It’s all the rage, Urban Farming is the flavour of the month! Or is that year, or decade?
There are two different schools of thought for urban greenhouse development. The first is based on the proven commercial agricultural greenhouse model, modified in scale and design to fit on top of commercial buildings. Rooftop greenhouses have been built for years by companies like JGS, and Frank Jonkman. Traditional rooftop greenhouses have primarily been used for the purpose of research greenhouse facilities, and as part of teaching institutes. Newer minds have taken the rooftop greenhouse concept and built a business model for using the rooftop greenhouse not as a research center but as a commercial production greenhouse to supply the local market. The second, and even newer concept to take hold in the urban agricultural movement is what has come to be known as Vertical Farming. Vertical farming is portrayed either as a growing system within the commercial greenhouse or rooftop greenhouse, or as a new architectural wonder built into the side of complex commercial high-rises, otherwise known as “Farmscrapers”.
Proponents for Rooftop greenhouses argue that a major advantage to this model is the ability to add on to existing downtown buildings. And companies like: BrightFarms, Gotham Greens, and Lufa Farms appear to be making the rooftop greenhouse a feasible business venture. Rooftop greenhouses do require additional engineering considerations that a traditional field construction sites don’t have, and due diligence is certainly necessary to ensure the building underneath the greenhouse has the structural supports in place for the added weight of structure, equipment, and crop. Roof top construction also requires greenhouse manufacturers to adjust standard sizes and posts spacing to accommodate the unusual dynamics of the site. And logistics for construction are very important when working downtown on top of the twelfth floor.
Once the greenhouse is built on top of the building, operating it is more or less the same as a traditional commercial greenhouse operation. The scale of the rooftop greenhouse may increase production costs, but the business case has been made that the increased production costs are easily offset by the reduction in transportation costs that the agricultural greenhouse farmer has to bring produce into the city.
Proponents of vertical farming on the other hand argue that while rooftop use is a good first step, the square footage of usable urban roofs does not provide enough growing capacity to satisfy the requirements of large urban centers. So, growing up, becomes the mantra for maximizing usable square footage in city centers. There are various vertical growing systems bandied about over the last 5 years though none seem to have gained much commercial attraction, and there have been a few spectacular failures to offset the excitement. Vertical farming does require higher capital investments, more sophisticated equipment for production efficiency, and higher lighting costs. Nonetheless, architects continue to dream up dynamic and futuristic Farmscrapers.
For the near future the rooftop greenhouse is a more attainable greenhouse production business, but as LED light technology and computer sensor controlled picking and packing systems continue to develop who knows what the future will look like for urban greenhouse growers.
1. At this time we are not aware of actual financial results for any of these companies. So the appearance of the financial viability is based strictly on expansion plans as reported in various media.
As you may have read, GGS has acquired the Google Glass, and will be looking into its applications in both our customers’ greenhouses, and our own manufacturing plant. Here are some observations and interesting features of the device thus far.
Wink to Snap a Photo
You can Wink to take a picture. It takes a picture instantaneously, even when the screen is off. This is an insanely useful (if a little worrisome) feature that has many business uses. You basically have a handsfree camera equipped at all times. I can see many uses for this in the greenhouse – if you’re up on a ladder and see a part that needs replacing, you can Wink to snap the picture, then using voice commands, send the picture to the person in charge of purchasing. This is all done without your hands, freeing them up for other tasks. The camera can also take HD video – all you need to say is “ok glass, record a video.”
Using Glass While Driving
I found Glass to be incredibly useful while driving, whether it’s to answer a phone call, dictate a text message, or view GPS directions. Everything is done with voice commands so there is no need to fiddle with buttons or controls. I found it to be much less distracting than holding a cell phone and looking down at it. You simply need to glance slightly upwards to view the information, and your field of view is still on the road. It is no different than glancing at your speedometer, and even less distracting than changing a radio station. When you stare straight ahead at the road, the display is in the corner of your vision and unobtrusive.
Making Phone Calls
The right arm of the glasses has a speaker built in, but it’s not a regular speaker – there are no holes. Instead it’s a bone conduction speaker that conducts sound from the bones of your skull to your inner ear. This allows you to hear Google Glass without needing to put a headphone in your ear. It works incredibly well, and you can call somebody by simply saying “ok glass, call John Smith.” Video calls are also possible through the Google Hangouts app.
There is an app store for Glass that allows users to extend the functionality of the device. So far the store has a very limited number of apps, but 3rd party developers will be creating new and innovative ways to interact with information and media on Glass. For greenhouse growers, we could see automation companies like Link4 and Damatex creating apps to control your entire system with Glass.
