Vertifarms by Olivia Pontiff

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Vertifarms is the brainchild of Douglas Jacobs and Kevin Morgan-Rothschild. Born in New Orleans only a couple of years ago, this aeroponic and aquaponic company is bringing local and sustainable produce to New Orleans. You may not have heard of aeroponic or aquaponic growing systems, but Jacobs and Morgan-Rothschild believe it is the solution to growing year round produce in major urban areas, such as New Orleans, that have little access to local and sustainable foods. Vertifarms is currently using aeroponic technology to grow over 40 pounds of basil a week at Rouses’ Market in the French quarter. This aeroponic system includes a BPA-free plastic tower that pumps water from the reservoir at the bottom of the system, passes through a nutrient solution, and trickles down through the plants, providing oxygen, water, and nutrients. This system needs no dirt, uses very little water, and stacking the towers up to eight feet tall, is able to grow 44 plants per six square feet.

Vertifarms is also working on an aquaponic demonstration system at the Hollygrove Market and Farm. An aquaponic system creates a symbiotic relationship between fish and produce. A fish tank is hooked up to the watering system of the plants (in Vertifarm’s case, lettuce). The waste from the fish provides nutrients to the plants. The plants, in turn, clean the water for the fish. Aquaponics, like aeroponics, do not need soil. The plants float in foam insulation in the water, and the water usage is therefore greatly reduced from usual planting requirements. These floating systems can be stacked around five systems tall, also allowing for high yield in a small area. This system, using natural fertilizer, no dirt, little water, and a small footprint is both sustainable and able to produce a harvest year round.

VertiFarms’s focus is on the importance of growing sustainable food in new and inventive ways. According the Tulane School of Public health, about two-thirds of New Orleans land contains dangerous levels of lead, which may be due to the demolition of homes containing lead following Hurricane Katrina. Vertifarm’s growing methods avoid lead-dirt contamination, and also allow for mass production in a small footprint.

Mass production in a small footprint is an important issue in low-income, high-density areas of New Orleans such as Broadmoor, Uptown-Carrolton, and the Lower Ninth Ward, where food deserts have risen following Hurricane Katrina. Vertifarms is providing a growing system that allows local small businesses to produce sustainable food on their own rooftops. In working with the Hollygrove Market and Farm, VertiFarms is working to introduce their cutting edge methods to the urban farmers of New Orleans and the local community. In this way they hope to provide both new knowledge and opportunity in urban New Orleans.

My work with VertiFarms began at their idea to create a hydoponic rooftop system. A few months ago Kevin Morgan-Rothschild told me about their plans to build a mobile hydroponic farm in a shipping container. As an architecture student invested in sustainable design the idea greatly interested me.

During my summer internship I am using my previous research on sustainable architecture to design a (hopefully) net zero energy and low water use mobile urban farm. This would be built and assembled in a warehouse, containing everything needed for plant production, and delivered to the rooftop site, ready to produce. To accomplish this I am outfitting a shipping container with a cooling system (for cooling plants in the summer), a watering system, and energy to run the farm.

I began by looking for sustainable materials to insulate the container. Sustainable materials are particularly important in this project because the air quality in the container will determine the chemical make-up and potential pollutants in the plants. I am now beginning to design a sustainable ventilation system that will focus on air quality and low energy usage. We are also planning to place PV panels (solar panels) and rain harvesting equipment on the roof. This will provide the energy and water necessary for the farm in a sustainable, self-contained manner.

I remember fondly when, about two years ago, Kevin Morgan-Rothschild showed me a small contraption in his basement containing a fish tank and some produce. He had a grand idea to bring a new urban farming system to New Orleans. When I first saw this contraption it seemed far-fetched. “This is a labor of love. ” Stated Morgan-Rothchild, “Sometimes we [four of us] work two hours to harvest $32 dollars of lettuce. ” However, Jacobs and Morgan-Rothchild’s hard work and determination have begun to pay off. They now have over 100 aeroponic systems in the city and one large hydroponic system at Hollygrove Market and Farm.

VertiFarms saw the potential New Orleans had to offer and are growing a great catalyst for the city.

References

Goodier, Robert. “How to Build a Vertical Aquaponic System.” Engineering for Change. Engineering for

Change, 14 Mar. 2012. Web. 28 June 2013.

Mowbray, Rebecca. “’Food Deserts’ Targeted by $3 Million Federal Grant.” The Times-Picayune. NOLA Media Group, 09 Oct. 2011. Web. 28 June 2013.

Schleifstein, Mark. “Dangerous Lead Levels Found in Nearly Two-thirds of New Orleans Homes, Tulane Study

Says.” The Times-Picayune. NOLA Media Group, 14 Nov. 2011. Web. 28 June 2013.

“VertiFarms DESIGN BUILD FARM.” VertiFarms DESIGN BUILD FARM. Drupal Gardens, n.d. Web. 28 June 2013.

“Welcome To A “Green” FutureGrowing Healthy And Sustainable Food!” Future Growing® LLC. Future Growi

ng® LLC, n.d. Web. 28 June 2013.

Pictures all by Olivia Pontiff

Additional information about Vertifarms from Kevin Morgan-Rothschild C.O.O. VertiFarms

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