Tag Archives: Santa Barbara California

True Garden: Solving the Southwest’s Water Crisis With Innovation

True Garden’s greenhouse is located near Phoenix, Arizona.

True Garden’s greenhouse is located near Phoenix, Arizona. (Click photo to enlarge)


True Garden greenhouse

Thinking Green: True Garden’s greenhouse optimizes natural, convection-based, roof venting for energy efficient climate control. (Click photo to enlarge)

Phoenix, Arizona-based True Garden is the premier vertical aeroponic food farm in the Southwest U.S. This first-of-its-kind facility, operated by solar power, was designed in partnership with Future Growing® LLC with a vision to drastically reduce the region’s agricultural water consumption while making local, living produce available year-round in the hot desert regions of Phoenix and the Southwest US.

True Garden is the first high-tech greenhouse in the U.S. capable of producing most cool season food crops year-round—even in the scorching desert, where temperatures reach 120 degrees during the day and 90 degrees at night during summer months. The greenhouse uses very little energy in the winter months by operating in a naturally vented mode. During the hotter summer months, the greenhouse utilizes a combination of smart and efficient technologies to affordably keep the greenhouse at optimal temperatures, both during the day and night.

Future Growing co-founder Jessica Blank with True Garden co-founder Troy Albright.

Future Growing co-founder Jessica Blank with True Garden co-founder Troy Albright. (Click photo to enlarge)

As the centerpiece of its state-of-the art greenhouse, True Garden founders Lisa and Troy Albright selected Future Growing’s® vertical aeroponic Tower Garden® technology because Future Growing® has a very successful and proven track record–establishing hundreds of urban farms with its vertical aeroponic technology across the country–and the vertical tower farm is ideal for small urban settings like this one.

Utilizing Future Growing’s® aeroponic technology which re-circulates valuable water, True Garden uses 95% less water, 90% less space, and no harmful chemical, pesticides, or herbicides like Roundup®. The technology benefits urban growers and consumers alike, since the aeroponic plants grown in Tower Gardens® are more nutrient-dense than traditional produce. They grow extremely fast, and the Tower Gardens® yield “living” produce with the roots still intact. You cannot buy produce that is fresher and more hyperlocal than that.

24 day old “living” basil ready for market.

24 day old “living” basil ready for market. (Click photo to enlarge)

Understanding that the current U.S. water crisis is more serious than any other time in our history, Lisa and Troy are dedicated to implementing technologies like Future Growing’s® vertical aeroponic growing system that empower local farmers, eliminate food transportation, and use significantly less water than conventional farming. In addition to urban farming, True Garden is dedicated educating the public and empowering homeowners to grow the same way in their own back yard. Local food, living produce, tours, events, and classes at True Garden can be found at www.TrueGarden.com.

Tim Blank
Founder and CEO, Future Growing® LLC


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California Farmer Finds Solution To The State’s Water Crisis In Local Food

Today, I would like to share with you the story of how Niels Thorlaksson, an amazing Tower Garden® farmer in Santa Barbara, transformed his life from a job that he was not passionate about to living his dream of growing food for the masses with the most energy-efficient and sustainable farming method on the planet. With the severe drought in California, more farmers are looking for similar sustainable, earth friendly growing solutions—and Tower Garden® vertical food farming technology,which uses 90 percent less water on 90 percent land, provides that chemical-free solution for feeding Americans, today and into the future.

Niels Thorlaksson’s backyard has 100 aeroponic Tower Gardens®. (Click photo to enlarge)

Here is Niels’ story, in his own words:

“My Dad, Erik, has always been an avid gardener, which started my interest in growing my own fruits and vegetables when I was just a little kid. We would plant a garden at home with tomatoes, squash, and zucchini, to name just a few. It was fun eating fresh produce that we had grown, and we enjoyed sharing our harvest with friends too. Growing up, we spent our Saturday mornings visiting the local farmers’ market. I loved trying all the cool local foods, and seeing new offerings with each season. These values of growing my own food and supporting local farmers stuck with me and are still very important to me.

For the past three years, I had been working for a large company in downtown Los Angeles. I realized that my job wasn’t who I was or what I stood for. I knew that I wanted to be involved with something that was making a bigger impact on our world, and do something I really loved. But I had no idea what it was going to be.

