Green Bay Area Public School District Expands Indoor Farming

Green Bay Area Public School District Expands Indoor Farming; Harvests New Crop

Grant through community foundations provides healthy foods for at-risk populations

Green Bay WI – A major funding initiative is taking root in area schools and nonprofits to increase access to fresh, nutritional food for at-risk populations. A grant from the Basic Needs Giving Partnership will place Flex Farms in various organizations in Northeast Wisconsin to increase the health and social connectedness of communities. The grants are being used to supply indoor, hydroponic growing systems and the materials needed to maintain them in order for organizations to grow fresh food.

Organizations receiving the collaborative grants are:

  • Green Bay Area Public Schools, Golden House, and Journey to Adult Success, which will receive 15 Flex Farm units across the three sites for a total of $66,675.
  • Boys and Girls Club of Oshkosh, Jericho Road Food Pantry, the Waushara County Food Pantry, and the Winneconne Community School District will receive upgrades and 6 Flex Farm units for a total of $16,263.
  • The New London Food Bank, Shawano Fresh Project, and Flowing with Kindness Food Pantry will receive 10 Flex Farm units for a total of $44,450.

The grants are being administered through the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region, the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation, and the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation.

“This grant is central to our mission of helping everyone gain access to healthy, fresh food,” said Alex Tyink, founder and president of Fork Farms. “Flex Farms help children connect healthy eating to overall well-being and provide much-needed nutrition to areas that are defined as fresh food deserts.”

One of the beneficiaries has been planting and harvesting their first crops in the Flex Farms. Tom Sebranek is an Agriscience teacher and FFA advisor at Green Bay Southwest High School, and his classes recently harvested their first crop of lettuce. Sebranek will use the garden as a lesson in how food is grown, and the students will plant, maintain, and harvest the crops.

“The students are in full control of deciding which type of lettuce to plant, taking care of the proper nutrients, and measuring the pH of each system,” said Sebranek. “This is an exceptional learning opportunity for our kids, and really puts into action the principles of farm-to-table for our students.”

The mature crop will be harvested and used by the District’s Food Service Department, with the ultimate goal of providing all the salad mix for the lunch program at Southwest High School. When all systems are up and running, the unit will yield approximately 15 pounds of leafy greens such as lettuce and spinach per week.

The Flex Farm is a fully self-contained vertical hydroponic growing system. The portable system only requires a standard electrical outlet and less than 10 square feet of space. Instead of sunlight, plants soak up the light from a compact LED lighting system. Just one Flex Farm can yield a harvest every 28 days:

  • One Flex Farm unit holds 288 plants, is 6 feet tall and can produce more than 390 pounds of greens per year.
  • The system requires about 1-3 hours per month of maintenance and cost about $0.17 per month in electricity to operate.
  • The system is made of lightweight, easy to clean material, is powered by two or three LED lights, and includes one growing supplies box – 3 months worth of materials to grow in the system.
  • The systems are designed and manufactured in Wisconsin.

Original Press Release Link

 

 

Fueled by unleashing the power of fresh food production, Fork Farms closes $2MM Series A

Green Bay, Wisconsin – Today Fork Farms, an ag-tech startup that is revolutionizing the future of fresh food production, announced the close of their $2MM Series A funding round. The round was led by existing investor TitletownTech, along with other institutional investors. Headquartered in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Fork Farms’ flagship product, the Flex Farm, is an indoor vertical hydroponic system that is highly efficient, deployable and scalable, making fresh food production accessible for everyone.

“We’re excited to continue our partnership with Fork Farms,” said Craig Dickman, Managing Director at TitletownTech. “We have continued to be impressed with the value and impact they provide their customers, and we believe the growth and success they’ve seen is just the start of the journey to come.”

Fork Farms’ Flex Farm is a vertical hydroponic system that eliminates food transportation costs, consumes 97% less water than traditional agriculture practices, and is 40% more energy efficient compared to competitors’ products. The Flex Farm can produce up to 3,400 plants annually, requires less than three hours of maintenance per month, and costs less than $1.00 per pound to operate. The Flex Farm makes growing sustainable food both easy and accessible for educators, commercial users, nonprofits and home growers alike.

The Series A funding will enable Fork Farms to bring sustainable, accessible fresh food production through Flex Farm systems to more markets across the U.S.; continue the development of enhancements to the Flex Farm and emerging products; and hire additional talent to support expansion plans.

“Fork Farms exists to transform the way people eat and think about fresh food. This milestone will allow us to build our incredible team to reach even more communities with Flex Farm technology,” said founder and President Alex Tyink. “We are at a point of great momentum and are ecstatic to support our growing group of nearly 500 partners to upend the food system and bring fresh food access into the hands of more people.”

