Close to the date of a major political election, lots of people find themselves thinking about the future. For AMPS, our future includes schools, hospitals,groceries, and restaurants that grow their own herbs and vegetables. That, of course can be more easily said than done; but we do not think it is impossible. We want to bring agriculture closer to our cities and within our communities, to benefit the environment and improve the current economic conditions American cities face.
This may seem like an odd topic to know a great deal about but it is, after all, our business. Since the start of civilization, we have used creative ways to cultivate food for our cities. From the ancient Indian system of growing three plants together to aeroponic systems, people have been finding ways to make, and produce food in difficult situations. Our story begins in Salinas, California – the “Salad Bowl of the World”. Before 1911, California did not produce a notable amount of lettuce. Prior to this era, if a vegetable was not in season then it was not served or sold in a market. California farmers saw potential in their ability to grow produce year round and began shipping it in boxcars across the country. Their ability to produce iceberg lettuce enabled Americans to have salad year round even without a garden, making it the first season-less vegetable available in our market. Fast-forward to present day, California produces 75% of our nation’s lettuce and Arizona produces 23%. Meaning only 2% of the lettuce available may come areas outside of these regions. We have for the most part, lost our tradition of growing produce in the regions where we consume them and instead rely on unsustainable systems.
So what happened to our agricultural lands near cities where people formerly grew all this food? Well as the urban population increased, our cities continued to expand and we lost these peripheral farms. Year round production capabilities as well as the rise of agri-business made it difficult for the local seasonal farmer to compete in the market.
Integrating agricultural food production back into our cities is our goal. AMPS brings urban agriculture to main street USA using innovative, water efficient hydroponic and aquaponic growing systems. Soon enough, New Orleans will become the city that grows all of the salad greens and other vegetables it consumes, meanwhile using less water, land, and energy than our current and inefficient system takes. Our strategy is to build farms at locations close to nodes of food consumption, aka grocery stores, schools, hospitals, cruise ships, housing communities and more.
It has been a long road for AMPS since it was just an idea we thought we could make happen, but things have come together over the past year with all the help we’ve gotten from so many amazing people around New Orleans. We thought it was about time we say “Thank You” to all the folks who have supported us. IN A YEAR we have gone from an idea to gardens across the city of New Orleans and even a few “in the works” projects to our name.
We have had a lot of wonderful groups that have been helping us make the AMPS dream real. We know how to make delicious and sustainable produce, but there are a lot of people who have helped us with the other parts of creating a new business. We would be non-existent if it were not for our original support group at the Tulane Changemakers Institute. AMPS was born here and they supplied us with our initial startup funding. We had help from the Idea Village and had the honor of presenting at the 2012 Big Idea, making ours a reality. Propellor helps us with our social mission of bringing urban farming to main street USA using innovative, water efficient growing systems (while still making a profit as a business). There is also the New Orleans BioInnovation Center, which is helping us acquire capital and commercialize our products. All these folks have been the backbone support system behind AMPS, and we are so thankful to them for their work, and believing in what we do. Because of their help AMPS has made the first aeroponic farm in New Orleans, not to mention the first rooftop to supermarket program in the country using no soil for Rouses (CBD) Roots on the Rooftop program. We have also developed an aquaponic system at the Hollygrove Market, helping actually put roots (pun intended) into our community. We have also been working on looking forward by designing and installing systems for restaurants and schools as well as working to develop a system for remote Alaskan cities. We have so many new ideas running around in our heads for what could be possible in New Orleans and wherever else we can take the AMPS vision. For that we also want to thank New Orleans Food and Farm Network and the Recirculating Farms Coalition for their support in developing farm projects within New Orleans. We are incredibly thankful to all the people who have made AMPS a success today, from everyone that buys AMPS grown foods to the organizations that got us where we are. WE SAY THANK YOU!
Lets not forget our awesome intern team who helps us with boots on the ground!
We get questions all the time about the "organicness" of what we grow and something we realized was that it is much more confusing than you might think. So we've decided to blog about it!
First let’s look at what the USDA defines as organic for crops
- Land must have had no prohibited substances applied to it for at least 3 years before the harvest of an organic crop.