Niels holds a harvest of fresh Tower Garden® lettuce. (Click photo to enlarge)

This realization coincided with my introduction to the Tower Garden®. I was fascinated by the technology and loved the ability to save signficiant water, space and time while growing. My family and I decided to purchase one Tower Garden®, and we set it up next to our tomato and squash garden in the back yard.

However, I soon learned that Tower Gardens® were being used for much more than for home growers. I found out that they are being used for commercial food production to support the sustainable and local food movements. I wanted to see how it worked with my own eyes, so I went on tours of several Tower Garden® farms.

Seeing how the Tower Gardens® can directly impact people’s lives in such a positive way was the final piece of the puzzle. I helped set up several small farms in southern California, and saw that other people shared my values. This is when I decided I wanted to get involved and start a project of my own.

Land is extremely expensive in my area, so I currently have 100 Future Growing® Tower Gardens® in my own back yard. Watering grass has given way to watering food, which is grown and used locally. My part-time hobby expanded my vision and passion for local growing, in what has become a successful, full-time business.

Click photo to enlarge.

Click photo to enlarge.

I am blessed to be working with some of the top restaurants in Santa Barbara region, and my five-star produce undoubtedly keeps me in that position. I work directly with the chefs to deliver exactly what they want to see on their menus. I can grow special varieties they can’t find in farmers’ markets. When I get my orders, I can deliver them the same day, since most of the restaurants are a few minutes away from my farm in downtown Santa Barbara. In fact, I am the closest farm to downtown!

I hope our Tower Garden® farm will inspire people to change the way they think about the food they eat, where it comes from, and how it is produced. With many of the problems we are facing in the future, I believe the Tower Garden® is essential to improving the way we access our food.”

Everyone at Future Growing agrees with Niels that the vertical aeroponic Tower Garden® growing system is necessary to support the populations of today and the future. With its recirculating water system, the Tower Garden® technology saves an incredible amount of time, water, and energy and—most importantly—produces the best-tasting, sustainable produce around. I commend Niels, along with all the other Future Growing® farmers, for following their passion and building a business that not only improves their lives, but also the lives of everyone around them and the planet.

Tim Blank
Founder and CEO, Future Growing® LLC


California Entrepreneur Leads Rooftop Tower Garden® Farm To Extraordinary Success

Chapala Gardens

This week, I am re-posting a blog I shared in April, about Chapala Gardens’ rooftop farm. Since my visit this spring, Jake Kelly’s farm continues to expand and realize significant success.

This extraordinary young woman has really become an important part of the local food scene in Santa Barbara, Calif. If you live in Santa Barbara and want to buy local food, you can find Jake and her delicious, chemical-free local produce at the Sunday Farmer’s Market in Goleta from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. Chapala Gardens is also open for shopping on Tuesdays from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., and on Thursdays from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

For Chapala Garden’s address and directions, visit www.ChapalaGardens.com. If you live on the east coast, see Jake in Orlando, Florida on Thursday, October 17. She will be providing training on the patented Tower Garden® technology at the Tower Garden/Juice Plus Fall Leadership Conference at the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center, October 17 through October 19.

Chapala Gardens

Chapala Gardens’ rooftop farm in Santa Barbara, CA. Almost a ton of produce can be harvested annualy from this small rooftop. (Click photo to enlarge)

Now in its second year of operation, Chapala Gardens has been extraordinarily successful in making local, healthy, chemical-free, low-carbon footprint food readily available to its friends and neighbors in Santa Barbara.

Behind every successful “green” business is a person with a passion, and that is certainly true for 25-year-old Jake Kelly, the head grower for Chapala Gardens. Jake has been passionate about growing healthy food since she was young girl. She grew up in Waldorf Education, where farming was part of the curriculum. After she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree, she went to Europe to work and learn on organic farms.

Jake Kelly

Jake Kelly holds a bouquet of lettuce.
(Click photo to enlarge)

While she was away, her parents Joy and Sandy decided to open California’s first vertical aeroponic Future Growing® rooftop farm. When she returned home, Jake immediately took on the role as head grower of Chapala Gardens and launched the thriving business.  Jake was recently nominated for Young Female Entrepreneur 2013 in Santa Barbara CA.

