It all began with a 320-square-foot shipping container. In April 2017, Hannaford Charitable Foundation generously donated Maine’s first Freight Farm to Saint Joseph’s College. Freight Farms, a Boston-based agricultural technologies company, builds fully assembled, vertical hydroponic farming systems inside shipping containers.
Professor Mark Green, a professor of sciences at Saint Joseph’s College who has taught hydroponics for several years, spent several days working with Freight Farms experts and other hydroponic growers, such as Corner Stalk Farm, discussing the practice of growing crops hydroponically. Back on campus, Dr. Green began overseeing the Freight Farm, where it found a home behind Pearson’s Café and, where for the past year, it has provided fresh, local greens for over 1,000 students, faculty, and staff.
Soon after the arrival of the Freight Farm, Green began working with Peter Nielsen, Saint Joseph’s College Entrepreneur-in-Residence and Executive Director of Mission-Aligned Business, on the concept of building a hydroponic farm as the centerpiece of the Institute for Local Food Systems Innovation.
Spearheaded by Nielsen, the Institute for Local Food Systems Innovation is the primary initiative in the development of a sustainable agriculture cluster, a key pillar of Saint Joseph’s strategic development of Mission-Aligned Businesses. The Institute consists of five integrated enterprises: a food manufacturing incubator, a hydroponic farm, a traditional crop and livestock farm, an agritourism event center, and an education program offering certificates in areas such as hydroponic farming, food processing, and food merchandising.
In July 2017, Dr. Green stepped into the role of hydroponic enterprise director for the Institute for Local Food Systems Innovation, and became a key member of the Mission-Aligned Business team. “Mark is highly accomplished and an ideal fit for his new role at the Institute,” says Nielsen. “He embraced the project from the start, attracted student involvement, and became indispensable to the team.”
Dr. Green has been a member of Saint Joseph’s Science faculty since 1997, teaching Environmental and Marine Sciences courses, including Aquaculture, Limnology, Chemical Oceanography, Geological Oceanography, Introduction to Environmental Science, and Senior Research. Green is also the recipient of four National Science Foundation (NSF) grants totaling over $1 million, including a prestigious NSF CAREER award to continue his research into ocean acidification and its impact on small bivalves in nearly Casco Bay. He consistently gives his environmental science students valuable experiences as research assistants and co-authors of journal articles.
Along with other team members from the Institute, he toured Backyard Farms, a hydroponic tomato farm in Madison, Maine, and Olivia’s Garden, a hydroponic greenhouse located at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, Maine. He met with solar and wood pellet energy experts, and developed a significant relationship with FarmTek—an industry leader in greenhouse design, construction, and hydroponic systems—to design the farm’s hydroponic growing systems, and with Johnny’s Selected Seeds, a major worldwide distributor of seeds located in Winslow, Maine.
Dr. Green’s extensive research and previous work in hydroponic culture became especially valuable as he began drafting a comprehensive Operations Plan for the hydroponic farm. In the Operations Plan, Green outlines every necessary detail for a functioning facility, including the overall footprint of the structure and growing area, the height and orientation of the greenhouse, the pitch of the roof and water-capturing systems, crop selection and projected yield, HVAC systems, air-flow fans, and environmental control systems. Green selected three hydroponic growing techniques—nutrient film technique (NFT), deep water/raft culture (DWC), and Dutch Bucket culture. NFT and DWC will be used initially to grow Bibb lettuce. Dutch Buckets will be used to cultivate tomatoes. With each crop and growing system, Green researched best practices for supporting plants, harvesting periods and conditions, as well as pest and disease management.
The hydroponic greenhouse at Saint Joseph’s College will be a center for educational excellence for both the on-campus student body and for individuals interested in learning about the science and business of hydroponic farming. Green is developing the curriculum model that will be at the foundation of all the Institute’s educational opportunities.
“When completed, the greenhouse will immediately benefit the College and enhance the experience for our students largely through development of hands-on educational opportunities,” says Dr. Green. “Through all the opportunity afforded the College from the construction of the hydroponic greenhouse, I would love to see us introduce new majors and minors into the sciences.”
In addition to the expanded undergraduate course programming, Saint Joseph’s will also offer a Certificate in Hydroponic Culture, consisting of non-credit bearing workforce development courses. The program is designed to be completed in approximately 160 hours of training time. Students are required to take a three-day Hydroponics Core Course, four Tier 1 courses, and two Tier 2 courses. Course topics include Hydroponic Systems, Plant Growth Requirements, Plant Physiology, and Starting a Hydroponic Growing Business, and Managing and Operation of a Commercial Hydroponic Farm.
“In an industry that will continue to grow at a rate much faster than that of traditional agriculture, it’s important to provide an opportunity for those individuals interested in either beginning or advancing a career in the field,” says Dr. Green. “The hydroponic greenhouse at Saint Joseph’s is being designed and outfitted to be the ‘gold standard’ of hydroponic farms and will be a model showcase and education center to help advance the hydroponic farming industry by educating its workforce for the future.”
Dr. Green’s curriculum will be used to develop all further certificate programs at the Institute for Local Food Systems Innovation, including certificates in Food Processing and Food Merchandising.
Saint Joseph’s College believes that it is of paramount importance for its undergraduate science majors to be involved in scientific research. The construction of the hydroponic greenhouse will provide invaluable research opportunities for students. Green has already identified a collaborative research relationship with FarmTek, in which the College’s hydroponic farm will be available to beta test advanced hydroponic technologies being developed by FarmTek. Testing new technologies dovetails perfectly with Saint Joseph’s desire to provide “real world” research opportunities to its students.
Similarly, Green is currently working with Johnny’s Selected Seeds to establish a relationship for hydroponic grow-out experiments of the company’s seed varieties, which could be carried out at Saint Joseph’s through the use of faculty guided undergraduate research.
“By design, the hydroponic farm at Saint Joseph’s will be, in part, a research facility where hydroponic farmers and others in the industry can turn when seeking answers to some of their basic hydroponic questions and challenges,” says Green. “One of the principal missions of the College and the hydroponic farm is to not only enhance the hydroponic industry and help its growers, but also provide research opportunities to our students. We can do this best by using our cutting edge hydroponic farm and the intellectual capital provided by the College’s faculty and students to advance this goal.”
In addition to his work with the hydroponic farm’s curriculum and operations, Green remains involved in all aspects of the Institute, including marketing, sales and distribution, as well as the staffing plan. He is a passionate supporter of the College’s strategic direction and Mission-Aligned Businesses. A key player on the Mission- Aligned Business Advisory Council, which is co-chaired by Governor John Baldacci and Saint Joseph’s Trustee Ron Philips, founder and past president/ CEO of Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI), Dr. Green has been invaluable in the conception of the hydroponic farm. He will undoubtedly continue to play an essential role in all the enterprises of the Institute for Local Food Systems Innovation and likewise hopes to see collaboration as well from other faculty members.