Lettuce grows without ground

By Jonathan Aviles

In order to follow the developing agriculture industry, Cal
Poly’s agriculture department has begun experimenting growing
lettuce without soil in several of the eight new greenhouses
constructed this past year next to the Farm Store.

Soil, when used to grow lettuce, is the provider of mineral
nutrients and no more. Cal Poly staff and students have replaced
the soil by injecting the lettuce with mineral nutrients without
the help of the soil.

“Hydroponics is pretty much soil-less culture, growing plants
without soil. It’s growing plants in a liquid medium that supports
the plant,” said Dan Hostetler, chair of plant and soil
sciences.

The lettuce is sold at the Farm Store and is starting to catch
on.

“In the beginning of February we started selling the new
lettuce. It’s actually selling really well now that we’ve been
doing all the advertisements for it,” said Lauren Derry, Farm Store
manager.

So far the lettuce is selling quite well, just not to Cal Poly
students.

“The hydroponic lettuce is being bought by an older demographic
of people. Students aren’t really interested in the new lettuce,”
said Vaughn Jollmi, a Farm Store sales associate. “I think if they
knew more about it they’d be more interested in it.”

The goal of the agriculture department is to introduce this
up-and-coming plant growing process to Cal Poly students.

“I just heard about it, but … I think it’s a good idea,” said
Akanksha Shamara, a fourth-year computer science student. “People
should buy it. When I shop for groceries I’ll definitely start
looking for it.”

The experimental lettuce growth was started by Hostetler and
professor Terrance Fujimoto six months ago. Agriculture students
and professors have since dabbled with various types of lettuce to
see which grows best without soil.

“Dr. Fujimoto and myself attended past seminars and wanted to
continue the hydroponics learning process,” said Hostetler.

Hostetler and Fujimoto saw it as an appropriate move because the
industry has moved in the hydroponic growing direction due to land
loss. The industry has proved profitable; the hydroponic industry
is growing at 10 percent a year and is now valued at $2.4
billion.

This way of growing plants could be a solution to the problem of
farming with less land as the Earth’s population increases.

“It’s something that will become more and more integrated into
agriculture in the future. Now that land availability is smaller
and smaller, it becomes more popular,” said Hostetler. “It
conserves water, it fits in an urban area and you can grow multiple
crops instead of just one.”

The new hydroponic lettuce costs $1 a head, 25 cents more than
the traditionally grown lettuce.

The program has put good use to the new 40,000-square foot
greenhouse constructed on the 40-acre AGRIscapes complex. Eight new
greenhouses were built to help aid the agriculture department in
having complete control over the environment that makes growing
lettuce a quicker process.

Lettuce grows without ground

Brandon Tan/Poly Post

Lettuce grows without ground

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