Now, Jake’s rooftop farm is home to 40 commercial Tower Gardens® with 44 plants per tower.

Jake’s successful business has 3 main areas of focus:

  1. Providing food for the community through the local farmers market.
  2. Leading a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm.
  3. Educating and training people how to do the same thing right in their own back yard.
Jake Kelly

Jake Kelly with freshly harvested “living” lettuce.
(Click photo to enlarge)

As a young woman with a big heart who cares about the planet and humanity, Jake is on a mission to show people that there is a solution to the environmental challenges we all face with new and innovative green technologies.

At a recent health and wellness event, Jake shared, “We are simply running out of water in California and no one knows what to do! I do know what to do, and I have a solution. I can grow an enormous amount of plants vertically on my rooftop and patio with as little as five percent of the water as the farmers up the road. I don’t use contaminated water, herbicides, or harmful chemicals. My food is nutrient-dense, clean, and free of harmful pathogens. We can all do this; it is really simple and it’s the right thing to do!”

Tim Blank
Founder and CEO, Future Growing® LLC


Is The Water Crisis Over in California? Meet Alex Thomson, the Vertical Farmer Who May Have a Solution!

Alex1

Alex Thomson, Founder

In today’s world of “green washing” and “marketing makeovers”, it is a genuine pleasure to meet a real “green” entrepreneur making a difference in the local food movement. The entrepreneur’s name is Alex Thomson, the Vertical Farmer, founder of Montecito Urban Farms in sunny California. I recently visited Alex and his team at their farm’s Grand Opening event in Santa Barbara, CA.  I was delighted to see the somewhat unconventional location of the farm: what was once unused parking space filled with weeds is now home to a 150-tower vertical forest filled with a bounty of food crops. And all of this in the middle of a busy California urban environment, just a few blocks away from the beautiful Pacific ocean.

I sat down to interview Alex and here is what he had to say.

What inspired you to become a vertical farmer providing local food?

MUF 14

lettuce mix

I had been successful at other businesses and was really looking for something new. I wanted to do something that would make a difference for our planet, something I could be proud of, and something that would contribute to humanity in a positive way. I always liked growing plants. There is something very therapeutic about it: you plant a seed, nurture it, watch it sprout and grow, and then it develops into a beautiful, healthy plant that will benefit someone else. What could be more rewarding?

When did you take the first step towards your dream?

Montecito Urban Farms

A couple of years ago, I started exploring how I could become a local food farmer. I started searching online, and wow, let me tell you, you can’t imagine the magic snake oil I came across in my journey. There were all kinds of unsubstantiated claims about the next magical  growing system. From stacking Styrofoam, to a box of fish to go, I saw it all! Meanwhile, aquaponics seemed to be all over the place with a new seminar popping up on every block, so it really interested me. However, the more I investigated it, the more I found dead fish rather than successful farms. I could not find a single successful for-profit aquaponic farm, and it seemed very risky from those I had talked with who had actually done it. Almost every project that aquaponics companies showed me had been open for only a year or less, or was for educational purposes only. That may be fine for a school, but I was looking to start a for-profit business: one that is financially sustainable with proven success and something that I could make a living at and pay my employees a fair wage.

Unfortunately, it is a story I have heard all too often. How did you get on track to something successful?

Everything changed for me when I met a man named Todd Mehl and he introduced me to MUF 8the Tower Garden®. A month later, Todd introduced me to Future Growing® Founder and CEO Tim Blank, who was in town speaking to our mayor, several other local politicians, and business leaders on sustainable farming practices utilizing the Tower Garden® technology. Once I saw the technology in action, there was no turning back. I had never seen anything produce food as simple, clean, and easy as the Tower Garden® technology. I immediately bought my first home-based micro-farm and it seemed almost bullet proof. In no time at all, I was hauling pounds of fresh produce to the local restaurants. What happened next was a bit astonishing! The chefs at that time did not know me personally, but went crazy over the freshness, quality, and flavor of produce I was growing! They told me, “We cannot get this quality even in California.” I thought about how crazy that is, since so most of the nation’s vegetables are grown right here in California. They chefs told me they would take all I could grow, and from there I was off and running.