Those are my initial impressions after playing with Google Glass for a few days. We’ll post more updates as we continue our testing – and particularly any features we think greenhouse growers could benefit from!
Yesterday we received a call from a customer in Georgia. He had bought some inexpensive light weight coldframes to save money a few years ago, not thinking he had to worry about snow. As he walked through the blowing storm with some employees to clear the snow he watched the structures one by one collapse under the weight. (He warned that light structures collapse so fast under load, that customers should be warned to exercise extreme caution when trying to remove snow. Do not enter the structure if it looks risky!)
One day later GGS is in full production providing a quick turnaround for a grower in need. Seven GGS Freestanding greenhouses will provide cover for crop under the collapsed coldframes.
“This time of year we often get calls from customers who had lighter weight greenhouses collapse in the snow. GGS has a well-earned reputation for providing top quality greenhouse structures.” said Michael Camplin, GGS Sales Manager.
Weather patterns are changing, and areas that are not used to worrying about a greenhouse’s snow load, like Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Louisiana are finding paying a little more for a heavy Northern designed greenhouse is the best investment you can make.
“Some greenhouse growers call it greenhouse insurance” said Leigh Coulter when asked about the value of buying a northern greenhouse for areas that typically don’t have much snowfall. “The capital cost of a greenhouse with a snow load rating compared to one without is generally not significant when looking at the total cost of a new construction project including heating, irrigation, benching, environmental computer controls, etc.”
And Climate Change means more extreme weather to come. Last year at the end of December Israel was hit with rain and snow, and damage to greenhouses resulted in lack of supply for Basil, Chives, and many other greenhouse grown herbs.
But it’s not just warm weather countries and states that are experiencing heavier winter snows. Last year 47 Connecticut greenhouses reported damages of $20,000,000 due to the extreme blizzard of February 2013. And here we are again February 2014, with 22 states dealing with the effects of a deadly snowstorm, including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts, who were hit by heavy snows last year as well.
“We have ramped up production of standard greenhouse parts to do our best for any greenhouse grower affected by the storm” Camplin said. “Our sales team is knowledgeable about connecting GGS greenhouses to most other manufacturers' structures, and we will work with growers to salvage what makes sense.”
GGS also has construction crews available to help with removal and rebuild.
We hope that every one of our customers is warm, and home, and safe.
The 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi started amidst great controversy and political puffery. But at the heart of sports there are 12 new winter events making their Olympic debut in Sochi. This got us at GGS to thinking… what if there was a Greenhouse Olympics?
Well we did a very quick and totally unscientific survey of our sales staff and employees who happened to be in our offices and factory today, and we have come up with our suggestion for Greenhouse Olympic events.
Let us know if you feel you are a Gold, Silver, or Bronze Medal candidate for any of our proposed events:
The Catwalk Luge
The Women's Gutter Jump
Greenhouse Style Biathlon Mixed Relay
Greenhouse Cart - Sledding
Back of the Greenhouse Nursery Poly Hockey
As a greenhouse manufacturer we always joke that the “customer wants it delivered yesterday”. When I go to manufacturing association meetings I hear the theme repeated by all manufacturers, regardless of whether it is a boiler, an airplane, a toothbrush, or a greenhouse, when customers want their order they want it now, the fact that it took one day between wanting a greenhouse and ordering the greenhouse is immaterial. I suspect greenhouse growers might say the same of their retail and wholesale customers.
Receiving your order before you actually ordered it may soon be a reality, at least for Amazon. According to Connor Simpson at The Wire “Amazon is considering a new phase in its quest for global commerce domination. They're working a plan that would ship products to you before you even purchase them because Amazon knows what you want better than you do.” For Greenhouses you may still have to wait a week - partly because, while I find predictive models using Big Data analytics of things like, how long your mouse hovers over a click box, your history of ordering, and what your neighbor has done this week, interesting, I also find it a little creepy. Thank you Mrs. Wigston, my grade 12 creative writing teacher, for driving home the significance of George Orwell’s 1984.
At GGS our goal is to help growers grow. To do that we need to be able to provide our products and services in a knowledgeable and efficient way. We need to delight our customers and exceed expectations. Reducing delivery times for custom designed greenhouse structures is one of the primary objectives that we measure and track at GGS. By fostering a Continuous Improvement culture we tweak our processes constantly to improve delivery lead times on greenhouse orders.
And we have a lofty goal! We may not be shooting for Amazon timelines, but if we can one day deliver your 5 acre greenhouse range 1 week after you say go, I will be satisfied that we have accomplished something incredible for the benefit of our growers.