All About Food: A hydroponic paradise of produce

( SCOTT SMELTZER, HB Independent / October 10, 2012 )
Erik Strickland, the farm manager of Alegria Fresh, clips fresh spinach for members of the Nellie Gail Gardeners on Tuesday. Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz: At Big Bend on Laguna Canyon Road, hidden behind a wall, is an amazing half-acre vertical hydroponic farm.

This is the farm of the future, a system of producing food using 90% less water, 50% less fertilizer and 70% less land than traditional farming while delivering 10 times the yield per square foot.

Erik Cutter, a Laguna resident, is the man behind Alegría Fresh, the first urban, hydroponic vertical farm in California. Alegría is a subsidiary of EnviroIngenuity, a Laguna company whose mission is to reduce waste and promote sustainable energy solutions.

This Verti-Gro system was patented by an organic chemist in Florida named Tim Carpenter. Erik bought the franchise and is the California distributor. He has a fascinating background, ranging from founding an automotive design business while still in college, earning a bachelor’s degree in microbiology with cancer as a subspecialty, training as a chef and traveling the world.

Looking for an affordable property on which to build his dream farm, he found a location in the canyon that was divided by the flood channel where no permanent structures can be built. He persuaded the folks at City Hall to allow him go ahead with this project. Because it was so unusual, there was nothing in the code to prevent it once he convinced them he was not growing hallucinogenic substances.

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