Sunday, July 3, 2011

Here Comes the Sun: A photo essay

The first phase of our solar array project: heavy concrete foundation piers ground the galvanized steel support structure. Weight, loading, and wind factors were considered throughout the design-build stage of this project. The array is designed for 48 panels and covering 1200 square feet @ 20' high. Model 702 windmill is in the background (water-pumper); there are 3,000 gallon water (rain) storage tanks nearby.

First phase complete: 6 strings of 8 panels, in place and hot. Solar energy is an important part of 3 Boys Farm energy program; it will run submersible pumps for back-up water when the main power grid is down.

These panels, and the pumps they'll supply power to, are also part of our overall USDA water recovery program. We will be recycling spent nutrients from hydroponics and using them--in addition to rainwater--in the organic outdoor bench section as well as the seasonal high-tunnel test programs. Our combined efforts with SWFWMD and USDA are to further reduce peak ground water withdrawal.

Water conservation's importance obviously cannot be overstated--life requires water.

We must conserve our remaining resources now: they are under pressure as never before.

We want to say a huge Thank You to James Tornello, builder and fabricator extraordinaire as well as uncle of the three boys. He took Robert's drawings and turned them into this impressive solar array. Even to the untrained eye, his months of efforts--from custom fabrication work to the mounting and wiring of the array--are obvious. We will be harvesting first power this week.

Toward growing a better world: 3 Boys Farm welcomes agronomists from Haiti

The WINNER project is a five-year program designed to rebuild Haiti's agricultural infrastructure by providing "concentrated and transformative support". Brian Boman, Florida BMP (Best Management Practices) coordinator for UF/IFAS and WINNER project team member, wanted his team to see a strong example of resource management, energy efficiency, and most saliently, the level of sustainability afforded by cleverly-designed water catchment systems. Accompanied by UF's Jemy Hinton, the agronomists, shown above, toured the facilities at 3 Boys Farm; Robert thoroughly enjoyed discussing methods and practices that will help Haiti successfully grow and produce food for its people, and do so in the face of conditions that many traditional farmers Stateside would consider insurmountable.

Some more information about WINNER from Florida Grower:

The earthquake that devastated Haiti last year brought more troubles for a land that has long suffered from issues related to systemic poor governance, regular upheavals, and coup d’├ętats. Farming, for example, has faced major problems long before the quake hit, making successful commercial agriculture in the country virtually non-existent.

With its location and various climates at different elevations, Haiti has the potential to grow many different crops and become a more self-sustaining country. USAID is funding the Watershed Initiative For National Natural Environmental Resources (WINNER) project, which is focused on sustainable agricultural development in Haiti. Chemonics International is managing the project and has subcontracted UF/IFAS to help resurrect agriculture there.

Unintended Results

Years ago there was a commercial agricultural sector in Haiti. But, when the U.S. and other countries began shipping in humanitarian food aid beginning in the 1960s, it killed the ag economy.

“When the free food aid started coming in, it destroyed agriculture,” says Brian Boman, Florida BMP coordinator for UF/IFAS and WINNER project team member. “Local farmers couldn’t compete with free. All of those farmers had no jobs, so they moved to the cities like Port-au-Prince and a whole other set of urban problems rose out of that migration.

“Haiti has lost a couple of generations of farmers and the knowledge of how to grow. We are here to reintroduce modern ag practices, so people can learn how to produce their own food in a sustainable way and have viable commercial agriculture.”

Thursday, June 23, 2011

3 Boys Farm, the video

We've just uploaded Rick Lurding's gorgeous video about 3 Boys Farm--the one that debuted at the Florida Agriculture Commissioner's Environmental Leadership Awards--to our brand-new YouTube channel.

Hooray for technology!

Please enjoy, and of course, feel free to like, comment, and share.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

3 Boys Farm and Robert Tornello featured in Oceanfront Magazine

Robert Tornello recently met with Tampa-area writer Mary Jo Melone and showed her around the growing (and ever-growing!) facilities at 3 Boys Farm. The result was a terrific article in this month's issue of Oceanfront Magazine, shown above. You'll save your eyesight if you head over to the magazine's website to read it, though (click the link, then enter page 9 at the bottom): Oceanfront Magazine.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

On the cover of Florida Grower!

Robert Tornello's 3 Boys Farm was the cover story of the December 2010 issue of Florida Grower magazine (a popular trade periodical serving the produce industry). From the accompanying article:

When arable land is scarce and climate is a challenge, growing food becomes threatened — if not impossible. That’s why countries like Israel and Japan have become pioneers growing crops under protected structures like greenhouses.

In Florida, during the summer months, fresh produce production pretty much shuts down. But, in the greenhouses of 3 Boys Farm in Ruskin, winter greens flourish while the heat of summer sizzles outside. Robert Tornello, 3 Boys owner, has channeled his passion, ingenuity, and knowledge gained by studying other greenhouse pioneers into establishing an operation that could be a model future farm.

The project, which started two years ago, combines old and new to produce hydroponic crops with an eye toward conservation and energy efficiency. So much so that this year, 3 Boys was among those awarded the 2010 Agricultural Environmental Leadership Award from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Time Tested

While in some ways a visit to 3 Boys might feel like a scene out of “The Jetsons,” one of its most important tools used to conserve water dates back to ancient times. Cisterns have been used for millennia to collect rainwater, and Tornello has installed them to supplement water requirements.

The cisterns have 150,000 gallons of storage capacity, which are fed by industrial gutters that collect rainwater from the greenhouse buildings. This water, along with groundwater, is used for the greenhouse cooling pads and as the base for the nutrient-rich solution that feeds the plants. If the main well goes offline due to a weather event, the stored water alone could keep the greenhouses in operation for a minimum of three weeks.

Pristine Waters

A reverse osmosis plant is being installed at 3 Boys Farm to ensure pure waters are used as the base for carrying the nutrients of the hydroponic solution. The plant will be capable of treating 15,000 gallons per day.

“If you start with 100% pure drinking water for the crops, you are less likely to ever have water borne contamination,” says Tornello. “So we want to start out with purified neutral pH water and the plant allows us to do that. In certain crops, this also will help us lower the costs of nutrients.”

“Hydroponics is a water-intensive practice,” says Tornello. “When I bought the property here, the water permit was for 98,000 gallons per day. But, as pressures have come on, our permit is now for 42,000 gallons per day. That is when we went totally to Netafim microjet and cycle irrigation. With that change, we found we were nowhere near our permit threshold just by proper water management.”

Those adjustments and the use of cisterns have allowed Tornello to cut his draws from the aquifer by 10 million gallons annually.

Read more here.