A Flex Farm in the most literal sense of the word, that’s what Megan Pirelli with Fork Farms aims for. “Our indoor vertical hydroponic system can be moved around by kids, which makes it ideal for educational purposes. We want to show kids that they can have power and control over the origin of their food.”
The catalyst is the flex farm technology, an indoor vertical growing system with hydroponic and aeroponic techniques combined. A unique feature is the middle-based light source with the plants highly dense around it. “We sometimes say it looks like a standing tanning bed,” says Megan smiling, but through this method, we’re capturing all the light energy. This increases the growing speed up to 28 days from seedling to harvest. One system can grow 25 pounds of fresh leafy greens per yield.”
Despite the short growth cycle, the light tower is very energy-efficient. “Besides using cost-effective LEDs, the company’s patented middle lighting. This technique enables us to use lighting optimally, whereas additionally the white back panel also reflects light to boost crop growth. Conveniently enough the LEDs emit very little heat.”
The system is intended for multiple uses. “The design allows for domestic usage, as well as for large-scale commercial use. One of our customers uses 16 systems, all connected via one water reservoir. However, if you’d want to grow an additional product with a different pH and nutrient level, you can easily detach the tower from the main system and have it grow independently. Eventually, after harvest or a finished project, the tower can easily be scooped back into the main system,” Megan explains.
The modular design allows for easy transport, even by children, if necessary. “We think there is no limit in bringing fresh produce to all!” Megan remarks. “It’s safe and functions really well in classrooms, elderly homes or hospitals. Especially here in Wisconsin, with a Northern climate, the gardening season is short, but there are great benefits to it. It offers the ability to engage residents and pupils alike into a communal project with great educational outcomes.”
“COVID created more awareness on food security and the increasing lack of fresh produce in a large number of communities in the US. When the pandemic started, we realized we had a role to play in helping communities. We partnered with some organizations here in Wisconsin, which allowed us to donate $125,000 in time and equipment to construct pop-up farms. They were running a continuous supply of large volumes of fresh produce. It was great to see that so many people wanted to be involved, purchasing our products for their school lunch programs or even started growing in their own homes. It gave us a great opportunity to show the importance of our mission: healthy people and a happy planet.”
In the upcoming year, the company has its hands full on scheduled projects. Fork Farms aims to expand their product line with, amongst others, grow supplies box subscription, to provide them with all the growing supplies they need each month. “We want to make indoor growing as easy as possible for people, and show them that farming can come naturally without much effort.”
Along with that, more education will be provided concerning the growing systems and food supply. The company has a professional education plan developed to provide schools with a vertical farming curriculum. Megan adds: “We also have programs for after school clubs and community centers. This all ties in to our overall mission: we believe that when people interact with food in this way, there is a long-lasting connection. We’re aiming for that emotional connection of people growing their food and them liking the produce. Therefore, teaching is of pivotal importance and having kids think about it helps ensuring that future generations know how they need to thrive.”