From the Editor: Hydroponic How-To

Exact Sciences Corp. shares top operational lessons with Editor-in-Chief Allison Rezendes.

Allison for WEB

Flip to Page 51 of this month’s issue (or click here) and you’ll learn all about Farm & Market, which may be the first restaurant with a hydroponic farm FER has ever featured. For noncommercial foodservice operators, the setup also has benefits. Case in point: Exact Sciences Corp. in Madison, Wis. There, Logan Morrow, farm specialist, oversees two hydroponic farms, each situated in a freight-type container, that supply employee dining spaces.

“Hydroponic farming is farming in nutrient-rich water in place of soil,” Morrow says. It boasts many advantages. One reason Exact Sciences invested in the farms was because of how nutrient-dense the produce is since it’s harvested and served almost immediately.

“Employee wellness is a large part of who we are at Exact Sciences and we wanted to allow the opportunity for employees to have the freshest, most nutrient-dense meals possible,” Morrow says. Exact Sciences, a provider of cancer screening and diagnostic tests, also buys eggs, milk and meat from local farms.

For a foodservice operator considering a hydroponic farm, Morrow recommends first looking at your current produce needs. How much and what types are you purchasing? Your answer will help determine what system makes sense. Hydroponic farms excel at leafy greens but because they’re typically small, aren’t the best choice for something that needs a lot of room to grow.

Next, do your research. Morrow has some 10 years of farming experience but with hydroponics, “it’s a lot different than growing in the ground,” he says. “It’s not to say that it’s difficult, it’s just understanding the different nuances. Read up on it and understand the water chemistry and how plants react to systems like this.”

Plan on working closely with your chefs, too. “Have regular communication with them to understand what the needs are for the program,” he says. “Things take time and with farms, you can’t clap your hands and all of a sudden you’ve got a new head of lettuce harvested, ready to go.”

Morrow has seen more foodservice operations, from corporations to universities, make wellness a priority and lean on local farms, hydroponic or not, to support it. I can’t wait to see what our industry does next.

ALLISON REZENDES
Editor-in-Chief
arezendes@fermag.com


3 THINGS

A LOOK AT EXACT SCIENCES’ HYDROPONIC FARMS, BY THE NUMBERS

320 Square Feet

The measurement of one hydroponic farm, which replicates two acres worth of outdoor growing space by taking advantage of vertical grow towers.

7 Weeks

The amount of time it takes to grow a head of lettuce. It starts at the seedling station, where it will grow for three weeks before it transfers to its final grow spot.

365 Days

The number of days a year the hydroponic farms work to produce crops. They never shut down, not even during a months-long Wisconsin winter.

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