MUF 9I formed a quality business plan based on the successful results of my micro-farm, found a location near local restaurants and foot traffic, ordered my farm, and was up and growing in a matter of days. That is how simple the technology is. I am really good at this now and I did not go to school for this. While my farm was being shipped, I actually trained hands-on at other successful Future Growing® farms. Todd Mehl launched the farm with me and, together with a few interns we employ from the local collage, we harvest 2,200 living plants a week!

But the story gets much bigger than that! Look, the carbon footprint that food leaves on our planet is no longer a secret but a sad nightmare. Pesticides, environmental contaminants, contaminated water, food-borne illness, and low nutritional food are the real challenges facing our modern food system. In the state of California, we are running out of water for agriculture and people and it is one of the most serious issues our state faces in the coming decade. There seems to be no real solution coming from our elected officials. Climate change is bringing early seasonal changes such as freezes where we don’t normally have them. In fact, California farms suffered one of the worst freezes this winter. But get this: while they were freezing, our vertical farm that grows food off the cold ground did not freeze and we continued to harvest all winter long! I had several farmers come by and scratch their head as they watched us harvest produce right after the last freeze. I am now friends with several of them.

Who are your primary clients?

MUF 3All our clients are restaurants in the local area. For the restaurant next door, we simply walk the produce to the kitchen, which has a travel carbon footprint of zero. It does not get any greener than that! Our local chefs actually come and do events and dinners right on site at our farm. They have become our partners and friends in this community.

How do you feel your produce differs from the traditional farm sources in California?

Where do I start? Let me start with the most important component to all plant life: water. It is common knowledge that much of the California water supply is polluted with farm chemicals, other industrial waste or runoff, and environmental contaminants. This limited and precious water supply in California is shared from field to field as it travels south. So is MUF 21an organic farm really that organic? I don’t know, but we are gaining more scientific knowledge about this each year.

At Montecito Urban Farms, we start with purified water using a highly-efficient Reverse Osmosis system to remove all contaminants and salt. The waste water from the system is used to water the local landscape, for cleaning, and other uses. The purified water supply combined with the clean, pure earth mineral solution used to feed the plants gives us some of the healthiest, great tasting, and nutrient dense produce available today. When people first visit the farm, they say, ”Wow, this is wonderful. I did not even know lettuce had a smell!”

Modern agriculture uses a lot of disposable or low-grade plastics. Our vertical farm is made of safe, heavy duty, food-grade plastic designed for decades of use. We spray no herbicides. We spray no chemical pesticides. Food-borne illnesses found in soil are non-existent in clean aeroponic systems that grow vertically and are off the ground. And, get this: we use up to 95% less water than conventional farming and grow this food on 90% less land. Because the farm is local, we employ local people, producing a positive financial impact on our local community. Most of our nation’s farms, I believe, are genuinely doing the best job they can do to grow food with the big agricultural paradigm that exists today in our country. It is hard for me to believe and amazing at the same time that we have this extraordinary technology to grow safe food with a small fraction of the water, land, petro-chemicals and chemical pesticides that modern agriculture uses. The water crisis could be close to over if we all grew like this!

What are the top 3 things that have surprised you most about having this farm?

  1. How quickly we were successful. I mean, we were almost sold out from day one.
  2. How easy it is to be a success with the right training and technology. I had a lot of business experience but I did not have any experience in growing food until I started with my Future Growing® Tower Garden® farm.
  3. The most surprising thing to me is how many people see our farm and want to do the 4b Montecito Urban Farms Grand openingTower Garden® franchise for the residential market at the end of 2012, and it simply exploded before my eyes. In a half a year, we have literally trained hundreds of people at our farm to do the same thing right in their own back yards. Imagine for a moment that, if every family in America had at least one Tower Garden® in their back yard, there would be millions of pounds of produce that would not have to get on a truck. Think about how significantly our carbon footprint on this planet would be reduced. That is my next mission!

Alex, can people see your farm, buy produce directly from you, and take classes at your farm?

Absolutely, we are open to the public. To learn more, you can visit us on line at http://www.MontecitoUrbanfarms.com.

Tim Blank
Founder and CEO, Future Growing® LLC