In a presentation to the College and local community members on February 12, 2018, Saint Joseph’s College shared new details about the Institute for Local Food Systems Innovation. First announced in September 2017, the Institute will pursue the College’s long-standing initiatives in sustainability and community engagement, while contributing solutions to Maine’s need to recover manufacturing jobs, develop the state’s food and beverage industry, and meet regional food security goals.
As one of its key enterprises, the Institute will include hydroponic farming—growing crops year-round without soil in a climate controlled, state-of-the-art greenhouse. The greenhouse will contain five bays, consisting of 16,800 square feet on .39 acres of land across from the main entrance of the College on Whites Bridge Road. Lighting, venting, fans, and nutrients will ensure that food grows consistently and uniformly through all four of Maine’s seasons.
The Institute will not compete with local farmers. As quoted in a Lakes Region Weekly article by Matt Junker, Peter Nielsen, entrepreneur-in-residence and executive director of Mission-Aligned Business for the College, said, “It is imperative that we do not compete with the local, private farmers who are investing their own money into this — and are investing their land and their time and their hard work.”
Because crops like lettuce are imported from farms thousands of miles away for at least nine months out of a year, the College will fill a gap in current local food production capabilities.
The greenhouse also will serve as a classroom for students and members of the public who are eager for innovative, experiential learning. Individuals can enroll in courses spanning hydroponics, aquaponics, plant physiology, and biology, or pursue a Certificate in Hydroponic Culture. Current Saint Joseph’s College students are already growing lettuce in the school’s Freight Farm and three students have stepped into leadership positions for the new institute. Elyse Caiazzo ’18 serves as the assistant program director for the Institute, Hayley Winslow ’18 is the business services manager for Mission-Aligned Business, and Nick Guidi ’20 is gaining experience as a renewable energy analyst intern. All three spoke about their respective areas of expertise during the February 12 presentation.
Additionally, Dr. Mark Green, faculty in the Sciences Department and director of Hydroponic Enterprises, outlined the logistics of the greenhouse. He explained that the greenhouse will utilize three different hydroponic techniques: Nutrient Film Technology, Deep Water Culture, and the Dutch Bucket System. Through Nutrient Film Technology, a shallow stream of water containing all the dissolved nutrients required for plant growth is re-circulated past the bare roots of plants in a watertight gully. In Deep Water Culture the roots of plants are suspended in a solution of nutrient-rich, oxygenated water by floating plants on the water’s surface. The Dutch Bucket System is designed to grow larger, long term plants that require greater area for root systems and some degree of structural support (such as tomatoes). These three systems may yield an estimated 6,928 heads of lettuce per week and 360,256 heads per year, given a six-week crop cycle or 10,392 heads per week and 540, 384 heads per year, given a more aggressive four-week crop cycle. Construction of the hydroponic greenhouse, a pellet furnace system, and municipal water connection will begin in 2018.
-By Emma Deans, SJC Communications Officer