Originally published in Issue 10
Urban Ag News was started as a tool to provide people interested in controlled environment agriculture with an unbiased information resource.
Chris Higgins, founder of Urban Ag News, said the idea for this information resource began with conversations he had with vendors of horticultural and agricultural products.
“The idea started prior to the big movement in controlled environment agriculture specifically focusing on the production of leafy greens and culinary herbs in vertical farms,” Higgins said. “There have been a few specialized companies that have been selling products related to hydroponic production for many years. But it has only been within the last five years that controlled environment agriculture has become a hot topic. Producing vegetables hydroponically has recently become a topic of interest to both growers and non-growers.”
Many of the inquiries that the vendors were and still are receiving come from people outside the industry.
“The vendors weren’t necessarily in a position to respond to the questions coming from the people interested in learning more about hydroponics,” Higgins said. “Historically most of the questions were being fielded by a handful of people and much of the information that was provided was coming from Dutch sources. After talking with vendors and educators about the type of inquiries they were fielding, it came down to being able to provide the people interested in hydroponics with unbiased information. And that’s how Urban Ag News got its start.”
A major goal of Urban Ag News is to deliver information on sustainable agricultural practices whether those are done in greenhouses, vertical farms or high tunnels.
“Controlled environment agriculture is a tool for a way to produce food and non-food crops,” Higgins said. “As a tool it gives people an opportunity in certain markets to grow food year-round, including crops that historically could not be grown year-round. Controlled environment agriculture is a tool that allows growers to do pesticide-free production and offers them the potential to do organic production that is more consistent and uniform. Controlled environment agriculture can also address environmental issues, related to water, light, nutrition and energy.
“Realistically controlled environment agriculture today is about the production of leafy greens, culinary herbs and high end produce. In order for the industry to move forward growers have to be able to do the things they are doing better. This is where Urban Ag News comes in. Offering growers an educational and informational tool to do what they do better.”
The potential of vertical farming
Vertical farming has gained a lot of media attention as new companies seem to pop up on a weekly basis. While some people have questioned the ability of these companies to become and remain profitable, Higgins has seen firsthand the production and profitability potential these operations can achieve.
“A vertical farm should be looked at as nothing more than a farm that has the ability to maximize production per cubic foot,” he said. “What vertical farming looks like when it is profitable is not like those sexy architectural drawings that can be found on the Internet. There are people who are profitable vertical farmers. For example, a micropropagation facility is a vertical farm. Plants are being grown on racks under supplemental lights, in highly controlled environments with plant densities maximized per square inch.
“Propagation facilities like Grafted Growers in Tucson, Ariz., is a good example. This company is using a controlled environment in a vertical set up to provide more control and to deliver a higher success rate. This type of young plant production, similar to micropropagation facilities, can help drive vertical farming forward. At the same time it will have an impact on companies using more conventional production practices. These types of companies will also certainly have an impact on a global scale in a mass way.”
“Urban Ag News seeks to unlock plant production methods, techniques and research that has been held by very few individuals. Provide people with this information and then let them take it and be creative with it.”
– Chris Higgins, Founder of Urban Ag News
Even though Urban Ag News may feature companies that could have a global impact, it is not trying to focus on global issue topics.
“What Urban Ag News wants to be as it moves forward is to provide those individuals involved with food production the building blocks to create changes,” Higgins said. “Urban Ag News is not trying to tell people what to do. It is trying to give people ways to think about food production. Ways to understand it. Ways to take the basic science and apply some of the ideas that they have.
“Urban Ag News seeks to unlock plant production methods, techniques and research that has been held by very few individuals. Provide people with this information and then let them take it and be creative with it. Urban Ag News can empower them with the knowledge to innovate. Knowing that it’s not going to be a quick change, but knowing the innovation is going to be a part of the long term evolution of the controlled environment agriculture industry.”
Urban Ag News keeps evolving
Just like the controlled environment agriculture industry, Higgins said he sees Urban Ag News evolving to meet the changing needs of the industry.
“As an educational tool to help the controlled environment agriculture industry, I see Urban Ag News developing in various forms and platforms,” he said. “I expect these will be developed with guidance of university, industry and extension professionals.
“Urban agriculture has always been inspired by organizations like the Khan Academy and TED. Urban agriculture is finding unique ways to deliver educational information to a wide variety of people regardless of their language, economic position and educational level. We have a very broad audience and we cannot expect one method of communication to effectively deliver content to every individual and to every grower.
“People like to define everything and put labels on things. In my opinion, it’s still too early to define the controlled environment agriculture industry and tell what it’s going to look like and what it’s going to do. People want sustainable agriculture. They want or are trying to do things because they feel they are better for it, be that a food system, the environment, or a business.
What we are really talking about is sustainable agriculture.”
For more: Urban Ag News, (469) 532-2261; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://urbanagnews.com.
David Kuack is a freelance technical writer in Fort Worth, Texas; email@example.com.