The sky’s the limit for vertical farms

by / Saturday, 23 March 2013 / Published in News
Montecito Urban Farms owner Alex Thomson has always wanted to grow his own food. His farm, located in Summerland, includes more than 100 8-foot tall aeroponic Tower Gardens, a space for seedling cultivation and an outdoor classroom
THOMAS KELSEY/NEWS-PRESS

Montecito Urban Farms owner Alex Thomson has always wanted to grow his own food. His farm, located in Summerland, includes more than 100 8-foot tall aeroponic Tower Gardens, a space for seedling cultivation and an outdoor classroom THOMAS KELSEY/NEWS-PRESSImagine a farming system that produces mature crops using about 30 to 50 percent less time than traditional methods.

You could control the size and taste of your produce.

That doesn’t grow in the soil.

Sounds too good to be true, right?

Not if you have an aeroponic Tower Garden, according to Alex Thomson , owner of newly opened Montecito Urban Farms in Summerland. A distributor of the tower product, Mr. Thomson owns the 3,000-square-foot farm along Lillie Avenue that harvests produce from 120 of the vertical growing systems (with 30 more on the way). He sells the produce to professional chefs and individuals, and sells smaller versions of the towers to gardeners. The farm will be open to the public 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays starting next week.

Montecito Urban Farms' Alex Thomson with flats of seedlings before they are put into the towers. Towers are in the background.“We have kale, arugula, probably 10 different types of lettuces, mustard greens, herbs like cilantro and parsley, basil and creeping thyme,” Mr. Thomson said right after snacking on some kale he just picked off a tower on the property that includes a space for seedling cultivation and an outdoor classroom. “Most everything grows 30 percent quicker (than it would in the soil).”

The towers include pockets that suspend plants in the air and, through a tube that runs from the bottom to the top, provides the plants with a nutrient-rich, mineral solution. The systems can grow dozens of crops, including tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and eggplants, but Montecito Urban Farms focuses on greens because doing that is more cost-effective for a commercial property.

“The growing environment allows for the root systems to get maximum airflow and water and nutrients,” Mr. Thomson, 35, explained why the plants grow quickly. “They are getting water and nutrients directly fed to them. Roots growing in the dirt, they struggle more because they may not be getting the maximum amount of air (and nutrients) that they need.”

A businessman with a background in the hotel industry, he first found out about the Tower Garden during his search to discover ways to build an urban farm.

“I had a passion for wanting to grow my own food, and I’ve had that passion since I was a little kid,” said Mr. Thomson, who has eight Tower Gardens at the Montecito home he shares with his fiancee and three young children.

The sky’s the limit for vertical farms : Aeroponic Tower Gardens offer innovative approach to harvesting produce by Nikki Grey via Santa Barbara News-Press

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