GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) — Mark Beckner wants to answer a simple question: Can a boutique farm in an urban environment produce enough food and income to generate a viable living?
He hopes the answer is yes.
Beckner, formerly a computer programmer in Sante Fe, New Mexico, doesn’t have traditional farming experience. But the 41-year-old Grand Valley native wanted to return home and give it a try, reported The Daily Sentinel.
“At a certain point, you just want some land and some space to do some things,” he said.
That space at 2591 G Road is starting to take shape as Rooted Gypsy Farms, a 13-acre space in the north area of Grand Junction.
The farm is a culmination of interests including a home and workshop, an aquaponics greenhouse, small herd ranching and hay production, outdoor garden, plus a yoga and acupuncture studio.
“It is somewhat of a unique idea but also a lot of work,” Beckner said, explaining that his vision keeps growing and changing as the farm progresses.
“Overall, it’s not just pure farming but a new approach to farming,” he said.
Most of which will be done in a newly constructed 3,000-square-foot aquaponic greenhouse.
Aquaponics is a unique farming method that circulates water fertilized by fish or other aquatic animals into a hydroponic system for plants to grow in.
The water then filters back to the fish, creating a closed circuit of water that builds symbiotic nutrients for both parts of the system.
The greenhouse supports 1,800 young tilapia in 9,600 gallons of circulated water and can grow an average of 6,000 plants per cycle, said Kyle Clark, greenhouse and farm manager.
“The water will just mature and age, and while it provides clean water for the fish it also happens to grow plants really well,” Clark said.
The aquaponics system, plus the constant 81 degree temperature and controlled humidity of the greenhouse, expedites the growing season to just six weeks until harvest, he said.
Since January, the new greenhouse has already produced 1,200 pounds of vegetables including lettuce, kale, basil and radishes, said Clark.
“This is a food machine. It is proof that aquaponics works and I strongly believe it is the growing structure of the future,” Clark said.
This first crop of vegetables is distributed to customers twice a month through a small farm box and salad subscription program.
Beckner was surprised at how quickly the limited customer list filled up. There is a real demand for locally grown produce, he said.
The farm boxes are uniquely themed and may include a variety of vegetables, plus homemade bread, granola, salves or soaps made on the farm.
As crops in the garden and greenhouse rotate, customers can expect to receive carrots, squash, tomatoes, melons and cabbages.
The next step, Beckner said, is to keep expanding the farm’s food production and partner with local restaurants, such as Bin 707 Foodbar, that are interested in providing farm to table menus using local produce and fish.
If things go well, a second aquaponics greenhouse could be added in the future, he said.
Beckner judges his success by whether he can build a sustainable model for an urban farm that others can emulate.
“If it is a success, then we’ll have done something interesting,” he said.