As the founder of Rhizoterra, which is a network of indoor- or outdoor farmers, producers, livestock, poultry, and basically anyone related to food production. Inside the organization, educational resources, experiential research, and knowledge are shared on vertical farming. There's a large focus on fertility, increasing nutrient density, and broadening the product range in vertical farms.
Combining farming expertise from any background
"One of the things we're looking into is increasing the nutrient contents of vertically farmed produce. We are also looking at how long the produce will last and how healthy it is for the consumer. Since every farming method has its merits, it's very complementary to have these various streams coming together and find new ways to grow," says Jill Clapperton, founder of Rhizoterra.
A field strawberry grower, for instance, uses a fertilizer for its crops that could also be used inside a vertical farm. Basically, both growers are facing the same problem, such as maintaining sweetness, flavor, and sometimes pests. "In many cases, the network looks at cases that can be applied to vertical farming as well as what can be solved with vertical farming to open field growing. I think you want to say: that many of the same principles we apply in the field apply to indoor farms."
Jill works closely with Harvest Today, a supplier of vertical growing walls, researching how to grow more nutrient-dense food in the growing walls. The walls are installed in Marlborough, MA, at the location of her new company Edacious, which focuses on how to improve the nutrient density in food.
"We want producers and growers to market their food in a differentiated way, and consumers can make informed decisions on what food might benefit them best, based on the information available," Jill adds.
Nutrient uptake of plants in grow walls
the walls can be as technical or non-technical as you like. We have used low-cost sensors placed into the grow walls, allowing users to monitor the soil moisture, leaf color, and so on. Based on the data and statistics gathered, it shows whether the plants need fertilizer, water, or light and helps us use all our resources more efficiently.
By playing around with photosynthesis, watering, and organic fertilizers, Jill and her team are looking at how plants in growing walls can absorb nutrients more efficiently. The food grown in the wall is collected and analyzed in the lab to see what combinations of light, water, and nutrition achieve the highest nutrient density and sustain the freshness in the food.
Creating the right environment
"One thing I really like is the efficiency behind the water use of the grow walls. I also like the fact that the plants are growing in a growing medium, which holds the water and nutrients that, together with the roots, build a soil microbiome- in the growing wall. The roots actually have to work like roots. That also means there's a way to build up microorganisms and root microbiome, assisting plants in taking up nutrients. Plants are taking in the nutrients much more effectively and efficiently when they are supplied by a biological process."
Jill and Harvest Today aim to develop useful fertilizers for the walls that can be used to dose efficiently. The ultimate aim is to create a plant community inside the walls, adding benefits that create the ideal living environment for plants.
Creating opportunities, local
According to Jill, the vision of the Harvest Today walls is that they could be used anywhere and at any size, either for personal- or commercial use to cultivate greens. She suggested that the walls could be useful for hospital facilities, for instance, so they can actually grow their own food and create therapy around it.
"Not only that but also in terms of school cafeterias, having a wall that provides fresh produce for the school and adding a curriculum around it would be the perfect fit. Especially in Northern or Southern communities where they're clearly struggling with seasonality, this is a great way to extend the season," Jill remarks.