Square Roots Farms Tour
To strengthen our sense of community is very important to know your neighbor! For that, More Than Gardens wants to gather garden enthusiasts in events, seed and produce swap and just hang out to talk about gardening and (more than gardening). We have a Facebook Group that grows everyday and soon we’ll be integrating interactive functions to our website. So stay tuned and stay active at our group! Anyway, last week on February 27th, the More Than Gardens Community attended to its first group event. It was a tour at Square Root Farms, a totally awesome, high tech compact farm located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, right where everything happens!
I got there early because I considered the possibility of getting lost - which was totally plausible and actually done so in previous experiences. But this time it didn’t happen, and even though the entrance of the building is not actually located at the address they provide on the website, but a sign at the door tells you to go around the building and enter through the parking lot, so I could find their place without problem. Even if you have any problems there’s a security guard that is very helpful and will point you at the right direction. The building has a millennial feeling to it and apparently belongs to Pfizer and hosts several start up “modern mind” food related companies. Which everyone thought it was pretty neat!
A group of people arrived and we went upstairs in their office and presentation room, where we signed up our names and waited for it to start. That room was really awesome, very bright, cozy, with many books and an awesome view from Brooklyn and the farm containers in the parking lot.
A LOT of people showed up for the tour (thankfully not the 210 people that confirmed present in their meetup event) and the room got a little crowded, and even thought I had a good spot I’m not sure that everyone could see the presentation. But hey, at least they are giving the opportunity to all, because their private tours spots go fast. There was a lot of interesting people gathered there to be honest! It was a very diverse public overall, which was refreshing! I talked to a ex-cricked farmer, to a chef that wanted to become a mushroom grower, a chef that owns multiple restaurants in Florida and even to a very interesting lady that writes about food on assorted famous newspapers! You must love Brooklyn!!! Nevertheless, Tobias Peggs himself greeted us. He is the co-founder and CEO of Square Root farms, along with Kimbal Musk (from the Tesla company).
He talked about the company principle “Local, real food grown by modern urban farmers- all year round.” Explaining that they to do that through growing produce right in the heart of Brooklyn, shortening the distance between the farmer and the community. They promote those ideals on social media using the #knowyourfarmer and #realfood. After the 15 min introduction presentation he brought us downstairs and brought us to the containers. Peggs then opened the back of one of the containers which had a glass wall that allowed us to see inside while the system remained closed.
The farm consists in closed hydroponic systems inside several recycled containers located in the building’s parking lot. The crops are grown in coconut fiber plugs vertically, illuminated by purple LED lights (because studies show that plants absorb the colors blue and red with higher efficiency).
The purple lights are truly mesmerizing, but they come with a cost. Even thought the farm runs at the most of current technology efficiency, their power requirements are still so high that solar energy is not sufficient to run it. Combining the lighting needs and cooling off the containers from the heat generated by the lamps, it’s just too much! However, one of the owners is associated with the most important solar power investors in the world. I’m sure they’ll come up with something brilliant soon!
In terms of water, the system is amazingly efficient since each container uses only 8 gal of water a day and do that by recycling all the water used. A couple of times a year they empty their water system and use to water their outside gardens. Thumbs up guys! Peggs mentioned that all farming is done as “any other organic farm” so I’m hoping that means they use only organic certified products. However, their produce does not carry the USDA organic label, even thought the USA is one of the few countries that allows hydroponics being labeled as it. I meant to ask why but I was more curious about their actual farming techniques so I used my question opportunity to ask about that. The truth is, even though the term hydro-organics are still debatable, I believe Square Root Farms is doing a great job in providing safe, local food for the community. Besides, the hole debate has a lot of into it. I might talk about in the future but if you would like to know more about the discussion on hydro-organic and aeroponics check this article by Lidia Noyes and this other one by Dan Nosowitz..
After his presentation we went back upstairs and Peggs gave us several minutes for Q&As. Everyone had their opportunity and Peggs was very nice with everyone and made sure to answer all the questions to the best of his capabilities. He really seemed like a nice guy! After the tour was over they had set up a indoor farmers market