eventually onto our tables.”

Article by Edmund Attanasio

Drop walls on Thermolator 35 transplant house

Drop sidewalls on Thermolator 35 transplant house allow maximum ventilation and access through the sidewalls