Last week, The Hungry Dogg and I were invited to visit Alegría Farm, California’s first urban hydroponic vertical farm on a ¼ acre property. A subsidiary of EnviroIngenuity, a Laguna Beach-based environmental company, its mission is to reduce waste and promote sustainable energy solutions, such as solar PV, hi-efficiency LED lighting, green building and vertical food production technologies.
I was really impressed by how small the farm actually is, everything is grown using the Verti-Gro® hydroponic system, which has been featured at the Epcot® theme park at Walt Disney World Resort for the last 16 years.
The system employs stacked interlocking pots with the nutrient solution automatically dripped through the plant’s root system. It uses 90 percent less water, 50 percent less fertilizer, 70 percent less land and zero toxic pesticides.
What REALLY caught my attention is the soil-less way of farming. I have eczema on my hands and soil aggravates it. Here, coconut fiber (coir) instead of organic soil is used, which eliminates the chances of soil-borne diseases and prevents use of toxic pesticides as well as irritating my hands. I held the coir in my hand for a while and it never caused any itching or aggravation whatsoever.
1,200 square feet of the farm is dedicated to five double rows of hydroponic vertical towers with a total of 150 towers growing over 8,000 plants. The towers are connected to tanks of hydroponic nutrients that feed the plants. Each stack is automatically watered on a schedule, average twice per day. Each stack has seven pots with four to eight plants in each pot.
About ¾ gallon is used in watering each stack (averaging 60 plants) and no water is wasted. The entire growing system is solar powered and off-grid which makes it truly sustainable.
Alegría Farm is currently growing heirloom tomatoes, zucchini, squash and other hydroponic vegetables and a variety of hydroponic greens and medicinal herbs. All plants are started from certified organic, non GMO seeds and grown into seedlings before being placed into the stacking system.
The tomatoes were SO huge I couldn’t believe they were often bigger than the size of a man’s hand.
As we walked through the rows, we plucked off leaves of green and red Romaine lettuce, arugula, Swiss chard, kale etc and munched on them. I marveled at how the Swiss chard didn’t have that strong mineral taste of soil which I don’t particularly care for.
The collard green leaves were also very tender and so easily eaten raw. Micro cilantro was so flavorful and on top of that, there are several types of basil including the Japanese variety better known as shiso vibrantly growing like a bush.
Tomatoes including Heirloom Beefsteak, Japanese Black Trifele, Black Krim, Black Sea Man, Yellow Brandywine, Black and Green Zebra and Cherry were growing in clusters like grapes, so beautiful and so unique in each of the flavors.
Alegría Farm’s purpose is to become a local green “Farmacy” providing nutrient-rich food to people who wish to improve their health and prevent diseases.
On top of that, Alegría Fresh is creating jobs for young people. Right now, they have youths between the 18-25 age range operating a produce delivery route, delivering beautiful salad green bouquets to local subscribers. You can visit their website for more details on how you can receive same-day harvested, clean and pesticide-free salad greens and seasonal vegetables delivered straight to your door.
If you are interested in visiting the farm or for more information, you can contact Jessica McLeish at 949-294-3554.
Alegria Farm has generously donated a vegetable bouquet for one of my readers to win this week. Leave me a comment with your full name and tell me why you would be interested in buying hydroponically grown vegetables or having one of these units to grow your own at home.
2675 Laguna Canyon Road
Laguna Beach, CA