Impossible, you say. Strawberries can’t be grown in the winter here.
Yes, they can.
If all goes according to plan, Flagstaff residents will be able to enjoy those strawberries, leafy vegetables and more, when Ron Brewster opens his Green Sky Farm at Red Gap Ranch. This farm will be contained in greenhouses where vegetables will be grown hydroponically, but with a new technology of growing them vertically, where plants are stacked efficiently atop each other.
“Hydroponic has been around for a long time. Vertical growing is a game changer because it uses less water,“ Brewster said.
The ranch would consist of 10 greenhouses, approximately 120 by 30 feet, which will grow the same amount as using an acre of land, and will use 85 percent less water.
He plans to grow leafy greens, tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, basil and other herbs, cucumbers and cabbage.
Brewster said he will use chemical-free fertilizers, bees for pollination and natural solutions to reduce insects.
His produce would be shipped to farmers markets, restaurants and stores in the area, he said.
“In the feasibility study, 36 supermarkets in Northern Arizona said [that] they would take my produce,’” he said.
He is looking at producing about 240,000 pounds of produce a year.
“It’s not mass production. The whole emphasis is reducing our carbon footprints with affordable, nourishing food,“ he said. “This is a paradigm shift in agriculture. This is the way we have to grow our food in the future.”
Brewster, 70, said he has always been concerned about water and growing food out west, especially in Flagstaff.
“I’m concerned about where we are getting our food from, like Mexico. I started thinking about how we could do this in Northern Arizona. I’ve been looking around and became interested in the greenhouse concept,” he said.
He then began looking for property for his project and settled on the Red Gap Ranch about 40 miles east of Flagstaff.
He said the ranch was purchased by the city of Flagstaff in 2005 for its water rights and it looked like a place to secure water for the future.
“I did a presentation to the city about what I wanted to accomplish. They said it was a good idea,” he said.
Next, he did a feasibility study with the help of NACET.
Russ Yelton, president and CEO of NACET, said part of the program, which is connected to NAU and the City of Flagstaff, is working on projects powered by clean energy.
“A project like Ron’s would reduce the carbon footprint and provide fresh produce, which is needed within the region. In addition, the project, if launched, would utilize clean energy technology such as wind and solar,” Yelton said.
Brewster says was also aided in his planning by the City of Flagstaff, Coconino Community College and Coconino County.
Finally, the plan was given the green light. Now, all it needs are investors.
The property is at 5,000 feet elevation, where it can get quite windy.
“We can grow our food in extreme conditions in a controlled environment and reduce our footprint, just for the Northern Arizona region. He says one benefit is that the food is not going to travel 1,000 miles to get to the region.
Karna Otten of the group Community Supported Agriculture said there is room for more farmers for the program.
“I think access is a huge part, especially as we go through issues with oil. It’s more secure knowing where your food source is, it’s better for health and keeps money in our local economy,” she said. “The movement is growing. I think we are just at the cusp of the movement. People keep talking about this paradigm shift.”
In the future, Brewster hopes to farm fish and plant orchards for apples and peaches.
If all goes well, the first seeds will be planted by the end of the year. Then in about 45 days, he will have his first crop.
He said, “An Arizona native, my grandparents came as farmers in 1912, so that’s where I get this DNA for agriculture.” FBN
To learn more about Green Sky Farms, call Brewster at (928) 380-1161.