UMass researchers run hydroponic farm

  • Evan Chakrin, a UMass Amherst junior studying horticulture, displays the roots of leeks growing in a hydroponic raft bed Aug. 4, 2017 at the new UMass Hydrofarm he co-founded at the university with Dana Lucas, 21, a senior studying Sustainable Food and Farming. Overhead, LED strip lights supplement daylight for the plants.

  • Evan Chakrin, a UMass Amherst junior studying horticulture, displays the roots of tomatoes growing via a recirculating water culture system Aug. 4, 2017 at the new UMass Hydrofarm he co-founded at the university with Dana Lucas, 21, a senior studying Sustainable Food and Farming.

  • Evan Chakrin, a UMass Amherst junior studying horticulture, displays the roots of strawberries growing in watertight channels using the nutrient film technique Aug. 4, 2017 at the new UMass Hydrofarm he co-founded at the university with Dana Lucas, 21, a senior studying Sustainable Food and Farming.

  • Evan Chakrin, a UMass Amherst junior studying horticulture, harvests butterhead bibb lettuce from a hydroponic raft bed at the new UMass Hydrofarm. Daly Hampshire Gazette Photo/Sarah Crosby

For The Recorder
Published: 8/7/2017 11:02:39 PM

AMHERST — Evan Chakrin, 33, spends his summer afternoons harvesting plants, mostly lettuce, at a hydroponic food farm.

He worked Friday afternoon, harvesting 10 pounds of lettuce that he was planning to donate to the Amherst Survival Center. He picked a head, doused it in insect soap and packaged it in a clam-shaped container.

The hydroponic farm grows food without using soil. Started in the winter of last year, it is the first of its kind on the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus. The farm provides food for on-campus restaurants such as Earthfoods Cafe.

Chakrin, a junior studying horticulture, co-leads the farm with Dana Lucas, 21, a senior studying Sustainable Food and Farming, using techniques that they say will revolutionize the future of farming.

“It’s basically just using chemistry to grow plants,” Chakrin said.

The farm grows everything from strawberries and tomatoes to lettuce and kale. It is housed in an underutilized greenhouse on the UMass Amherst campus. Chakrin and Lucas use the most common hydroponic techniques to grow their plants: raft systems and nutrient film technique channels.

The basic idea behind hydroponic farming is growing plants without soil, Chakrin said. Nutrients get dissolved into water surrounding the plants’ roots. This allows the system to be up to 90 percent more water- and nutrient-efficient than other types of farming. The system uses less water than an irrigated field. There is also no nutrient runoff into local water sources.

The farm will continue to grow in the years to come. In the fall, the two are teaching 12 undergraduate students in a one-credit practicum course about hydroponic farming.

One of the benefits of hydroponic farms is that they can be used to grow food locally, even in urban areas.

“I think it is a major loss that the average bite of food travels extremely far to get to our plates, and this is the solution to the problem,” Lucas said.


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