CIFT provides technical solutions to Local Food Systems and Urban programs. We help our clients with emerging technologies, industry best practices, and novel business approaches. Our business advisors and food scientists work with food processors, industry equipment manufacturers, university researchers and government agencies on food safety and quality, new product and package development, and small business development and training.
Although traditionally engaged in the processing and end product aspects of the food industry, CIFT also studies enhanced growing practices. One such growing practice is the hoop house. Made of galvanized steel arches covered with polyethylene plastic, hoop houses are typically temporary frames with no permanent foundation. The structures also feature adjustable side vents which provide a cheaper means of temperature control than traditional mechanical means. A hoop house can be constructed in various sizes that are conducive to growing different vegetables.
Hoop houses provide an economical way to increase profits and maintain a competitive advantage in the marketplace, use minimal land area, and use less energy than traditional greenhouse structures.
Click here to view a detailed report on hoop house planning, and click here for a video on the construction of a hoop house.
CIFT investigates alternative growing practices and methods allowing for unique production capacities for increased food production. One such example relates to a high density vertical growing system designed for non-traditional production locations. The system enables plants to grow in significantly smaller spaces and in varying ground covers from concrete to parking lots. The production potential can reach 1,500-2,000 pounds of strawberries per season to 1,500-2000 heads of lettuce per month.
A vertical system can be constructed in various sizes from four stacks equating to 80 plants, or upwards to a design for thousands of plants. The common reference is that in one acre this system supports plants that would traditionally require eight acres of farm land. The options are endless from a small scale farm operation to research to commercial production or backyard gardening without soil. The vegetables or flowers are grown in a coconut potting medium with the primary purpose of holding moisture and maintaining the root base. The plants use a hydroponic system enabling nutrient application to the plants. Any vegetables can be grown with the exception of root crops.
Installed injectors allow for automatic watering by accessing barrels of a water and nutrient mixture. Rows can be upwards of 75 feet long to utilize the pressure compensated emitters. A typical commercial operation includes 96 towers of five pots high, with 12 towers per row equating to approximately 29' x 48' ground cover and 2,100 plants. The layout can be expanded or modified to fit the space allotted.
Due to the hydroponic application and the design of the towers which swivel on a plate, the labor input is very minimal. Upon completion of the construction elements, weekly monitoring of the water and nutrient supply is required. Minimal weeding is necessary. The bulk of the labor involves the harvesting of the produce upon maturity.
The vertical system is constructed outside and therefore susceptible to natural elements and standard growing seasons. However, it can be constructed within a greenhouse or hoop house structure to extend the season. An additional element to this unit involves the inclusion of an ozone generator. Occasionally a water source may not be appropriate for plant growth due to sulfur or similar elements. An ozone generator will eliminate the undesirable conditions and produce a clean water stream ensuring plant growth. The high density vertical system can be a cost effective alternative for food production.
Summers across the Midwest typically mean periods of severe heat and dry spells, often with temperatures above 90 degrees. There is a planting system that can almost always outstand this type of extreme heat, that is superior to typical grow bags. Grow Soxx, woven biodegradable knit socks, are manufactured to work in dry areas with the aid of drip irrigation system, or can be used in low areas where water collects. Either way, Grow Soxx will typically produce due to the utilization of the mesh enclosure that controls moisture and exposure to air on all sides (no anaerobic conditions), and can be grown virtually anywhere.
The Grow Soxx contain organic compost and soil encased in biodegradable knit socks that feed the plants with organic fertilizer and stop the spread of weeds. They can be used in a variety of areas where plants will not normally grow: contaminated soils, walkways, decks, and rooftops.
CIFT was first introduced to the Grow Soxx by the Filtrexx Company, and not long after four well-known restaurants in Toledo, Ohio, were selected for the Grow Soxx project. The Grow Soxx were planted by the project manager, and the owners of each restaurant were allowed to move the soxx to a space of their choice, to see if the plants could actually grow in unlikely environments. All participants were given a log book and asked to keep records of watering, movements, and harvest records.
Cherry/grape tomatoes and lettuce have been some of the bigger successes from the garden.
Our City in a Garden
Through an effort to help transform Toledo, Ohio, to "Our City in a Garden," CIFT worked with numerous partners, including Toledo GROWs and the University of Toledo, to create a model for an urban-based system to produce, prepare, process, preserve and distribute healthy and wholesome food products within the community, accomplishing these ends in a manner that stresses environmental sustainability.
The goal of this effort: Meet the increasingly acute need for nutritious foods in our cities, and in doing so, promote local production by local citizens.
To learn more about the vision, progress and future of the Our City in a Garden initiative, visit their website at ourcityinagarden.org.
Grow A Row
Fresh vegetables are an important part of any diet and should be available to all, including those in need of help at local food pantries throughout northwest Ohio. Thanks to the Grow a Row Project, both the Center for Innovative Food Technology (CIFT) and the Toledo Seagate Food Bank are proud of the many farmers and producers throughout the area who generously donated their field fresh fruits and vegetables to the hungry to ensure they have had access to these nutritious items.
With the Grow a Row Project, donations have been from large farms that have had too much product ripen at one time, down to the gardener who dropped off a bushel of fresh cucumbers and a box of ripe muskmelons. Every donation is appreciated; even fresh herbs and dried beans are collected by ambitious cooks at soup kitchens who wait all year for fresh items to come in their door.
Contact Seagate Foodbank of Northwest Ohio for more information.