- Soil fertility and crop nutrients will be managed through tillage and cultivation practices, crop rotations, and cover crops, supplemented with animal and crop waste materials and allowed synthetic materials.
- Crop pests, weeds, and diseases will be controlled primarily through management practices including physical, mechanical, and biological controls. When these practices are not sufficient, a biological, botanical, or synthetic substance approved for use on the National List may be used.
- Operations must use organic seeds and other planting stock when available.
- The use of genetic engineering, ionizing radiation and sewage sludge is prohibited.
All that essentially boils down to is that organic foods are not supposed to have anything synthetic in them, but as you (astute reader) may have noticed expressions such as allowed synthetic chemicals and when available may provide wiggle room for certain farms that wish to become certified. All this has aroused debate in the media over the certification process which big business executives are responsible for maintaining, in turn creating barriers to entry for young farming entrepreneurs.
The catch with the organic certification process is that it is often too expensive for small farmers to try and become certified. This may provide disincentive for small farmers to take up organic practices because they cannot put the “USDA Organic” label on their foods. In the farming community this is a difficult issue because farmers who are growing things organically are often unable to promote that because they can't afford the process of becoming official. Louisiana's last certifier gave up that status just this year. Now the process may involve flying someone in from Oregon to check out your operation.
Another twist is that although hydroponic growing can be more sustainable than traditional agriculture, the process by which organic fertilizers interact with plants often requires soil. In order to develop a truly organic fertilizer would have to be highly refined, water soluble, and non-clogging. At AMPS we chose to use hydroponics for the same reason that many folks, like LUFA Farms in Canada, “we chose hydroponic methods versus classic soil agriculture because it allows us to grow high quality, highly nutritious plants with minimum water and nutrients and to do so in a safe and conscionable way.” We use only organic certified pest controls (see Organic Materials Review Institute) and an all natural, mineral based solution to fertilize our produce.
If you are a wise consumer and you want to know what your plants ate before you eat it, just ask the folks in the farmers market or do a little research on the brands you buy. There are tons of articles out there (many listed below) with more info on what this means for you.
On July 12 we attended GOOD Ideas for New Orleans presentations at NOMA. Even if you’ve never heard of GOOD Magazine the concept is pretty easy to figure out. Their tagline is “for people who give a damn” and when it comes to their project Good Ideas For Cities (presented here in conjunction with Neighborland)there is certainly no shortage of people like that in New Orleans. Our favorite presentation of the night was an idea to put labels on foods and products that are grown in New Orleans, sort of like a certified fair trade tag for the city. An important point from the night was an idea presented by real estate developer Paul Richard, he said, "in order to grow New Orleans, we need to grow in New Orleans." obviously we at AMPS. Like this idea, because its sort of what we do!
The other presenters brought up great ideas for the improvement of New Orleans too. Like, making biking a better option in New Orleans, helping people to make New Orleans more beautiful, and reforming laws governing food trucks to make New Orleans better.
It was a great event, with great ideas and we are excited to see what comes of these projects soon!
Over the past five months AMPS has seen many developments and lot of progress has been made. After installing our initial four towers at the Hollygrove Market & Farm, AMPS began raising money for it's modular vertical aeroponic project at Hollygrove Market & Farm. By September, AMPS secured the necessary funds to construct this prototype.
During the month of September AMPS received admissions to the IdeaVillage IdeaAxcelerator program as part of the Water Challenge will please take place during the New Orleans Entrepreneur Week in March of 2012. AMPS also won SENO's pitchNOLA Audience favorite.
AMPS installed two aeroponic towers at the Rouse's in the CBD the night before the grand opening on November 15th. We have recently finished installing our first aquaponic as seen at the Mary Queen of Vietnam CDC.
By January 2012, AMPS will have installed its first modular system. Which will include 29 aeroponic towers, cabable of growing up to 50 pounds of produce every week. We have now divided our business into two entities - AMPS, sustainable urban farm consultancy and VertiFarms, a soil-less urban farming management company that will manage AMPS on-site systems.
We would like to thank everyone who has supported us this far and hope to continue growing our sustainable business moving into the New Year.