Original Press Release Link

bemidji flex farm

Bemidji Boys and Girls Club will Reap Year-Round Harvest

Originally Published in The Bemidji Pioneer

Written By: Hannah Olson

BEMIDJI — Despite the unpredictable nature of Bemidji’s weather, children over at the Boys and Girls Club of the Bemidji Area will soon be able to grow leafy greens and other fresh veggies all year long.

The club installed their new “Flex Farm” — a hydroponic indoor growing system — purchased from the Wisconsin-based company, Fork Farms, via a Minnesota Department of Agriculture grant.

The device will allow the organization to expand its current gardening programming into something that can be done year-round.

The excitement in the room during the delivery of the Flex Farm was palpable — Bemidji Boys and Girls Club director Andrea Kent exclaimed a few times, “It’s Fork Farm Day! It’s fork Farm Day!” — but perhaps in no one more than Deb Dilley.

Dilley — a recently retired SNAP Education Health and Nutrition Programs educator in Bemidji for the University of Minnesota Extension — heads up the gardening program for the club.

She knows firsthand the power of showing children how fresh food goes from a tiny seed to their plates.

‘Kids eat what they grow’

Dilley has been working with the existing gardening program at the local Boys and Girls Club since 2006 and is excited to implement the new hydroponic unit.

“Deb is really going to be running with this program,” Kent said. “She’s going to be working with the kids to educate and plant the seeds. (Fork Farms) actually developed curriculum and activities just for Boys and Girls Clubs.”

Dilley has hopes of installing even more gardening apparatuses in the future — there is a grant application in the works for more systems — so one can house romaine, one strawberries, and one marigolds, all at the same time.

The benefits of the hydroponic growing system are multifaceted, as it provides an educational experience for children, and serves as a food and revenue source.

According to Dilley, children who are exposed to the food growing process may be more likely to incorporate fresh foods into their diet. Those who ordinarily may not look twice at a piece of broccoli are suddenly excited to dig in once they’ve harvested it themselves, she explained.

“In my experience, nine times out of ten, kids will eat what they grow,” she said. “The harvesting of everything is by far their favorite part.”

The club is no stranger to growing its own food — for more than 10 years, the club has partnered with the University of Minnesota Extension to develop a garden program. The club garden teaches members lifelong gardening skills by caring for the garden, they also learn about good nutrition when they harvest and prepare fresh produce from the garden.

In 2017, the garden grew by 400 square feet with the addition of 15 new raised beds. Through these expansions the growing space nearly doubled, resulting in a higher yield harvested.

The garden not only produces over 1,000 pounds of produce per season, but it also teaches nutrition and healthy eating, entrepreneurial skills, leadership skills and cultural traditions, Dilley explained.

Before the installation of the Flex Farm, produce from the Boys and Girls Club gardens was used to feed club members, and then sold by club members to families at the “farmers markets” hosted by the club during the warmer months. The club also partnered with ISD 31, selling produce to the district to use in school lunches.

This partnership will now continue on a larger and more consistent scale.

“Bemidji Area Schools has supported the Boys and Girls club through produce purchases for several years and look forward to the greens that will be available this spring and summer,” Bemidji Area Schools Food and Nutrition Services Coordinator Tammie Colley, said in an email to the Pioneer.

“We have several farmers markets during the summer where the kids will sell the produce. A lot of it is served here. Then a lot of it goes to the school lunches — the school district purchases a lot of it too,” Dilley explained.

How the Flex Farm works

The Flex Farm solves a lot of gardening woes — it’s functional all year long. No dirt involved. Best of all, no weeding.

The hydroponic — the soil-free cultivation of crops in controlled environments — system was developed by the Green Bay, Wis., based company, Fork Farms.

Seeds or seedlings planted in holes in what they call “rockwall,” a segmented planting substance made from volcanic ash. The individual seedlings in their volcanic planting material are then stuck in holes in the gardening system. Water is pumped through the machine to keep the roots wet, and plants are treated to rays from a grow light for up to 16 hours a day.

According to the Fork Farm website, one Flex Farm device can grow more than 25 pounds of food every 28-day growth cycle, which adds up to 395 pounds of fresh food annually or 3,400 plants a year. One Flex Farm unit costs $4,695.

Steve Tyink — father of the Fork Farms inventor, Alex Tyink — drove from Wisconsin to Bemidji to install the device, something he said he doesn’t do for just any customer.

The family has a special place in their hearts for Boys and Girls Clubs, he explained and has installed numerous Flex Farms in clubs throughout Wisconsin. Bemidji’s club was the first Boys and Girls Club in the state of Minnesota to have such a hydroponic system installed.

