Hydroponic farm in Lakewood, Colo., takes next step
Before 2002, Tommy Romano’s life plans were not necessarily Earthly.
He was at the University of Colorado studing for his master’s in aerospace engineering. His thesis was on ways to grow food in space.
But man still has yet to land on Mars, so Romano thought, why not tru this technology on Earth, first?
It took a lot of trial and error and growing food in his basement, including ears of corn. And in January 2015, Infinite Harvest began.
Infinite Harvest is an indoor hydroponic vertical farm. Currently the farm in Lakewood, Colo., grows 13 microgreens and lettuce. A week ago, when the Denver-metro area was hit with rain, hail and snow, the crops at Infinite Harvest weren’t even touched by the elements.
That’s the beauty of growing vegetables in an indoor hydroponic vertical farm — the weather is controlled by technology.
“We don’t actively manage a lot,” said Nathan Lorne, operations manager. “We really rely on her.”
The “her” in this scenario isn’t a human, but the greenhouse control system. A box containing machines and wires takes notes on everything that happens in the greenhouse.
The system controls how much water and nutrients the plants get, the temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide levels — anything that can and will affect the plants.
And, if something goes wrong, the control system will send a message to someone so they can come in to fix it.
The room doesn’t have any natural lighting, only blue and red spectrum lights are used because that’s all the plants need for photosynthesis. They go through day and night cycles.
One you leave the room, everything has a green hue to it because your eyes overcompensate after only seeing two hues of light.
The other lights just waste energy, which is against the goals of Infinite Harvest.
A tech-based farm might sound like it’s just wasting energy, but the way the control system is set up, the farm actually pays about six times less than marijuana greenhouses pay in electricity costs each month. When it comes to energy comparisons, marijuana is the best comparison because both grow crops are grown indoors.
Another concern that Lorne said hydroponic farms raise is the amount of CO2 released.
But the system controls the amount of CO2 that is released at all times.
Lorne said one of the benefits of having an indoor farm is having complete control over what the plants are exposed to. Even more important for them, though, is what the plants aren’t exposed to.
Before going into the farm, a person enters an air cleanser room. Air is circulating and that is where hair nets, hats, shoe covers or specific farm shoes are put on. This helps prevent some unwanted outside elements from getting in. There are traps that attract bugs to keep them from going in, too.
Because there aren’t bugs or anything else in the farm, aside from what is planned, Infinite Harvest doesn’t have to use genetically modified plants and there is no need to use pesticides.
Even organic farms use natural products to get rid of weeds or pests. Infinite Harvest doesn’t have to.
Even with the organic trend, Romano said there aren’t plans to apply to be organically certified because he thinks the “Colorado Proud” label means more.
And, “We’re beyond organic,” Romano said.
KEEP MOVING FORWARD
There are a number of worries and problems farmers face, and Infinite Harvest looks to find solutions for them, Lorne said.
“Everyone here loves the romance of traditional farming,” he said.
Romano said the purpose of this farm is not to compete with traditional farming. In some ways, it is an ongoing science experiment. Because indoor hydroponic vertical farms are a fairly new, some of the technologies are on the expensive side.
But the energy saving measures the company is able to do even that out.
Romano said they’re looking to expand, but they don’t want it to be a big leap from what they’re doing now. They want to take lessons learned and improve upon them a little at a time.
“There is no textbook,” Lorne said.
That’s something any farmer can relate to. As technology changes on farms, there’s always an experimental phase before the technology becomes widely used.
That’s why Romano doesn’t see Infinite Harvest as a competing entity, but as the next forward step in the industry.
“The traditional ways aren’t fulfilling (the holes left by problems),” Romano said. “If we held to the same traditions of farming … we’d still be riding horses right now. We’re helping it take the next step.”❖
— Fox is a reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at (970) 392-4410, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @FoxonaFarm.