Lighting Our Way to the Future

Like many other small businesses, Lansdowne Urban Farms is an operation that is in constant change. Being our first and only venture into hydroponic farming, we are always looking for that next adjustment we can make to improve our operations. The end goal of these minor (and constant) tweaks is almost always to create a better growing environment for the food we are growing, while retaining a keen eye towards sustainability.

Currently, our largest expense is our energy usage. Sure, hydroponics does offer plenty of advantages over traditional farming regarding land use, pesticides, and the elimination of seasonal restrictions, but the downside is of course the need for constant electricity.

Unfortunately, moving to solar power — while noble in concept — is not a practical option for us. I’ll save that rant for later, but in short, how we deal with solar power on a legislative level creates a number of obstacles to making a fair return of investment on solar energy equipment.

So to mitigate our energy expense, we look for any small adjustments that we might be able to make. With that in mind, we recently, we swapped out the fluorescent lights on our largest unit (the “Monster” as we call it here) for LED shop lights. And guess what? It’s already starting to pay dividends.

Not only are we using less electricity, but these “cooler” lights for the plants generate less heat, meaning that the overall temperature of our environment is more easily managed. It’s a win-win on all sides – for the plants as well as the folks who grow them and use them! And we suspect that if our lettuce could talk, it would let us know that it’s been much happier in these new conditions.

Thankfully, most of the other, newer-made growing systems here at the farm already use LED lights — so we are officially just about fluorescent-bulb free here – and our plants are loving it!

What will we change next? Only time and our experience will tell, but we will be sure to let you know as we navigate the changing technologies of modern hydroponic farming.


Spring on the Farm

Spring has arrived in Lansdowne, including here at Lansdowne Urban Farms. Although the climate we operate in never changes – a consistent indoor temperature between 70-72 degrees – this time of year is still a season of renewal for us.

For Zachary and I, renewal at the Farm includes a near-constant reevaluation of our growing processes. As has been the case since our inception, the learning process never ends. The science and math of building a sustainable, workable growing regimen requires us to monitor and tweak our methods on the fly. Perfection is never truly attainable, but we do our best to always keep learning and improve what we do. 

Our model for bringing healthy food to our community is far from perfect. However, as we refine and improve our methods, we hope to find the right balance that benefits everyone in the process, from grower to consumer, equally.

If you have not been to Lansdowne Urban Farms yet to see what we are doing, please, do stop by. At the very least, it will prompt some thoughtful consideration of how we all can create a more sustainable life. Nearly all of our crops (with the exception of some particularly difficult Kale) are growing and thriving at the moment, and it is a wonder to see it happening in person. Our microgreens have proven to be a popular item, too.

For us as a society to have the best chance at a healthy and sustainable future, we all need to do our part. Small businesses like ours, and the communities we serve, can make a difference in building a better future.

Thank you for being a part of our community here at the farm. We hope to see you soon! 

Bronze Beauty
Bronze Beauty

Looking Back – With an Eye on the Future

When I first decided to chronicle the adventures of Lansdowne Urban Farms as part of this website, a good friend warned me that maintaining a blog — especially an engaging one — can be challenging. As I have learned, unfortunately, he was right. The posts on this blog have been far less frequent than I had hoped.

Rest assured, if it has been a while since a recent update in this part of the site, it does not mean that things aren’t happening at the farm. Most likely, if we’re not working at our other vocations, or busy with family, you can find us here — working on some aspect of the farm in a continuous quest to do what we do here a little bit better every day.

Believe me, there is always room for improvement, as the last few weeks of 2022 taught us. Due to a few mistakes, we ended up suffering some disappointing losses. What was well on the way to becoming fresh, nutritious food ended up dying, due to our own error. Once you kill off a plant that you’ve spent time and resources on, there’s no way to get it back. Patience is indeed a virtue, one that’s definitely needed when there’s no other option but to re-plant and re-grow.

Nonetheless, we did accomplish quite a bit during 2022. We grew and sold more lettuce and greens then the year before, we upped our productivity by building more machines, and added an evolving mix of microgreens to our offerings. We helped introduce hydroponics to young people by hosting visits from many schools, pre-K students and scouts. As many of you who have stopped by the Farm have learned, we’re always thrilled to share our indoor growing experiences with others. All very rewarding stuff.

Finally, let us not be without some genuine optimism for 2023! We are looking forward to growing even more food, exploring new varieties, becoming more efficient and predictable about our inventory, and teaching as many of you who will listen about healthy, tasty food and how to grow it.

Stay in touch — and keep an eye on this blog for more exciting updates from us too!