“To hyper-localize food production like you all are doing is a monumental achievement for the community,” Tyink told club staff during the installation.

Original Article Link

library garden options

Library Garden Options are Growing

Originally Published in Demco Ideas & Inspiration

Written By:  Amanda Struckmeyer

Libraries have long hosted community gardens. They appear to have roots in World War I and World War II victory, and library gardens continue to be popular today. Libraries’ public green areas function as teaching gardens, community spaces, and a part of the solution to food insecurity.

Across the country, community members of all ages learn about gardening by — literally — getting their hands dirty. Planning the garden, planting seeds, watering, pulling weeds, and harvesting vegetables are experiences library gardens offer. Potential related programs and activities are endless, such as:

  • Math-focused children’s programs, focusing on measuring and plotting the growth of the plants
  • Book clubs (some of which center around plant-themed literature) that meet in or near the garden
  • Art activities, including making leaf rubbings of different plants
  • Guest speakers on topics including worms, fertilizers, nutrition, and native plants
  • Cooking programs with dishes featuring produce grown in the garden
  • In addition, some libraries donate the produce grown in their gardens to food pantries or other community organizations.

Should you incorporate a library garden into your programming?

Gardening is a perfect fit for libraries, thanks to its broad appeal, versatility, and novelty. Additional therapeutic benefits of gardening are not to be overlooked. Did you know?

  • Studies suggest that gardening may decrease the risk of dementia by up to 36 percent
  • People with ADD and learning disabilities who garden regularly have shown improved focus, improved academic performance, an increased sense of confidence and success, better social interactions, and better sleep
  • Gardening may lead to decreased anxiety and depression symptoms
  • Gardening can provide a sense of empowerment, particularly as individuals who may not have had access to fresh produce in the past grow it themselves
  • Community gardens foster connections between people, which is especially needed after the isolation experienced by many during COVID

The benefits of library gardens are many, but can be limited due to local growing seasons, availability of green space, staff and volunteer time, and overall efficiency. The Flex Farm Hydroponic Growing System offers a practical, easy-to-use solution to these barriers.

A Library Garden Option — Flex Farm Hydroponic Growing System What is the Flex Farm Hydroponic Growing System?

Unlike conventional gardens or raised beds, Flex Farm is a vertical growing system, taking advantage of space in a whole new way. Rather than growing horizontally on the ground, plants grow up and down the indoor unit. The system is self-contained, portable, hygienic, and cost-effective.

Hydroponic gardening relies on a mineral solution rather than soil for growing plants. Combining such a mineral solution with pH-balanced water and the appropriate amount and type of light leads to increased yields and decreased costs.

Flex Farm is incredibly easy to use; it can be assembled in under 15 minutes. Everything you need to get started, such as a self-contained water system, an energy-efficient LED light tower, a submersible pump, a Grower Toolkit, and a starter Supply Kit is included.

Once the Flex Farm is set up, just add water, nutrients, and seeds. Plants grow quickly with little maintenance or attention.

Flex Farm: The solution to your library garden program challenges?

Many libraries cite common obstacles to hosting gardens. Flex Farm offers solutions to many of these:

  • No gardening expert on staff: Flex Farm controls everything so plants can thrive with minimum input.
  • Limited space: Flex Farm requires less than 10 square feet of space —and it’s mobile.
  • Limited staff time: Flex Farm requires under three hours of maintenance each month.
  • Short growing season: Grow year-round with Flex Farm!

 

The system is exceptionally energy-efficient and cost-effective. Because it uses new technology, it is 40% more efficient than other hydroponic growing systems. Flex Farm produces up to 3,400 plants each year and more than 20 pounds of leafy greens in each 28-day growing cycle. The total cost is less than $1 per pound of produce grown.

Boost engagement with programming around your library garden

Libraries and schools are finding that Flex Farm opens new, unique programming options, including:

  • Nutrition or cooking programs based on the produce being grown
  • Incorporating crops into school food programs
  • Micro-enterprise or fundraising projects
  • STEAM activities and learning opportunities, as plants grow all year long in a highly controlled environment
  • Programming focused on the social and economic benefits of hydroponic gardening (Flex Farm uses 98% less water than traditional agriculture)
  • Harvesting nutritious fresh produce for food pantries and community organizations in all seasons
  • Food Miles challenge (create a meal in which all the ingredients originated close to your community, tallying the total miles traveled; Flex Farm provides ingredients with zero food miles)
  • Experiments in hydroponic growing; Flex Farm can be used to grow leafy greens and herbs, and Flex Farm gardeners have had success with cucumbers, strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, and pumpkins

The short turnaround between planting and harvesting makes Flex Farm engaging and fun for all ages. In addition, a professionally written curriculum is available, including ready-to-use lesson plans for a variety of ages.

