If you were to drop by Fountain House for lunch one day, you might notice the fresh, tender greens heaped on the salad bar and think, “They must pay a fortune for that beautiful produce!” But chances are, it was just harvested from the 165 square foot hydroponic grow room located within the Horticulture Unit. Constructed in partnership with Boswyck Farms, an innovator in urban agriculture, the hydroponic system yielded its first crop of lettuce in December. By mid-February, we expect to harvest between 40 – 60 heads a week.
Dating back to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, hydroponics, at its most basic, is the growing of plants without soil. Plants are cultivated directly in water or using media such as gravel or sawdust. An enriched solution is circulated through the system so that the plants’ roots are bathed in nutrients. This efficient agricultural method uses 70 – 90% less water and produces two to three times the crop yield compared to growing in soil.
Last spring, Horticulture Unit Leader Elliott Madison contacted Lee Mandell, Chief Hydroponicist at Boswyck Farms, to explore the possibility of implementing a hydroponics system at Fountain House. The Horticulture Unit had already been working to increase our capacity for food production through a rooftop gardening initiative and by expansion of the gardens at our High Point Farm in New Jersey. A group of members and staff went to visit Boswyck Farms and contracted with them to design and build our system.
“The hydroponics project is just one part of a larger initiative called ‘Closing the Loop,’” explained Elliott. “’Closing the Loop’ is the idea that Horticulture and High Point Farm can produce to meet the needs of many of our community’s projects. Eventually, we want to produce the bulk, if not all, of our produce, resulting in sustainable, organic food for our community and allowing greater opportunities for members to be involved in a wide range of interesting horticultural projects.”
And you can’t beat the salad.