It’s great to see a push in WNY, for healthier food production for underserved neighborhoods. But what happens when the growing and harvesting seasons are over, and winter sets in? That’s a question that is now being asked, and answered, thanks to a pilot program that has been launched, which has resulted in the appearance of a specially outfitted 40-foot shipping container. This hydroponic container – branded “Rooting for Our Neighbors” – will help to extend the growing season year round, with produce being earmarked for food pantries and soup kitchens associated with the food security efforts of FeedMore WNY (the largest hunger-relief organization in WNY).
This inventive (and very exciting) effort is thanks to a research collaboration funded by the New York Power Authority’s (NYPA) Environmental Justice Program, and led by the national Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). Side benefits from the project include “environmental and energy impacts that could help reduce costs and expand crop production.”
The demonstration will:
- Provide produce for FeedMore WNY nutrition programs
- Help address climate change in communities that host NYPA facilities
- Support New York State’s clean energy and greenhouse gas reduction goals by using this low-energy indoor farming method
“The New York Power Authority is pleased to be part of this national collaboration with the Electric Power Research Institute that will improve indoor farming methods while supporting our neighbors in need in Western New York,” said NYPA Chairman John R. Koelmel. “Under Governor Andrew Cuomo’s continued climate leadership, we will find new and sustainable ways to grow affordable and fresh produce all year while prioritizing New York State’s greenhouse gas reduction goals.”
NYPA is one of eight utilities nationwide to participate in a two-year EPRI study designed to help utilities better understand and engage in commercial-scale indoor food production, which is reliant on efficient energy and water consumption.
The new indoor production facility is located at FeedMore WNY’s offices on James E. Casey Drive in Buffalo, which makes it easily accessible to deliver produce to a Mobile Food Pantry and Meals on Wheels programs, where kale dishes will be prepared. The first growing cycle will de dedicated to the growing of kale, which is high in nutrient value, and has a short harvest cycle. After the first year, additional crops will be added to the program.
“Indoor agriculture is essential to future food production and we need to understand its implications for the electric power industry,” said Gil C. Quiniones, NYPA’s president and CEO. “NYPA is eager to demonstrate a replicable, sustainable indoor farming solution that helps to address climate change in the communities that host our facilities. If utilities have solid knowledge about how lighting, water use and other systems impact plant production, we can be good partners in helping to provide food resources to disadvantaged communities in our respective regions through these innovative farming methods.”
Benefits of the indoor growing facility include: A controlled environment, pesticide-free, ‘sunless’ environment, and far less water usage when compared to traditional farming methods. Also, these mobile units can be built anywhere, which makes them ideal for addressing problems associated with ‘food deserts’ year round. Additional benefits include very little transportation costs, reduction of spoiled produce, and a smaller carbon footprint… all while addressing food insecurity in WNY.
State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said, “This indoor farming project is a unique and creative way to support urban agriculture and to increase access to healthy food in our communities. Building on the work the State has been doing through initiatives like Nourish to deliver fresh foods to families in need, this pilot program will allow FeedMore WNY to provide local agricultural products year-round. I thank NYPA, EPRI and FeedMore WNY for their participation in this forward thinking project, and look forward to the first harvest.”
An advantage of ‘Container Farm Project’ is the ability to track data such as energy loads, water use, etc., which will help the research team to tweak and optimize the system. This technology will only get better and more efficient, with higher yields in years to come.
EPRI President Arshad Mansoor said, “Against the backdrop of increasing weather events and a global pandemic, there’s been an increasing appetite for indoor food production. EPRI engineers and scientists have been at the nucleus of this development, advancing technology to run container farm demonstrations across the country. This is a worldwide movement toward sustainable communities. Indoor agriculture also is an important part of efficient electrification, which is critical to enabling decarbonization throughout the economy.”
Tara A. Ellis, president and CEO of FeedMore WNY, said, “FeedMore WNY is incredibly excited for this opportunity to work with New York Power Authority and the Electric Power Research Institute in order to grow nutritious produce for distribution to our hungry community members, NYPA and EPRI are the true definition of good neighbors and we are so fortunate to have their support as we work to make sure our neighbors in need have access to nutritious food, including fresh produce.”
This new program is part of NYPA’s Environmental Justice program, which is not only dedicated to providing educational programs about clean, renewable energy, and sustainability, it is also in place to address food insecurity, while helping to better the lives of those who live in underrepresented communities near NYPA’s power assets.
“NYPA uses its expertise and resources to help benefit residents who live and work in areas near our facilities,” said Lisa Payne Wansley, NYPA vice president of environmental justice and sustainability. “This indoor food production initiative aligns with and supports NYPA’s Sustainability Plan goals to demonstrate sustainable solutions to addressing climate change in local communities where we operate.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented mounting food insecurity problems, which must be dealt with immediately, especially in cities with colder climates.
Senator Tim Kennedy said, “For years, FeedMore WNY has served as a critical resource for many, and that important role has only been magnified throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Through this partnership, WNY families will have increased access to fresh, locally grown food, which will in turn fuel healthier communities and provide nutritious support to those who need it most.”
Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes said, “This collaboration is a major step forward in bringing healthy food options, mainly fresh fruits and vegetables, to some of our city’s food deserts. We thank the NYPA and the state for dedicating its expertise and resources to EPRI and FeedMore WNY to help advance year-round indoor farming in areas that need it the most.”
Mayor Byron W. Brown said, “Low income communities, and especially Black and brown communities, have historically faced difficulties with food security and access to fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables. The COVID-19 pandemic has only heightened those challenges, either through a loss of income, decreased mobility, or more limited access to supportive nutritional programs. Today’s announcement of this new partnership is a bold step in helping to address these systemic problems. I am confident that this collaboration between Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office, the New York Power Authority’s Environmental Justice Program, the Electric Power Research Institute and FeedMore WNY, will help advance indoor farming in our community and further strengthen Buffalo’s year-round production of fresh produce in the neighborhoods with residents who have had the most trouble accessing them.”