Food bank uses new tech to grow fresh produce.
The interior of the Growtainer
The Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma is daring to do what no food bank has done before: try out hydroponic farming in Growtainers. Executive Director Eileen Bradshaw says the food bank often struggles to have an adequate supply of fresh produce for its 450 partner programs in 24 counties, and the programs’ clients often don’t purchase produce either. When finances are tight, produce is the first thing to go, Bradshaw says.
Although the food bank has had a garden before, the climate-controlled Growtainers will provide a steady supply of produce year-round. Bradshaw encourages anyone interested in hydroponic farming to volunteer and learn along with food bank staff.
The new Growtainers are putting the food bank on the cutting edge of technology. Thanks to a grant from the Morningcrest Healthcare Foundation, the state-of-the-art hydroponic farming systems grow plants in nutrient-dense liquid on racks inside two 40-foot shipping containers. Factors like light, humidity and irrigation are controlled by sensors that monitor plant growth.
The Growtainers will allow the food bank to grow lettuce and tomatoes on site, both reducing its carbon footprint and ensuring a steady supply of produce regardless of weather and donations. Chief Operating Officer Ryan Walker expects one Growtainer to be able to produce 40,000 heads of lettuce annually. With the help of researchers at Texas A&M University, he is adapting the other Growtainer to grow a dwarf patio tomato that is a prolific producer.
“We are the test program for this,” Walker says, “but all indications are that it will work great.”