Enhancing library accessibility through hydroponic gardening

Libraries strive to serve all community members; we ensure that our buildings are wheelchair-accessible, and we offer materials and services in multiple formats and languages.  While we recognize the benefits of gardening activities and programs, gardens are not always accessible to individuals with physical limitations.  For example, an individual who uses a wheelchair or an individual for whom crouching or kneeling is uncomfortable may not have physical access to library gardens.

Flex Farm provides a more accessible option. Because it is located in the building, Flex Farm takes advantage of all accessibility features built into the library. Additionally, the plants can be reached easily while standing or seated in a chair or wheelchair, putting the garden within reach of an increased number of patrons.

Flex Farm allows libraries to open new worlds of possibilities with minimal commitment.  Whether a library currently hosts a community garden or not, hydroponics is a natural next step toward incorporating gardening and growing for patrons of all ages.

Original Article Link

Alex Tyink, Founder of Fork Farms

Gut + Science Podcast | Eliminating the Ego and Focusing on the Mission

Alex Tyink is the President of Fork Farms, a company that believes anybody can be a farmer. They deliver this message by engaging deeply with their customers to help them build strong relationships with fresh food.

While the focus of their company is meaningful connections with customers, Alex is committed to helping his people feel the company mission.

In this episode Alex shares insights on getting team members to buy into the mission. It’s not easy, but he firmly believes the key to success is making sure everyone feels the impact of their own work.

Growing healthy produce in small spaces for expecting mothers

Growing healthy produce in small spaces for expecting mothers

Originally published in UnitedHealthcare Newsroom

Having a regular diet of nutritious food is a key component for the health of expectant mothers, in order to help promote a baby’s growth and development. But that may be difficult when there’s a lack of access to enough food — something made even more challenging due to COVID-19.

For example, in the St. Louis area alone, food insecurity has increased 23 percent since the pandemic began.

To help address this need for fresh, healthy food, Operation Food Search (OFS) is using an innovative approach to help streamline the process. Through use of two vertical hydroponic gardens from Fork Farms — provided by a $10,000 grant from the UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Missouri — the hunger relief organization can grow their own lettuce on site. The lettuce is then placed in take-home kits for expectant mothers and their families, as part of its FreshRx program.

The program provides low-income families with weekly nutrient-dense meals from local farmers and producers, along with supportive resources, to help encourage a healthy lifestyle. The goal isn’t merely to reduce food insecurity — it’s to also help reduce long-term health effects, like chronic conditions or low birth weights, and the high health care costs that may go with it.

By growing fresh produce at the food bank, OFS is able to align their menus with the growing cycle, in order to offer same-day delivery for the people they serve. The Flex Farm hydroponic units occupy less than 10 square feet of space and each can serve up to 1,900 families per year with a harvest of nearly 3,400 plants.

“The Flex Farms turn warehouse space into productive space,” said Josh Mahlik, director of strategic partnerships at Fork Farms.

For UnitedHealthcare, providing the community with healthy, fresh food is a key component to supporting the overall well-being of the members served. Increasing access to healthier food for those who need it most, and addressing a key determinant of health, not only helps support a healthy pregnancy but may help lead to a lifetime of wellness.

“Non-medical factors, including safe housing, transportation and access to nutritious, affordable food have a considerable impact on our health. We’re grateful for the innovative work by Flex Farms and Operation Food Search to make it easier for our communities to access healthy food, and are proud to help them bring fresh produce to more Missourians,” said Jamie Bruce, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Missouri.

For organizations like OFS and Flex Farms, it’s important that food security is about more than hunger — it’s about human dignity, and the joy from food that is fresh and tastes good. With the FreshRx bundles for expectant mothers and their families, OFS is able to put this mission into action.

Original article link: https://newsroom.uhc.com/community/operation-food-search.html

No dirt? No farm? No problem. The potential for soil-less agriculture is huge

No dirt? No farm? No problem. The potential for soil-less agriculture is huge

By CATHARINE HAMM

Imagine kale that doesn’t taste like a punishment for something you did in a previous life. Envision leafy greens that aren’t limp from their journey to your plate. Anticipate the intense flavor of just-picked herbs that kick up your latest culinary creation a notch or three.

Then consider the possibility that such advancements will play a role in altering the face of agriculture, becoming sources of flavorful, fresh produce in “food deserts” and making farm-to-table restaurant cuisine possible because produce is grown on the premises, even in urban areas.

