WGAP Tries Hand At Vertical Farming

What's growing in those planters made form PVC pipe? Food! Veggies,herbs and spices. This vertical garden is taking root at Washington Gorge Action Programs Food Bank, in Bingen. (submitted photo)

Those of us who do not want to be part of the problem, historically, must become part of the solution.

Today’s problems have many facets. Innovative solutions must be found. Humankind needs to adjust its methods to meet many of the basic challenges that it will inevitably face.

One of these essential dilemmas is food. How do we feed ourselves more efficiently? The world we’re in now is plagued by unpredictable weather, less arable land, less water, limited energy, fewer dedicated farmers, more invasive pests, growing demand, and so many food- insecure people with little or no personal resources.

Like a caveman to fire or the wheel, technology has enabled humans to survive and adapt for millions of years.

It should come as no surprise in this technological age that a truly amazing new technology has suddenly emerged: Vertical Soil-less Hydroponic Growing Towers. Vertical farming as a practice, has taken hold especially in areas where weather is particularly volatile, and space is at a premium. It is extremely sustainable, since it requires no machinery to prepare the medium, harvest or transport the produce.

Vertical farming uses 95% less water, 90% less land, and equals 80% more produce results per unit of area. Vertical farming produces healthier and higher yields much faster. The produce grows in environments less susceptible to the vagaries of temperatures, light and insects. Higher density, better nutrition, and superior taste are marked results of this method. Plus, it is seasonally immune.

As part of Washington Gorge Action Programs (WGAP), the Food Bank in Bingen has been providing vital public service for 50 years. In support of this good work, it was recently awarded a $3,000 grant from Gorge Community Foundation to install a small, indoor, vertical grow in the lobby, just to the right, inside the Food Bank itself.

“Thanks to the grant and special discounts from businesses in our area, (e.g., Ace Hardware and Napa Auto parts) we were able to create an L-shaped prototype using 4-inch PVC pipe that has been modified to hold plastic pockets for growing fresh greens, hydroponically, year-round. Water, light, stable temperature, and nutrition are the most important elements needed to grow luscious lettuce and herbs, indoors, “said WGAP Executive Director Leslie Naramore.

“We have now completed the first leg of this unique arrangement, using newly developed LED lights, and a modulated flow of water that re-circulates the nutrient rich liquid thru the towers 24 hours a day. The roots hang down inside the towers and receive this fortified organic moisture, continuously, while the vertical hanging lights are set on timers to give the plants a healthy dose of full spectrum, pseudo-sun, every day. All labor to set this up has been executed by knowledgeable volunteers. The effort has been estimated at well over 100 hours, thus far,” she added.  

Fresh greens from this tower system will be offered to the clients as available. After harvesting a head of lettuce, new starts will be placed in each pocket, to keep the circle of life, on-going.

“This is a work in progress, and only the first steps towards an innovative system that offers fresh organic produce year-round. Over time, and with continued funding, we look to expand in volume and variety,” said Naramore

“Also, we greatly appreciate all of the efforts of Oma Richmond and Lindy on behalf of our Food Bank. They volunteered many, many hours getting this system ready and teaching us how to use it and they really went above and beyond on this system. They are community treasures and we’re so lucky to have them here,” added Naramore.

Eventually, this living system will be managed by the Food Bank staff.

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