Going Vertical

Growing, Learning, and Teaching

As we continue to refine our schedule and get our growing processes dialed in here at the farm, we’ve also kept ourselves busy by taking on an exciting new community outreach project.

Thanks to a partnership with a Pre-Kindergarten group, we have installed new vertical growing systems at their three Philadelphia locations. The vertical systems will allow the children who attend to see first-hand how hydroponic farming works. Right now, the systems are fully operational, growing Parris Island Cos Romaine, Gustav’s, and Bronze Beauty Lettuces, as well as Tatsoi, Kale, and Lettuce Leaf Basil.

Zachary has taken the lead on this project, holding classes with each age group to teach them about hydroponic gardening and training staff to help in the growing process. Not only are the children seeing the greens develop right in front of their eyes, they will soon enough be able to taste them as well, when Zachary returns to harvest and lead a tasting session with the kids. It’s both exciting and rewarding to help educate young people about farming, nutrition, and sustainability!

Pictured below is one of the vertical units installed at the PreK, with Tatsoi, Kale, and Lettuce Leaf Basil taking shape!


It’s Been a While

I have the utmost respect for content creators that keep their website or blog consistently lively with fresh content. It’s not an easy task. Between my primary business, minding the Farm, and managing a work-life balance that makes the people important to me feel valued (and there are a lot of you!), sitting down to share my farm-related thoughts here often takes a back seat.

But today, I am back at my keyboard, and I am grateful. The Farm is coming along. We continue to learn more about our greens, the nutrients that feed them, the units that make them able to grow, and the techniques that make our operations more versatile and productive. Yes, there are unexpected bumps in the road (such as the recent power outages that had us sleepless trying to save our growing food), and numerous twists and turns that no one could have expected.

Despite our current times (and I am going to leave politics – and civil rights – out of this post), I feel blessed to work with my oldest son to grow food and to share our mission with people of all ages. Providing locally grown food, without use of any chemicals, is something we are very proud to offer to our community.

Happy Summer to all, and have a wonderful Fourth of July, especially to Zachary, our Independence Day gift. Enjoy my favorite patriotic photo below. It’s my Mom and three of her grandchildren, taken just a little while back.


14 Months of Growth and Countless Lessons Learned

If you follow this blog regularly, please excuse the lack of recent updates … we’ve been devoting so much of our time to our operations here at Lansdowne Urban Farms. Even though we now have more than a year’s worth of experience in hydroponic farming, there is still so much for us to learn as we grow.

After solving some ethical and practical challenges regarding where we obtain our supply of nutrients, we established a new, improved diet for our growing greens. That’s not to say that there weren’t some hard lessons learned along the way, though. Our new nutrient was unfortunately a bit too strong for young little seedlings, resulting in us “burning” through a number of them, costing us growing time. To solve this, we needed to experiment and recalibrate just about every aspect of our operations to find the right balance.

Scheduling our grow cycles has been challenging enough without the costly errors. Additionally, Zachary and I have made variety a priority in our scheduling, with our ultimate goal each week to make sure that we have from seven to 10 different greens available for you. That means that just as a item is ready to go out the door, we also need to have a supply that will be ready in two weeks, and four weeks — staggering consecutive crops. It’s a delicate balance and involves plenty of science and math to get it right!

Finally, we’re still figuring out the best use of our space and our equipment here at the Farm. In the course of building another growing unit recently, we also basically rearranged the entire place. This new unit was the first one that we designed and built by ourselves (except for a last minute save by our friend Bill!), and we love the results. Together with our machines we purchased “off the shelf” (and subsequently modified), it’s been a rewarding learning curve getting the hang of building the ideal mix of equipment to grow our greens.

Again, our endless appreciation goes out to all of you for your interest and patience with us. I realize there have been days when we haven’t been able to be open, or may not had the lettuce or green you wanted in stock, but brighter days are definitely ahead and it feels awesome to be growing.

It’s hard to believe that we started this just 14 months ago with only three machines. Today, in May, 2022, we have eight machines growing the greatest variety of greens we have to date. There’s been lots to learn for sure, but each of the small steps involved in growing food this way has been completely rewarding! It feels (mostly …. lol) fabulous — thank you for being a part of it!

Layout of Farm May 4, 2022

What does it take to run a hydroponic farm?

During these somewhat unnerving times, working at Lansdowne Urban Farms has been a perfectly pleasant escape from the world’s chaos. Here inside the Farm, its always “sunny,” a comfortable 72 degrees, and an overall happy place. Of course, it does take some work to keep it that way.

Curious about what happens here in a typical week? Well since you asked (wink), here is what goes in to nurturing the lettuces and greens that are now growing in our six hydroponic units.

