The vertical greenhouse has been searching for a permanent home in London since February of this year – the same month they opened in St. Thomas.
It’s just a small workforce, consisting of owner/operator Ruth Easton and her husband, Harvey. Their story is completely DIY.
Open and shut case
Easton lost her job as a cytologist in St. Thomas, when the hospital’s lab moved to London a few years ago. After which, she began to examine her interests and her options.
She was always a gardener, she said, but didn’t know much about hydroponic growing. So, she went online for more information.
That led her to Upstart University, where she took a free course in agriculture technology. It was enough for her to decide she wanted to make a business out of growing food.
So The Urban Farm opened, then promptly closed.
Two days after their official opening in St. Thomas, Easton said their landlord decided to repurpose the building.
It left she and her husband, Harvey, with loads of produce to distribute to churches, schools and food banks. It also left them with a solid business plan and a whole farm’s worth of custom-made growing equipment.
The growing racks are surprisingly simple. Plants are placed in towers – vertical rows with built-in lighting and watering systems. Ruth’s husband, Harvey, designed and created their towers consisting of four rows and three sections each, saving tens of thousands of dollars. Harvey also designed the lighting system.
Because the growing is all done indoors (and because plants can’t tell time), ‘sunlight’ can be scheduled overnight, taking advantage of time of use billing prices. A typical ‘day’ at The Urban Farm is from 4 p.m. To 7 a.m.
Their water supply is a 300 gallon nutrient tank equipped with an Intellidose automatic pH/fertilyzing system. Unlike field farming, the only water loss The Urban Farm experiences comes from evaporation or plant consumption.
The Eastons’ have either created or customized everything they need for a successful indoor farm. But what’s in a name can be complicated, even when you talk to the right people.
“We have made some good contacts in London,” Ruth said. “The only problem is zoning.”
Farmland is not permissible within city limits, Easton said, adding what they do is not exactly traditional agricutlure. They use no dirt, no heavy machinery, and everything is above the ground. They are currently working with the city to get a zoning variance to allow them to set up shop permanently.
She said she expects the process to take between three and six months – hopefully sooner, Ruth said, because The Urban Farm has plans beyond the dinner table once it finds a new home.
In addition to selling produce to shoppers, the farm will also sell to restaurants and caterers. Larger orders need to be made in advance to accommodate grow times.
Greens take six weeks to reach maturity, while herbs can take between eight and 10 weeks. The farm’s first crop was made up of four types of lettuce, arugula, kale, spinach, chard, cilantro, sweet basil, parsley, and dill. Everything is live sale – nothing is harvested until it’s ordered by the customer.
For customers who want a farm of their own, they also sell five-foot growing towers, with the pump and circulatory system built in. They retail for $950+tx and will be available once the new farm is up and running.
Meanwhile, discerning restauranteurs and green-thumbed apartment dwellers will just have to wait the arrival of the future of farming.
Feature photo courtesy of The Urban Farm