LA Urban Farms plans to donate grow tower to Cal Poly Pomona’ President’s Office

By Lann Nguyen, Nov. 21, 2023

LA Urban Farms donated a grow tower to Cal Poly Pomona, which will be placed in University President Soraya M. Coley’s office Nov 16.

Standing six feet tall, the grow tower utilizes aeroponic technology to grow fruits, vegetables, herbs and edible flowers vertically in 21-28 days. This comes to fruition without the use of soil, instead it utilizing an air or mist environment.

One hundred percent of the nutrient solution held in a reservoir at the base, which is used to grow the food, is recycled. The vertical design functions as a means for oxygen to travel from the roots to the plants and back down to the reservoir. The plants absorb the recirculated water, or it evaporates which makes this technology sustainable and realistic for small spaces indoors.

Its purpose is to address California’s water and land shortages by using 90% less of both resources.

The grow tower is one of many innovative examples of the agriculture department implementing sustainable tools through an inclusive curriculum open to students from all areas of study to supplement their knowledge by taking on plant science or sustainability as a minor or by taking a class to learn more.

“I really welcome folks from all different backgrounds, we deal with big issues of how we are going to be able to feed a growing global population without destroying the environment,” said Aaron Fox, associate professor of urban and community agriculture.

LA Urban Farms has instituted its towers in universities including UCLA and USC and CPP is grateful for the donation of the grow tower according to Kathleen Blakistone, lecturer in urban and community agriculture.

These grow towers have been used to grow food for culinary restaurants and provide an opportunity for homegrown food in urban areas.

CPP’s “learn by doing” motto is implemented through the work that the Huntley College of Agriculture students strive for on campus, including producing food that is available in the Poly Pantry.

The Horticulture Club is the primary plant science club on campus teaching students how to grow food using shipping containers. One aspect of the sustainable projects the agricultural department is working on is growing food indoors and underneath solar panels.

“From a sustainability perspective, that’s a big deal because if you look at the state of California, we have very good sustainability goals, but sometimes they’re conflicting,” said Fox. “New housing and new solar developments are being built on existing farmland but then who’s going to grow our food? So, I think we need to start figuring out ways that we can stack these functions on one piece of land by harnessing solar energy and growing food on the exact same piece of land.”

Blakistone used her network to secure the connection with LA Urban Farms. She runs a small urban farm called Moon Water Farm in Compton. It was originally launched in order to address food justice issues in Los Angeles by hosting a collaborative experience for regenerative farming.

Understanding where food comes from and making that journey from farm to table less is one goal of practicing sustainability the agriculture community at CPP aims to achieve.

“There is a feeling that President Coley is very much an advocate for urban agriculture and the tower is very symbolic of the ways in which food growing can be tucked in all niches that we have in our urban environments, whether it’s on top of a roof, the president of the university’s office or the hall at the LA County Fair,” said Blakistone. “And it offers the technology solution for growing food in urban environments.”

The food grown from these towers utilizes nutrient solution which is aimed toward harvesting peas, cherry tomatoes, lettuce and herbs. The plant is getting its maximum nutrition which makes this growing technique highly productive according to Blakistone.

LA Urban Farms towers, an identical one to these plans to be donated to the president’s office. | Photo Courtesy of LA Urban Farms

Hydroponic towers will produce six or seven crops of lettuce per year when it is actively managed and is suited for small-scale use. There are various sizes of grow towers ranging from five to nine feet tall.

The maintenance required includes monitoring water levels and changing out the plants approximately once every three months.

“There’s a myriad of things to consider around food along with what it tastes like and how our cultural narratives speak through sharing and growing food so it’s a beautifully intersectional conversation — the food system,” said Blakistone.

There are several classes being offered at CPP teaching students about hydroponics and urban agriculture including Sustainable Small-Scale Production, Urban Agriculture Business-Models and Urban Agriculture Policy.

In the grow towers’ new home in Coley’s office, students will have the opportunity to see the technological advances being utilized to build a more sustainable future.

“I really believe that food is a human right so are the programs on campus like the Poly Pantry and SNAP and EBT benefits,” said Blakistone. “I want all shame to be removed from using those programs to support ourselves to eat well.”

Opportunities to get involved with sustainable agriculture on campus include the Horse Hill micro farm that provides a funnel for produce directly used for campus dining. Each Thursday and Friday from 8 to 11 a.m. located behind The Collins College, volunteers are accepted to help harvest the garden.

“Transplant Thursday” is a free event on campus for students to learn more about the urban agriculture program. Students will have the opportunity to plant a plant and take it home Thursday Nov. 16 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in front of the University Library.

“Learning sustainability can add to any major and give them the edge they need on their resume in this creative job market,” said Michelle Baggett, plant science student.

Solving real-world problems begins with a single grow tower and a conversation. The living produce will have one hundred percent of of the nutritional value and be pesticide-free.

“Food is this really wonderful connector that allows us to look at the world and a broader sense of how we fit together,” said Blakistone.

Students can find more information about the Poly Pantry at its website.

Feature Image Courtesy of LA Urban Farms

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