Sprouts up in East Nor­walk

Could pro­duce 100,000 heads of let­tuce an­nu­ally

The Norwalk Hour - - FRONT PAGE - By Robert Koch

NOR­WALK — Ev­ery five weeks, Winthrop Baum and his de­vel­op­ment team har­vest im­mac­u­lately clean let­tuce heads from a hy­dro­ponic ur­ban farm within the walls of his of­fice build­ing at 25 Van Zant St. in East Nor­walk.

That’s 10 crops a year, as com­pared to three grown in Cal­i­for­nia’s rich Napa Val­ley.

But there’s no soil in­volved. At Ur­ban Farm No. 1, let­tuce plants sprout from racks of plas­tic pip­ing through which nu­tri­ents re­cir­cu­late. Spe­cial LED lights pro­vide “sun­light” to fuel their growth.

“It’s grown in a con­trolled en­vi­ron­ment so it gets 16 hours of ‘sun’ ev­ery day,” said John Es­pos­ito, lead tech­ni­cian. “It never rains, it’s never cloudy and it’s grown in a nu­tri­ent­film tech­nique, which is a so­lu­tion of nu­tri­ents and wa­ter that pass un­der­neath the root growth sys­tem which nour­ishes the plant, and we do a five-week pro­gram, from seed to har­vest.”

Hy­dro­pon­ics en­tails grow­ing plants in nu­tri­ent so­lu­tions with or with­out an in­ert medium, such as soil, to pro­vide me­chan­i­cal sup­port. The plant roots of­ten hang in wa­ter with a rich mix­ture of nu­tri­ents dis­solved in it, ac­cord­ing to Mer­riam Web­ster.

Es­pos­ito, a self-de­scribed “back­yard dirt farmer” who con­verted to hy­dro­pon­ics, said the sys­tem pro­duces a far su­pe­rior prod­uct that’s nu­tri­ent-rich and not sus­cep­ti­ble to the

weather, in­sects and other threats.

The four-tier, 4-by-10-foot grow­ing sys­tem is able to pro­duce 360 heads of let­tuce. Un­der de­vel­op­ment for a year, Ur­ban Farm No. 1 is now poised to ex­pand to 5,600 square feet within the build­ing.

“We have cre­ated the ca­pac­ity to grow up to 100,000 heads of let­tuce a year out of 5,600 square feet,” said Baum, owner of the build­ing. “It’s all very tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced. This is some­thing very, very new. This was not pos­si­ble a year ago. It’s taken us a year to de­velop this con­cept. And now we’ve proven it with our sec­ond com­pleted crop.”

Baum said Ur­ban Farm No. 1 re­lies upon a vari­a­tion of LED light­ing that wasn’t pos­si­ble un­til re­cently.

“It was the light spec­trum that could not be repli­cated in­doors,” Baum said. “We’ve been able to do that, work­ing with some man­u­fac­tur­ers that we have.”

On the ta­ble of Baum’s of­fice are green but­ter, sweet green crisp, but­ter­head and other sam­ples of the nine gourmet let­tuce types be­ing grown in the ur­ban farm and made avail­able to lo­cal restau­rants.

“We’re do­ing this in in a con­trolled en­vi­ron­ment in­doors in a very, dense ur­ban area,” said Paulo Bor­ros, who’s mar­ket­ing the let­tuce. “Be­cause we have a con­cen­tra­tion of a lot of restau­rants, we have a con­cen­tra­tion of peo­ple that would like to con­sume this. That’s the beauty of this. Where are you grow­ing this? Oh, on Route 136 on Van Zant Street in Nor­walk.”

Baum said the de­vel­op­ment team is look­ing to dis­trib­ute the let­tuce di­rectly to con­sumers and se­lect restau­rants in the area. He hopes to see the idea picked up in other ur­ban ar­eas.

“Ev­ery ma­jor city should have an ur­ban farm,” Baum said. “A third of the cost of pro­duce is taken up in the cost of truck­ing it. The av­er­age head of let­tuce trav­els 2,000 miles to get to its mar­ket.”

By next spring, Baum said he hopes to hold a farmer’s mar­ket ev­ery Satur­day at the build­ing’s load­ing dock.

Ur­ban Farm No. 1 is part of Baum’s on­go­ing $12.5 mil­lion ren­o­va­tion of the five-story, 250,000-square­foot of­fice build­ing in East Nor­walk. The project is re­plac­ing the roof, sid­ing and win­dows, and cre­at­ing a work­force train­ing cen­ter. Baum said he’s work­ing with vo­ca­tional schools to pro­vide space for train­ing in para­le­gal, plumb­ing, au­to­mo­tive, sec­re­tar­ial, cos­me­tol­ogy, culi­nary arts, in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy, elec­tri­cal, nurs­ing and other pro­fes­sions.

The ex­pand­ing ur­ban farm is a per­fect match for culi­nary arts train­ing, ac­cord­ing to Bor­ros.

“There’s an ed­u­ca­tional part of this,” Bor­ros said. “We’re go­ing to be part­ner­ing with schools and bring­ing stu­dents in to ex­pe­ri­ence the grow­ing cy­cle.”

Erik Traut­mann / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Winthrop Baum, owner the of­fice build­ing at 25 van Zant St., an­nounces the es­tab­lish­ment of an Ur­ban Farm in one of the suites in the build­ing in Nor­walk on Thurs­day.

Erik Traut­mann / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Winthrop Baum, owner the of­fice build­ing at 25 van Zant St. an­nounces the es­tab­lish­ment of an Ur­ban Farm in one of the suites in the build­ing on Thurs­day.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.