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Forestdale Farm: A Sustainable Paradise -Greenhouse, Microgreens, Rainwater Harvesting, and the Zero-Waste Loop
By Sufyan Suleman
MA Sustainable Communities
Northern Arizona University
Our visit as a class to Forestdale Farms in Flagstaff on November 7 2013 was nothing short of a revelation. Nestled in the heart of the countryside, this eco-friendly place opened my eyes to a world where sustainable agriculture was practiced. Our exploration of the farm's various facets, from microgreens production to the ingenious zero-waste system, left every one of us in awe of what a harmonious relationship with nature could achieve.
The day commenced with a visit to the hoop house with Rylan as our guide, who is the owner of the farm. The controlled environment allowed for year-round cultivation of a myriad of plants, including radish, peas, cabbage, broccoli, and microgreens. From the careful selection of seeds to the precisely controlled environment, the dedication and precision involved in their cultivation were evident.
Growing inside the "tunnel" (greenhouse), as he called it, he explained that not only does it extend the growing season but also limit the amount of intense UV light, which leads to higher productivity, quicker germination, fast maturity, and cleaner and better cuts on plants, especially the greens. When asked about pest attacks, he explained that they do not experience pest problems because they keep their soils healthy, which produces healthy plants that develop defensive mechanisms against pests. These soils are built using compost, irrigation of the plants with water from fish ponds, which brings in nutrients such as nitrate from the fish waste, and finally, from the leftover flats after harvesting the microgreens, which are dense with nutrients.
In the microgreens section, plants such as radish are densely planted, which are characterized by a quicker production cycle of 7 days, leading to 100 -200 Ib yields per week. The planting medium for the microgreens is built from the mixture of coconut coir, peat moss, and small amount of compost.
Rainwater Harvesting: A Gift from the Skies
"We are cautious of our water usage here, and that is a big part of our farm practices and sustainability", said Raylan. The rainwater harvesting system was a testament to the farm's resourcefulness. Collecting and storing rainwater not only ensured a sustainable water source but also minimized the environmental impact of the farm's operations. It was a powerful reminder that every drop of rain could be utilized wisely. Raylan mentioned that the farm is not connected to the city water system. They are solely dependent on rainwater harvesting and hauled water throughout the year. Rainwater is captured and stored in several tanks, streams, and the fish pond. All the farm buildings are designed to capture rainwater, and as a result, the farm stores about 50-60,000 gallons of water a year, according the Raylan.
Using rainwater, Raylan explained that previously they used drip irrigation method for the plants. However, according to him, drip irrigation leads to spotty germination, especially when the plants are densely planted. As a result, the farm introduced an overhead irrigation system for the first few weeks, especially for densely planted crops, which leads to even germination. After germination they switch back to drip irrigation, resulting in water conservation as the densely populated plants maintain moisture and prevent water evaporation.
The Zero-Waste Loop: A Model for Sustainable Living
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Forestdale Farms was its closed-loop system with zero waste. Every resource was efficiently utilized, and waste was minimized through composting, recycling, and creative repurposing. For example, farm waste after harvesting is fed to the chicken and rabbits, which in turn produce manure for composting and fertilizing the beds. The rabbits are used to clear leftover plants on the beds while fertilizing the soil. Waste water from the fish pond is used to irrigate crops, which comes with nitrate to fertilize the soil. Additionally, the leftover flats from the microgreen production are added to the soil to further fertilize it. The farm's dedication to a circular economy was inspiring, demonstrating that a life without waste was not just an ideal but a tangible reality. We ended the day at the farmstand, where
In conclusion, the microgreens, greenhouse, fish pond, rabbit production, rainwater harvesting, and zero-waste loop all painted a picture of a harmonious relationship between humanity and nature. As I left the farm, I carried with me not only the flavors of freshly harvested microgreens but also a profound appreciation for the possibilities that a close relationship with nature can offer.