LFL Field Trip to Viridis Aquaponics Growers

Last Friday the LFL team and I drove through the fields of raspberries, strawberries, lettuce, and onions that make up the vast agricultural industry of Watsonville. Our destination was Viridis Aquaponic Growers to meet owners John Parr and Drew Hopkins. 

As Drew mentioned on the phone,  we were in for a treat.

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Drew Hopkins and Jon Parr are the local masterminds behind the booming Viridis Aquaponic Growers. Over the course of the next two hours, Drew would take us on a grand tour through their latest feats in aquaponics, grabbing “cuques" (cucumbers) off the vine, pulling live sturgeons from a giant cylindrical fish tank, and dishing out an amazing array of knowledge on aquaponics.

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Drew's big question: “How are people going to eat in the future?” He's not operating with a contrived doomsday scenario. Instead, he's worried about the unsustainable nature of the current agriculture industry, not just in California, but globally. His answer—aquaponics. This is a system that blends methods in aquaculture and hydroponics. Fish are raised in tanks of water (aquaculture), then this water is piped into the hydroponic system (plants growing in water) where the fish effluence (waste) is broken down to an amazing nutrient-rich formula for the plants.

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Here's Drew breaking down the benefits of high performance agriculture (below). Traditional dirt farmers produce one head of lettuce per square foot a day with a rate of three crops a year, while Viridis produces three heads per square foot with twelve or more crops a year. Do the math -- this is a huge difference. 

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Things move (and grow) fast around here. Viridis is planting and harvesting every two weeks. Each room is 5,000 square feet and they have 64 rooms. Currently they are planting one room each day. That’s means 320,000 square feet of aquaponic systems. 

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Our gracious guide explaining the natural growth of plants and how they've engineered a new system of when and where they plant, that has doubled their crop output. 

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Viridis hopes to franchise their growing method in the future. They have their sights on Austin, Nashville, Brasilia, Abu Dhabi. They're thinking big—fruits and vegetables hanging from every post, an area for lectures and classes, on-site housing and all-glass testing laboratories. Viridis is only 90 days old, but they know how to dream big. At this rate, we're going to be hearing a lot more about aquaponics.

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View Viridis' Local Food Lab portfolio for more information.