Cunucu Fresh is one of the few, and one of the oldest, hydroponic greenhouses on Aruba. The farm was started by the father of the current manager, Jake Arends, back in 2017.
“My father was interested in farming and novelties, so hydroponics, especially for an island, would be great since most produce are still imported, and all of the water has to be made from seawater. We visited many greenhouses in the Netherlands and the United States, and after looking at many growing systems, we decided to go with an NFT system by CropKing, which we saw being used in Ohio. The NFT system was the most economical choice for us, it gives a lot of production capacity for the investment compared to the other systems we looked at, and we were told that the NFT system was a good setup for farmers who are just starting out. We then bought our first greenhouse from them in 2017 and got started growing,” Jake shares.
Hydroponics on Aruba
Since its inception, Cunucu Fresh hasn’t been sitting still. Over the years, they have gained experience in cultivation and testing, and they now have a total of four greenhouses, all of which are NFT systems. That’s one new greenhouse every year since 2020, and to continue this trend, a fifth greenhouse is already under construction.
“We also tested other systems, like the Dutch bucket system for cucumber cultivation, but decided not to go with that. We now focus on growing lettuce, which is always sold out. It’s a crop that serves us well. We are a relatively small farm, so the more other crops we’d grow, the less room we’d have for lettuce which we know sells,” says Jake.
Being a small island, hydroponics on Aruba is also a small industry. The island is mainly dependent on importing products from abroad, and the farms that are growing on the island also need to order materials from abroad.
“In my lifetime, there were only a couple of hydroponic greenhouses on the island that I can remember before our farm, there were maybe like three. We are one of the older ones that are still going strong. In total, there are five hydroponics greenhouses on the island now, but more are coming. We are getting some support from the government to continue building an agricultural industry, and there is more initiative on the island to produce locally, which is great, but it’s still a very small industry,” says Jake.
“Most hydroponic farms grow lettuce, so we are competitors, but we also buy things like nutrients from each other if we run out or in times of need since we don’t have stores on the island that sell it. So even though we are competitors, we will still support each other in that regard.”
The fifth greenhouse
With Cunucu Fresh’s fifth greenhouse being constructed in their second location, about 5 minutes from their primary location by car, another issue related to island living came up—namely, that of a sufficient electricity supply.
“For our cultivation, we use water chillers, big fans, and much more equipment that requires quite a bit of electricity. However, in our second location, there is not enough capacity for electricity for us to use due to the network in place there. Because of this, our new greenhouse wouldn’t be able to operate at full capacity. To solve this problem, we invested in solar panels, trying not to be dependent on the electricity network. Our other location also has solar panels but is still dependent on the electricity network as of now,” Jake concludes.