“The future of agriculture”: Goochland Tech students get new vertical farms while demand grows at area food banks

Local News

GOOCHLAND COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Farm to table has a whole new meaning.

“It’s literally grown, sometimes even harvested and consumed in the same room,” said Meredith Thomas with Babylon Micro-Farms. 

Vertical Farming is one of the fastest growing trends in food production. Some call it the future of agriculture. Now, students at Goochland Tech will get the chance to learn all about it while their local community reaps the benefits. 

In a new partnership between GoochlandCares and Goochland Tech, two new vertical farms have been installed at the high school. According to Babylon Micro-farms, the Charlottesville company who made the farms and installed them in early August, “a single micro-farm takes up only 15 square feet but has the productive capacity around 2,000 square feet.”

The farms are active year-round and all aspects of farming are controlled by a cell phone app. 

“It’s a hydroponic farm designed to take the green thumb out of growing,” Thomas said. 

Meredith Thomas said this kind of farming is more environmentally sustainable — it uses no soil, no pesticides and roughly 90 percent less water.

She added this kind of farming is more environmentally sustainable — it uses no soil, no pesticides and roughly 90 percent less water.

“The nutrients and PH are controlled by sensors that check the water every single morning, and add nutrients, or PH balancing solution, or even water,” Thomas said.

Students will be taught about vertical farming while also supplying food to the pantry at GoochlandCares, which distributes food to neighbors in need. 

“The pantry will receive both nutritious, locally grown fresh produce year-round and dishes prepared by the students with the harvests from the farms,” said Janet Matthews with Babylon Micro-Farms.

8News has witnessed long lines outside of food banks in our area for months. In Chesterfield on Friday, cars filled two lanes for over half a mile leading up to the Chesterfield Food BankThat kind of backup has been seen on Ironbridge Road every weekend for the past several months. 

Before COVID-19 spread around the world, the Chesterfield Food Bank was helping anywhere from 8,000 to 12,000 people a month. Now, they say nearly 30,000 people utilize the food bank’s distribution programs each month — with 200 to 400 volunteers offering their help every week.

“The recent COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the weak links in our country’s food distribution system, affecting everyone especially those who are most vulnerable. We hope that this partnership will be a model for many other food pantries to have a reliable in-house resource to provide fresh food,” said Sally Graham, Executive Director of Goochland Cares.

On Wednesday, the food pantry’s manager, Terri Ebright, said her team is “ecstatic” about the food that will be coming in. She said the demand for food has also grown at her pantry during the pandemic. “Our clients are relying on us even more.”

Goochland Tech Culinary Arts instructor David Booth said the new farms are a big deal for students.

“Right now I’ve got five different lettuces in there that I know half my students have never seen or tasted before,” he said. “It’s one of those things you don’t even really have to design a lesson plan around,”

“I just see it as a boundless opportunity. I really do,” Booth said.

You can learn more about how vertical farming works here.

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