THE FUTURE OF AGRICULTURE IS TAKING ROOT AT BABCOCK RANCH
16 July 2021 | Lisa Hall
Finn Farms proto-type greenhouse tames Florida heat & humidity to achieve year-round supply of fresh, local greens
BABCOCK RANCH, FL – Finnish entrepreneurs seeking to ensure a sustainable food supply for future generations are taking on the heat and humidity of Florida inside a $13 million growing facility at Babcock Ranch. The proto-type hydroponics operation combines proven technologies that have achieved year-round indoor production of fresh greens in the artic climate of Finland with a revolutionary, energy efficient chilling system designed to achieve the same result in subtropical conditions.
“My partners and I are on a mission to reduce the environmental impact of food production and agriculture all around the globe,” said Oskari Kariste, Chairman of Finn Farms. “Our fully-controlled, closed environment eliminates the need for pesticides, has no emissions to nature, and uses 95% less water than open-field farming.”
Finn Farms was able to further shrink its environmental footprint by building the facility at Babcock Ranch, the world’s first solar-powered town.
“Finn Farms is a great example of the type of businesses that can thrive at Babcock Ranch,” said Syd Kitson, Chairman and CEO of Kitson & Partners and the Founder of Babcock Ranch. “Our solar energy and comprehensive focus on sustainability provide a ‘living laboratory’ for innovative companies working to develop and implement advanced technologies to address the world’s biggest challenges.”
The robotic planting and harvesting equipment, fertilization systems, the peat moss growing media and the 300-foot-long growing lines inside the 100,010sf greenhouse are the same technologies used in hydroponics facilities in colder climates. But Finn Farms is the first to put them to the test in a subtropical climate. The key innovation at Finn Farms is the chilling system that utilizes curtains of hyper-chilled water droplets to both cool and de-humidify the massive greenhouse.
Finn Farms officially kicked off operations June 21st with behind-the-scenes tours for local government and business leaders. Almost everything is automated. Trays filled with bio-degradable pots of peat moss move along the line to the seeding machine before being stacked and taken to the germination room. Two days later, they’re rolled out to the greenhouse, where workers place them onto one of 12 growing lines.
“We are able to maintain ideal conditions for growing a broad variety of herbs, microgreens, sprouts and lettuce – all harvested daily to provide our customers with a reliable, year-round source of the highest quality local produce,” Kariste explained. “We have the capacity to plant 60,000 plants per day, and we are currently negotiating with several different customer groups who will have the opportunity to customize our product output to best meet their needs.”
Seedlings progress steadily down the growing lines each day toward harvest at the other end. The total time from planting to harvest is 25-30 days, depending on the product. Finn Farms packages both cut greens and living plants for maximum freshness.
“Every day that passes between harvest and consumption is a degradation of nutritional values,” Kariste said. “We think this concept can be scaled into a turnkey greenhouse project management business, working with franchise partners to provide communities across Florida and in similar climates around the world with a reliable, year-round supply of fresh, local greens.”
The first phase of the proto-type facility can produce more than one million pounds of produce for Southwest Florida grocery and restaurant customers each year. Phase 2 at the Babcock Ranch location will double the size to approximately 5 acres of hydroponic production and will introduce a state-of-the-art vertical farming solution.
“Finn Farms has the potential to be a real game changer,” Kitson said. “We’re proud to see the future of agriculture taking root at Babcock Ranch.”