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5 Hydroponic Farms Scaling Up In Texas

“Growing vertical saves an immense amount of space when compared to traditional soil-based methods.” David Hillock, Oklahoma State University 

Hydroponic Chard

When I think about Texas, I think of beef cattle and the 12M head of steer foraging off the expanse of the land. Texas holds 14% of the overall beef market, and according to The Texas Department of Agriculture, the state generates almost $16B in this category. Coming in 2nd are poultry and eggs at $5.5B and dairy cattle at $3.5B. The Texas cow and cattle market totals almost $20B in market capitalization. 

Texas’s number six on the list of top ten commodities by market value is greenhouse production & fruits, vegetables, and nuts, including vertical farming, totaling over $2B and climbing.  Today, there are over 25 hydroponic and aquaponic farms in the State of Texas.  As we explore the paradigm of water-based farming in the United States, looking through the lens of a traditional state, we see that farming beef and cotton offers researchers an opportunity to better understand market demand and industry growth. As we explore the aspects of vertical farming, the questions around economics and profit always come into play. For every hydroponic business coming online, maybe four or five go by the waist-side. But that should not dismiss the market being built in the U.S. today. This, in turn, begs the discovery of what differentiates successful growers from organizations struggling to produce and sell their products.

Hydroponic Lettuce

Market Differentiation And Success In Hydroponics & Water-Based Farming 

Every business builds its program based on inspiration and how it views itself differently - separating itself as the market leader.  Growing a business means getting it right and getting to revenue with meaningful products. Urban agriculture is taking off, and as we move into regional cities, expanding our populations and seeking fresh and nutritious foods, we will look to urban farmers as part of this solution. Five water-based organizations are growing to support the onslaught of population growth in Texas: 

Breeden Fresh Farms is a USDA-certified organic Operation located in Terrell, Texas, 30 miles east of Dallas. With over 15,000 square feet of grow space, it uses water-based farming to grow living lettuce, herbs, and other produce within 30 miles of its operation. 2017, they were featured at the Aquaponics Association Conference in Portland, Oregon. 

Hydroponic Systems

Crisp Farms is a father-son duo based in Smithville, Texas. They do vertical farming with a twist—using aquaponics with Tilapia waste as a nutrient solution to grow their vegetables effectively. Circulating the wastewater into the vegetation provides the necessary punch of nitrogen needed to produce healthy produce. They grow three kinds of lettuce, herbs, kales, chards, spinach, and bok choy. One detail that caught my eye in the “Eat” section was that they take the time to grow heirlooms and specialty vegetables. 

Mikey’s Garden is a family operation, a 6,000-square-foot operation based out of Hunt, Texas. Mike and Melissa Maynard began their start-up dream in 2015, using hydroponics as their growth method. Growing lettuce, kale, arugula, and all kinds of culinary herbs abound. You can find them and their beautiful produce at The Market and Windmill Restaurant at Bridget's Basket in Hunt, Old Ingram Grocery, Fredericksburg Farmers Market every Thursday (May through August), and Pearl Farmers Market in San Antonio each Saturday and Sunday.  Check their website for more listings. 

Lettuce that lives!

Moonflower Farms is making its mark in Houston, Texas, with microgreens, herbs, and lettuce. Founded in 2016, it was the first indoor vertical farm in Houston. By 2019, the onset of COVID-19, they had grown that business into a 20,000-square-foot operation. Federico Marques and his co-founders' overall mission and vision is to remove food insecurity from urban areas. 

Rising Kale Farms was founded in 2013 by a group of dedicated urban farmers in Marion, Texas, to provide direct-to-consumer fresh, organically produced hydroponic greens and specialty mushrooms. Their website is well done and shares a nice story, but you’ll have to pick up the phone and call Gail, Karen, Connie, and Max at 210-843-1962 to inquire about orders. 

Grant Development In Hydroponics 

Growing hydroponically begins with the first bucket, net pot, rock wool flat, micro-greenhouse from the local discount store, and hydroponic lights. People begin by testing seeds, experimenting with nutrients, and practicing the art of water-based farming. The paradigm shift begins once they feed themselves and offer to go out to a network of family, close friends, and neighbors to expand with a CSA box or two every week.  By the time an urban farmer takes stock of their progress, they begin to explore the aspects of installing a greenhouse or large outbuilding in their backyard. Reaching beyond the parameters of the backyard requires help with microloans and fundraising. 

Exploring grant development for urban farming begins with local research through county agriculture departments and the USDA.  Start-ups should inquire through the USDA's Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production (OUAIP).  USDA is keen to loan and grant monies, and it has a Tech Transfer department that researches best-in-class systems to help steward urban farmers on several Agritech fronts. The OUAIP Competitive Grants Program funds the following activities that include:

  • Purchase, lease, or rent vehicles, building space, land, and special purchase equipment.

  • Activities that promote and encourage other emerging agricultural practices, both indoor and urban.

  • Construction, such as temporary, movable, non-permanent, or permanent.

  • Contractual costs, including labor, such as a consultant, architect, or other professional service.

If you are interested in urban farming, contact your local agricultural cooperative extension office. For example, The University of Minnesota Extension offers information on small-scale hydroponics. 

Tower Gardens

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