This is the potential and the promise of hydroponics (a term that also includes aeroponics and aquaponics systems), the soil-less cultivation of crops in controlled environments. It’s a growing industry — $9.5 billion in sales is expected to nearly double in the next five years — that stems, in part, from concerns about growing enough food to feed a worldwide population expected to hit 10 billion in the next 30 years.

The growing method isn’t new. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, dating to the 6th century B.C., may be a precursor to today’s hydroponics, if they existed. (Historians disagree on that as well as where the gardens were.) Then, as now, technology is a key to giving growers, not Mother Nature, more control over production.

The size of today’s systems varies. They might be as simple and compact as an in-home system that’s about the size of a couple of loaves of bread stacked on top of each other. Some of the growing popularity of those units may be connected to the pandemic, according to Paul Rabaut, director of marketing for AeroGarden, which produces systems for in-home crop production.

“As soon as the pandemic was declared in mid-March and the quarantine took effect, we saw immediate growth spikes, unlike anything we’d ever seen before,” he said. Those spikes resulted, he said, from the need for entertainment beyond Netflix and jigsaw puzzles, a desire to minimize trips to the grocery store and the promise of teachable moments for kids now schooled at home.

At the other end of the spectrum are large urban farms. Plenty, for instance, has a South San Francisco hydroponics growing facility where a million plant sites produce crops, some of which are sold through area grocery stores. The company hopes to open a farm in Compton this year that’s expected to be about the size of a big-box store and will grow the equivalent of 700 acres of food.

“It’s a super vibrant community with a rich agricultural history,” Nate Storey, a cofounder of the vertical farming company, said of the Compton facility. “It also happens to be a food desert.

“Americans eat only about 30% of what they should be eating as far as fresh foods,” he said. “We started this company because we realized the world needed more fresh fruits and vegetables.”

As different as hydroponics growing systems are, most have this in common: The plants thrive because of the nutrients they receive and the consistency of the environment and can produce crops of fresh leafy greens and other vegetables, various herbs and sometimes fruits.

Such controlled-environment agriculture is part of the larger trend of urban farms, recognized last year by the May opening of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production. The farms’ proximity to larger markets means produce can be delivered quickly to consumers, whether they’re grocery shoppers, airline passengers, students or communities in need or restaurants, an industry that has been devastated in the last year.

Today’s micro- and mega-farms have taken on increased importance, partly because of world hunger, which will increase as the population grows.

Add increasing urbanization that is gobbling available agricultural land in many countries, mix in climate change and the scramble for water to grow crops — as much as 70% of the world’s water is used for agriculture — and the planet may be at a tipping point.

No single change in the approach to feeding the world will shift the balance by itself.

Hydroponic farming is “a solution,” said Alexander Olesen, a cofounder of Babylon Microfarms in Virginia, which uses its small growing units to help corporate cafeterias, senior living centers, hotels and resorts provide fresh produce, “but they are not the solution.”

For one thing, not all crops are viable. Nearly everything can be grown using hydroponics but some crops, such as wheat, some root vegetables (including carrots, beets and onions), and melons and vining crops, are impractical. The easiest crops to grow: leafy greens, including spinach and lettuce; microgreens; herbs such as basil, cilantro, oregano and marjoram; some vegetables, such as green peppers and cucumbers; and certain fruits, including tomatoes and strawberries.

Although hydroponic farming means crops grow faster — thus increasing output — the process comes with a significant carbon footprint, according to “The Promise of Urban Agriculture,” a report by the Department of Agriculture/Agricultural Marketing Service and Cornell University Small Farms Program. Lights generate heat, which then must be removed by cooling. Lettuce grown in traditional greenhouses is far cheaper, the report says.

If these crops can be grown traditionally — in a garden or in a commercial field — why bother with growing systems that are less intuitive than planting seeds, watering and harvesting? Among the reasons:

Climate control: Such indoor agriculture generally means consistent light, temperatures, nutrients and moisture for crops no longer held hostage by nature’s cycles of drought, storms and seasons.

Environmental friendliness: Pesticides generally aren’t used and thus create no harmful runoff, unlike field-grown crops.

Productivity: Leafy greens tend to be cool-season crops, but in a controlled environment, it’s an any-time-of-year crop without the worry of depleting the soil because of overuse because, of course, there is no soil.

Use of space: AeroFarms, a former steel mill in Newark, N.J., boasts that it can produce 2 million pounds of food each year in its 70,000 square feet, or about 1.3 acres. California’s Monterey County, by contrast, uses nearly 59,000 acres — out of 24.3 million acres statewide of ranches and farms — to grow its No. 1 crop, which is leaf lettuce valued at $840.6 million, its 2019 crop report showed.