  • Make sure all units have the right amount of water; our plants do drink a fair amount of it. Here’s an interesting fact: Our six units use about half as much water as the four people in my household use each month.
  • Check the nutrients and pH levels; add and delete as necessary
  • Leak check! Water is a tricky beast. What did not leak yesterday may very well be a leak today. Our units are comprised of many NFT trays and even more spaghetti hoses that feed them, providing lots of opportunities for water to escape.
  • Ensure there are no hoses clogged – green matter, parts of cubes, or other particulates can cause blockages.
  • Check every single unit…sometimes we aren’t even sure what we are looking for but every unit needs a good up and down inspection.
  • Clean out units completely – we schedule full cleanings on a weekly, rotating basis.
  • Check all plants, coddle them, talk to them (I’m not kidding), and remove plant material as needed
  • Start more new seeds in the ebb so that as we sell food, we have new greens growing.
  • Random repairs and fixes. You might be surprised what can break in a mechanical environment, so we have a growing array of tools and spare parts ready when needed. When something decides to break, like a pump, it needs to be fixed or replaced quickly. Without water, our lettuces and greens will expire rather quickly.
  • Educate ourselves, read, problem solve — and order seeds!

I think that’s most of it, at least from the farming side of the business. Not included is the marketing, staffing, bill paying, licensing, and other administrative tasks. Zachary and I are still learning, but as we do, we realize just how rewarding it is to grow and provide food. When the rest of the world feels tumultuous, Lansdowne Urban Farms is a really nice place to be.

Photo: Bronze Beauty Lettuce on the left and Parris Island Cos Romaine Lettuce on the right.


It’s Always 72 Degrees in Lansdowne

On this frigid day in early January, the temperature outside in Lansdowne is a bone-chilling 24 degrees – conditions that are far more conducive to growing icicles than growing fresh greens and produce. Yet here inside Lansdowne Urban Farms, the thermometer says it’s a relatively balmy 72 degrees, which is just about the same temperature it always is, regardless of whether the calendar says July or January.


Youthful Perspective

A couple of weeks ago, students from Lansdowne Friends School took a class trip to downtown Lansdowne where they visited two local small businesses: Lansdowne Urban Farms and Kia’s Cakes. Zachary and I thoroughly enjoyed the time we spent with the group during their visit. We loved sharing our knowledge of hydroponic farming with them, and it was refreshing to hear some fantastic questions about the process from their perspective. Impressively, they showed some real insight into climate change and its impact on their future, and seemed to recognize why the idea of sustainable, locally grown food is so darn important.

As a parting gift, we gave everyone a piece of Parris Island Cos Romaine Lettuce on their way out. Most of them were excited to give it a taste, yet one young person replied with a short, yet polite, “I don’t eat lettuce. Yet after taking a piece, trying it, and then eagerly chomping it down, the young boy’s opinion had apparently changed.

“Maybe I do eat lettuce?” he said. This lettuce is good!”

It’s nice to know that even young folks who aren’t normally too fond of their veggies can taste the difference and appreciate fresh, local produce.

We hope the experience was as enjoyable to the students from Lansdowne Friends School as it was for us, and hope to see them again. The thoughtful and creative thank you cards they sent (shown below) were a ton of fun to read, too!

If you’re an educator, or have young people in your lives who would enjoy learning about the hydroponic process and the importance of locally grown food, please feel free to reach out – we’d love to have you by for a visit!


Indoor Farming: A Growing Industry

Climate-controlled indoor farming is increasingly playing an important role in our food supply chain. From smaller operations such as us, to national grocery chains, produce grown in controlled environments is becoming much more common as demand increases for healthier, sustainable foods. And you, as a part of the Lansdowne Urban Farms community, are helping to drive demand for indoor farming.

What other factors are behind the growth of hydroponic farms?

For years, the popularity of organic foods has greatly increased as consumers seek out foods that are free of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Although indoor farming is not exclusively organic, it often is. But the use of the term “organic” is a whole other conversation entirely.

The reduction of arable land – land used for traditional agricultural crops – is another factor. As support grows for a land-preservation approach to farming, non-traditional methods such as hydroponics become a bigger part of our food supply chain.

This increased awareness and concern for personal health and the environment leads to more demand for produce grown in environments such as ours.

What drives Lansdowne Urban Farms? Simply put, we want fresh, healthy food to be grown, sold, and eaten right here in our community. While our model is somewhat different than many hydroponic farms, our endeavor is definitely worth exploring, and the support we’ve seen from our community is an indication that folks in Lansdowne agree.

You deserve pesticide-free food that doesn’t sit on a truck for days, and we’re doing everything we can to provide it.