Good morning, good morning! It’s fantastic to be back writing for you all about something so near and dear to me. Did you know that we have a vertical hydroponic farm located right here on St. John? Furthermore, did you know it is inside a 40-foot shipping container?!? And it supplies several restaurants on island with farm fresh produce!
Love City Fresh is currently the only shipping container hydroponic farm on St. John; sitting up the driveway up from Colombos Smoothies off Centerline Rd at the top of King Hill. Right now, there are two farmers that grow all the green goodness inside this air- conditioned farm; myself and my farm partner Jamie.
Our container was designed and built by a Boston based company called Freight Farms, who is dedicated to “empowering you to grow food no matter where you are.” This idea is really perfect for us here down in the Virgin Islands! Our seasons and climates provide great conditions for a lot of important plants, however it’s also hard to grow many our favorite fruits and veggies that we end up importing for our grocery stores and restaurants.
This reality of produce reaching the consumer is certainly not just an island trend either, in fact the UN Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that 97% of our food supply is imported instead of locally grown. By using this Freight Farm hydroponic system, we are able to grow our own food no matter the external variants, which creates a pretty amazing opportunity to increase our local food system here in the Virgin Islands.
Now, I know some of you are already familiar with what hydroponic farming is. But I’m going to assume some of you don’t know…And that’s perfect because what a cool way to learn!
Freight Farms defines hydroponic farming as, “an alternative farming method that grows plants without the use of soil. Instead, plants’ roots are submerged in nutrient-rich water that provides the plants with all the nourishment they need.” In addition to our plants receiving their nutrients from our water mixture, they also get their light energy from powerful LEDs. We use a smart climate control system to maintain an ideal growing environment at all times. A system that can even be controlled remotely from an app, how cool is that!?
In these farms, the crop potential is expansive with up to 500 different crops that have been tested and approved by the company. At Love City Fresh we grow four main crops: Kale, Arugula, Basil and Lettuce.
According to Freight Farm’s website, a single container farm can grow up to 2-6 tons of produce per year in their new Greenery S model! Our model is not the latest model, but we hope to meet produce yields as close to that estimate as possible. It also gets us really excited about what we could do with more container farms here on island 🙂
Right now all of our crops are sold to restaurants and grocers on St. John, however Jamie and I have dreams to expand our reach and bring more locally grown greens to the community of St. John directly.
So what does a typical grow cycle look like inside our farm? Let me show you!
We begin each week with our seeding. Our seeds get shipped down to us from Johnny Seeds, a trusted company based in Maine that has been in business for almost 50 years. We follow a weekly crop schedule that Freight Farms helped us design, so each week seeding is a little different. Some weeks we are seeding for a minimum of 1330 plants and some weeks just 100 plants. It is important for us to stay on schedule so we can meet our crop and harvest goals. So sometimes this means late night seeding…One of the luxuries of container farming!
Each seed starts in a pod made up of shredded coconut husks, once in their tray, they grow in our seedling nursery area for their three weeks until their roots are strong enough for transplanting.
With a series of automated cycles, pumps bring nutrient water from the seedling tank into each trough (or shelf) and saturates all the pods for seed watering.
Once our seedlings go into our hanging panels, they mature even further for an additional four weeks until they are ready for harvest. Some of our crops like kale, arugula and basil can be trimmed several times before the whole plant is harvested and replaced. It depends on the crop, but some panels can fit as many as 100 plants. Now that’s a lot of greens!
The plants in our panels receive nutrient rich water from another series of automated cycles where water is pumped from our main tank and released through drip emitters at the top of each panel. When the water drips from these emitters, they saturate felt wicking strips that the plant’s roots system develops on, thus receiving water and nutrients they need.
Red and Blue LED lights act as the light energy for these happy greens in their several growing stages. With an eighteen hour “day” cycle that actually happens overnight when the outside temperatures are the coolest here on this tropical island, our plants grow and happy and speedy!
If you want to taste some of these local hydroponic greens, you can currently find them at Lovango Rum Bar, Colombo’s Smoothie Stand, Maho Crossroads, Salty Mongoose, Little Olive, Arowako Vegan Club, Johnny Lime and Dave and Jerry’s Island Steakhouse! We are excited to keep expanding into more restaurants and look forward to seeing where we can grow our reach…grow…get it? (silly farmer pun)
On the property where our container farm sits, there is yoga deck with a great view of Coral Bay! Come up Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday to take a yoga class with one of the many teachers who have joined Love City Yoga! Text or message on Facebook to secure your spot or roll on up to drop in for a class!