Food safety: In E. coli outbreaks in late October and early November of last year, fingers pointed to romaine lettuce that sickened consumers in 19 states, including California. In November and December of 2019, three other outbreaks of the bacterial illness were traced to California’s Salinas Valley. A Food and Drug Administration study, released in May with results from that trio of outbreaks, “suggest(s) that a potential contributing factor has been the proximity of cattle,” whose feces often contain the bacteria and can find its way into water systems.

That’s less of an issue with crops in controlled-environment agriculture, said Alex Tyink, president of Fork Farms of Green Bay, Wis., which produces growing systems suitable for homes and schools.

“In the field, you can’t control what goes where,” he said, including wildlife, livestock or even birds that may find their way into an open growing area.

And as for workers, “The human safety approaches that we take [with] people in our farm make it hard for them to contaminate even if they wanted to,” he said.

“Before people walk in, they gown up, put their hair in nets, beards in nets, put on eye covering and bootie covers for their shoes, then walk through a water bath.”

::

None of the statistics matter, though, unless the quality of soil-less crops matches or exceeds that produced traditionally.

Not a contest, new-age growers say. Flavors of leafy greens, for example, tend to be more detectable and, in some cases, more intense.

So much so that when AeroFarms introduced its baby kale in a New York grocery store, Marc Oshima, a cofounder and chief marketing officer, says he saw a woman do what he called a “happy dance” when she sampled this superfood. The version that AeroFarms produces is lighter and has a “sweet finish,” Oshima said, compared with adult kale grown in traditional ways that some say make the superfood fibrous and bitter.

Storey, the cofounder of Plenty, judged his Crispy Lettuce mix successful when his children got into a “rolling-on-the-floor fistfight” over a package of it.

Some credit for that flavor can be attributed to the time from harvest to market. Arizona and California are the top lettuce producers in the U.S., but by the time the greens get to other parts of the country, they have lost some of their oomph. AeroFarms and Plenty, for instance, distribute their commercial products to nearby grocery stores in New York and the Bay Area, respectively, where their time to market is significantly reduced.

And when was the last time you had a salad on an airplane flight that didn’t taste like water gone bad? Before the pandemic constricted airline traffic, AeroFarms was growing greens to be served to passengers on Singapore Airlines flights from New York’s JFK. The fresh vegetables traveled just five miles from the warehouse to Singapore’s catering kitchen, a new twist on farm to (tray) tabletop.

Because the turnaround from harvest to market is shorter, Storey said his products often last several weeks when refrigerated.

And perhaps best of all? Growers say that because the greens have a flavor — some peppery, some like mustard — salad dressing may be optional, perhaps dispossessed in favor of the flavor of naked greens.

Getting consumers interested in vegetables and incorporating those foods into their diets is especially important, growers say, because of skyrocketing rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, especially for populations in food deserts.

Tyink grew up in rural Wisconsin but moved to New York to pursue a career in opera. By chance, he sampled some produce from a rooftop garden that he called life-altering. “My eating habits changed because [the greens] changed my emotional connection to food,” he said.

His exposure to homelessness and poverty on the streets of New York also focused his attention on what people consume and why. Price and convenience often drive bad food decisions and unhealthy habits.

Young farmers in training can help change those habits; some of Fork Farms’ systems are used in schools and other nonprofit organizations for children. Kids become accidental ambassadors for the nutrient-rich crops, and the fruits of their labors go to school cafeterias or to local food distribution centers in their communities.

“I really think when you lose fresh, locally produced food, you lose something of [the] culture,” said Lee Altier, professor of horticulture at Chico State University, where he has been working with students to develop its aquaponics program. “I think it is so important when communities have an awareness … that this is for their social integrity.”

As for the future, much still needs to be done to put such products in the right hands at the right time. That requires investment, innovation and technology to perfect the systems and keep costs under control, never mind persuading buyers and consumers that food that’s healthy can also be satisfying.

Is it a puzzle worth solving? Storey thinks so. “I want to live in a world where [we create] delicious, amazing things,” he said, “knowing that they are not coming at a cost that we don’t want to pay.”

Original article link: https://www.latimes.com/food/story/2021-01-21/hydroponics-agriculture-vertical-farming

Author: Catharine Hamm

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Catharine Hamm is the former Travel editor for the Los Angeles Times and became a special contributor in June 2020. She was born in Syracuse, N.Y., to a peripatetic family whose stops included Washington, D.C.; Honolulu; and Manila. Her varied media career has taken her from McPherson, Kan., to Kansas City, Mo., San Bernardino, Salinas and L.A. Hamm has twice received individual Lowell Thomas Awards, and the Travel section has been recognized seven times during her tenure as editor. Her favorite place? Always where she’s going next.

