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Texas-Sized Hydroponics with a Heart

In 2016, the Texas State Fair initiated a program to invest financial and human capital to make a hydroponic urban farm all to contribute fruits and vegetables to the surrounding area through charitable food distribution partners. So, the fairgrounds are located in a low income neighborhood in Dallas, TX. They do as a consequence, wreak havoc on the surrounding area with traffic and commerce during fair season. This is a way that they can give back to the community in a substantive and sincere manner. And it is crazy productive! 

In 2020, they produced and donated over 26,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables to the community. 

I had the opportunity to tour Bix Tex Urban Farms and see first hand the fantastic installation that is doing so much good in the community. 

The green house is large and well outfitted with power, water, and ventilation.Urban Farm buildingThis is really important to making consistent production and also for the research and development that they are employing as well. They are not only growing lots of nutritious food for the community, they are educating the public on urban farming and employing and evaluating several different systems and techniques to grow. The plants are grown hydroponically without soil using a liquid recipe of complete plant nutrition. They monitor and adjust pH and electrical conductivity (EC) as an indicator of the remaining fertilizer in the solution as the plants take it up and produce growth. 

So there are massive deep water culture (DWC) raft beds that span one side of the greenhouse. These use floating rafts to culture leafy greens- Tatsoi, lettuce, kale, and Swiss chard. Quality overhead pink spectrum LED grow lights hang from above. The lights extend the growing season when needed as days are shorter in the winter months. Mature plants are harvested on one side, the rafts pushed over and rafts planted with small seedlings are planted on the other. 

In the center of the greenhouse there is a 10 ft tall lattice of cucumbers. These are growing from rockwool blocks on top of rockwool slabs. The rockwool is a grow medium that allows good moisture retention and also good air flow to roots between feedings. 

Vertical racks of trays of microgreens and herbs set to one side. Each rack has its own set of lights and the whole system is also on caster wheels to move it as needed. These trays are flooded from the bottom from a reservoir below. These intermittent feedings are a “flood and drain” system. Bottom feedings have the advantage of better plant health and sanitation since it avoids topwatering.

The Dutch bucket systems in the back of the green house are amazing housing long term plantings of dinosaur kale and Brussel sprouts. These are so large and bizarre, they are each a specimen growing out of a 3 gallon bucket and extending up to 8 feet tall. Multiple harvests continue as optimal nutrients are delivered to each bucket. The buckets are designed to drain completely into a central line and each bucket contains either a coco fiber or perlite based medium for the roots to grow in while providing some moisture retention and good air space for oxygen to get to the roots in between feedings. While the medium provides aera for roots to spread out, it is not support for the plants. They are heavy and productive and require trellising with strings or nets to support them as they produce and reach for the sky/grow lights. That is part of the magic of soilless growing: the plants are 25% more productive and invest very little energy into structural roots. This method is also particularly well-adapted to urban farms where you can make a farm out of an old warehouse or a cement foundation or a spare lot with unimproved soil. Urban farming brings producer and consumer in contact with each other. You know your customers,  produce is fresh and nutritious, and there is no added cost in transportation.  Urban farms are great for teaching kids about their food, STEM science programs, and business too! Big Tex Urban farms is great at bringing a community together in Dallas. 

Enterprise Aquatics would look forward to partnering with a local group to do something similar in the Baton Rouge area. Interested in a conversation? Contact us: info@enterpriseaquatics.com 

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