Appleton Teacher Harvesting Lettuce

Donation from East Wisconsin Savings Bank puts Appleton native’s Flex Farms hydroponic units into Fox Valley schools

Natalie Brophy, Appleton Post-Crescent

Published Dec. 1, 2020

APPLETON – Alex Tyink attended Appleton Area School District schools when he was growing up. Now, students in Appleton and in other Fox Valley schools are using his invention to grow their own produce.

Tyink is the founder and president of Fork Farms, a Green Bay-based business that makes vertical hydroponic systems called Flex Farms, which grow produce indoors without soil. Flex Farms units are white plastic structures surrounding a tower of LED lights.

The combination of the lights, nutrient solution and water mimic the conditions plants need to grow. Each unit is powered by a standard electrical socket, takes up less than 10 square feet and can hold 288 plants.

Thanks to a nearly $64,000 donation from East Wisconsin Savings Bank, four Fox Valley schools received Flex Farm to use in classrooms and to grow produce for school lunches.

Appleton East High School received one of the units. Environmental science teacher Ryan Marx said he has been wanting to get Flex Farms into the school for about five years.

Marx is already familiar with gardening and growing food — he has a garden at the high school and donates all the food to St. Joseph’s Food Program in Menasha. One drawback with Marx’s garden is that most of the work is done in the summer, when students are not in school. With Flex Farms, students will learn to grow healthy, nutritious food throughout the year.

“I think it’s so important for students to know where their food comes from,” Marx said.

Appleton students are learning virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, but once the district is back to in-person classes, Marx wants to teach his students to run the Flex Farms unit.

“My goal is to have the students run the whole thing,” Marx said. “They’re going to plant, they’re going to take care of the chemicals. That’s my goal, to have the students run it like a mini-farm.”

The donation from East Wisconsin Savings Bank also provided Flex Farms for the Kaukauna, Little Chute and Freedom school districts.

“What I like about this program, especially at Appleton East, is they really incorporate that whole education process into this program,” said Charlie Schmalz, president and CEO of East Wisconsin Savings Bank. “So it’s not just about growing healthy food – obviously that’s huge. But it’s the process of where does our food come from and how is it developed and what does that mean, that holistic understanding of how this works in our society.”

Tyink came up with the idea for Flex Farms while he was living in Brooklyn, New York. He wanted to make it more easier and more affordable for people to grow their own high quality, fresh, nutritious foods. Flex Farms is a way to “grow food for the masses, by the masses,” Tyink said.

Green leaf lettuce grows in one of numerous Flex Farms, which are vertical hydroponic farming systems, used to grow fresh produce indoors at Appleton East High School Monday, November 23, 2020, in Appleton, Wis. Through a donation from East Wisconsin Savings Bank, Appleton East is one of several schools receiving the Flex Farms from a company in Green Bay called Fork Farms.

Leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, kale and herbs grow best in the Flex Farms, but people can grow just about anything, Tyink said. At Appleton East, Marx is growing six different kinds of lettuce and has already had at least two harvests, he said. Each Flex Farms growing cycle is about 28 days.

“Myself as a gardener, I am just so amazed by the system,’ Marx said. “How easy it is and how clean it is. There’s no soil whatsoever so there’s no mess. It’s just really easy.”

Exposing students to growing food is a priority for Tyink, he said. He’s noticed that students are more likely to eat fresh, healthy food when they grow it themselves.

Tyink said he’s pleased to see his invention being used by students in his hometown. He credits science teachers he had while he was a student in Appleton for getting him interested in science. Tyink said the whole Fox Valley community has been supportive of him and his company.

“What I think is so unique to this community is you’ve got a local bank donating to all these local school systems, that’s supporting also a local company that’s providing this really unique technology,” Tyink said. “It’s just like this incredible story of partnership, I think.”

Image credit: Dan Powers, USA Today Network Wisconsin
Alex Tyink, Founder of Fork Farms

Fork Farms grows from unlikely detour in owner’s life

Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt

Special to the Green Bay Press-Gazette

Alex Tyink, owner of Fork Farms of Green Bay, fell in love with gardening on a rooftop in Brooklyn, New York. It was an unlikely detour for Tyink, an opera singer who found himself with extra time between performances. Couped up in his apartment and dealing with some depression, he volunteered to help with the rooftop farm.

“The garden was created by a sculpturer, and it was a cool social model where the food he was growing went to friends, family, and a food pantry that was located on the lower level of the building. It was a neat ecosystem and it was where I learned to grow hydroponically,” Tyink explained.

He says it was the single most transformative event in his life. When he ate the food, he discovered that it not only contributed to his overall health, it was also an antidote to depression.

“When you put your own sweat into something, you can’t help but become more emotionally attached. Involvement and engagement breeds connection and connection leads to real, sustainable change,” he commented on his website.

In his business, he hopes to share those benefits. Simply defined, hydroponic gardening is a method of growing plants without soil by adding nutrients directly into the water supply. The benefits include faster growth, year-round growing, healthier plants, bigger yields, and pesticide-free produce.

What he discovered initially was that the cost per pound produced was high. In starting Fork Farms in 2010 as a consultant, he sought to utilize state of the art technology while researching ways to lower the costs of indoor gardening to create a more effective system.

“I did more than a dozen installations, and was learning every step of the way. The need to reduce costs was the inspiration for my design work. It took three years to figure it out, 30 plus prototypes and a ton of my own money. I was tinkering, but I was passionate,” he noted. In 2012, by paying close attention to how all of the pieces fit together, he stumbled onto the idea of using the right light with the right reflective surfaces. That lowered the kilowatt hours, and made the process more energy efficient.

“We were able to grow for less than half the cost that others were doing. At that point, my plan was to move to Madison, build these systems, and be a farmer,” he said.

The plan changed when he was offered a job in 2016 as program director for Goodwill NCW. Goodwill, along with Bassett Mechanical, supported him as he developed Flex Farm Generation

1, a hydroponic system made out of stainless steel. He did eight field-test installations and received encouraging feedback.

In 2016, he left Goodwill and formed a partnership with Feeding America, where he also served as director of programs and innovation. From there, the progress has been steady. An angel investor came onboard and a seed capital round in 2018 raised $750,000. Tyink was getting noticed and Fork Farms won the THINC! Innovation Award.

“My cofounder says the reason he invested in me is that I have the ability to pick things up quickly,” he stated. “I think the thing that motivates me is helping people. I’m not doing this for the money; you don’t get into this sort of thing thinking you will be a millionaire. You do it because you have this deep need to see it through and because you believe in it.”

Now, with the launch of Flex Farm Generation 4, there have been over 500 Flex Farm installations completed in 22 states and Canada. The market for the product, which he says is the latest and greatest innovation in indoor, vertical farming technology, is huge and has global promise.

The major markets include commercial users such as kitchens and cafeterias, nonprofit organizations looking for ways to increase access to healthy and fresh food, educators as a way to provide a learning tool for students and food for the school and community, and home users who are seeking a year-round source to fresh food.

Because of the pandemic and fear of a breakdown in the food supply chain, Tyink said the business is adapting the business to a new environment. From his headquarters at TitletownTech in Green Bay (a partnership between the Green Bay Packers and Microsoft that identifies, builds and funds early-stage, highgrowth businesses), he says that he finds it amazing to see how far the business has come.

“I think this is something that will be everywhere; a method of growing that seeps into all parts of our lives,” he commented. “Hindsight being 2020, I have to say that this whole experience has been the greatest learning experience of my life. I am just really grateful.”

Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and Past District Director for SCORE, Wisconsin.

Copyright © 2020 Green Bay Press Gazette

Uw Extension Parntership

Partnerships Make it Happen!

By Laura Apfelbeck, FoodWIse Coordinator & Elena Garcia, UW-Green Bay Dietetic Intern

One in five Wisconsin children are food insecure, a situation worsened by COVID-19. Food insecure households do not have the food they need or are uncertain they will be able to get it. Poor nutrition leads to poorer school outcomes, poorer health outcomes, lower life expectancy, and increased healthcare costs. In Wisconsin, food insecurity among families with kids rose from 9% common in 2015-2019 to nearly 23% in April-June 2020.

Emergency food programs are trying to assist but struggle to afford fresh food. Food pantries may receive donated produce near or past expiration dates. Since vitamins deplete over time, older produce is less nutritious. In light of these issues, FoodWIse has partnered with multiple organizations to offer support.

Earlier this year, Fork Farms of Appleton announced a plan to help nonprofits acquire hydroponic grow systems as part of their response to COVID-19. FoodWIse proposed the idea for using Flex Farms to grow and distribute fresh greens to low-income people. A single Flex Farm can produce over 20lbs of greens each month.

In June, Fork Farms matched the Hmong Senior Meals project with a funder, UnitedHealthcare who generously donated a Flex Farm system. Since senior meal programs are impossible right now, Master Gardeners agreed to grow greens for one year for donation. First Presbyterian Community Meals will serve fresh green salad at the weekly community meal and Salvation Army Food Pantry will promote and distribute bagged salad greens.

As part of the wrap around programming, UW-Green Bay Dietetic Intern Elena Garcia created materials to promote consumption of greens by kids and healthy dressing recipes. Her two videos can be found utilizing the videos below:

How to Get Kids Interested in Vegetables

Homemade Salad Dressing