Waste Becomes Resources for Hydroponic Farming

Imagine being a kid and living in low income housing near abandoned buildings. Your mom struggles for money to feed you. She is unemployed, like most of her neighbors and you suffer with asthma, like many of your friends. There are fields you can’t play on because long ago manufacturing plants dumped hazardous waste and now they are called brown fields.

Local grocers’ shelves are stocked with wilting, expensive produce. You and your friends thrive on processed foods and wish the Long Island Sound views were not blocked by power plants shooting steam into the sky. Welcome to Bridgeport, Connecticut, a city near my home and where the land and water waste can be “magically” turned into valuable resources. All that is needed is to combine existing scientific practices and employ the local citizens to make the transformation real. Once complete, this magic can be replicated throughout the US! Imagine the city being an urban farming community. The blight of the land and abandoned buildings transforms to businesses employing the locals to grow fresh produce.

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How? The solution exists with hydroponic farming. Hydroponic farming needs land, water, light and labor like conventional farming but is based on growing plants without soil and with a mineral infused water based solution. Bridgeport’s Wheelabrator plant, which generates electricity for the nearby grid, is using one million gallons of water a day to cool down their turbines. With the cooling process, water vapor is created and released through a chute into the atmosphere. According to Barry Piesner, Chairman of the Bridgeport Business Alliance, everyday it pushes out enough water vapor to heat at least a six acre hydroponic farm.

Besides blocking the view of the Sound, the water vapor attracts particles, creating mold, a known asthma contributor. Bridgeport locals visit the emergency room two to three more times than elsewhere in Connecticut. (“EPA”) But let’s say, we direct that extra water vapor, to a hydroponic farm. Instead of the 195o Fahrenheit water vapor escaping to the sky, pipes can transfer the water vapor to radiate heat in greenhouses on the local brown fields. The water vapor can travel thirty miles from the source. (Piesner) The abandoned brown fields and manufacturing plants are less than 5 miles away, saving greenhouse heating costs.

But get this! The cooled water can be recycled and sent back through the pipes to the Wheelabrator plant to cool down the turbines again. This reduces the amount of water the Wheelabrator plant needs to purchase to cool down the turbines, reducing utility costs and conditions for mold. Another waste produced in Bridgeport is CO2. Studies conducted by scientists in Ohio have revealed that adding CO2 to greenhouses help plants grow. (Callendar 223-40) Bridgeport Brewing Company produces CO2 during production which can be recycled to prevent greenhouse gases. (“MolsonCoors”)This waste can be used in the greenhouses to enable Bridgeport farmers to have higher producing crop yields in less space.

Bridgeport’s 185.6 acres of brown fields (“Brown Fields Inventory” 1-23) and abandoned manufacturing plants like the Remington Plant on Barnum Avenue with 1.5 million square feet (“EveryDayNoDayOff”) are an abundant land resource for hydroponic farming. On the brown fields, a greenhouse can be built on top of a thick cement flooring to prevent food contamination while the radiant heat pipes circulate steam supplied by the Wheelabrator plant. Indeterminate plants, like tomatoes, can thrive in these greenhouses.

The plants have their roots exposed, and are fed by flooding the roots with water. With food readily available, the root systems are smaller but the plant produces, far beyond that of a normal, determinant plant, like lettuce. Bob Hochmuth, multicounty extension agent for the North Florida Research and Education Center finds each acre of hydroponic farming can yield up to 10 times the produce of an acre of conventional farming (Hochmuth). In Bridgeport, the easy access to CO2 will further increase their yields. So hydroponic plants, of both types, need less space to provide more yield to the grower. On the conventional farm sunlight is the light source.

In the hydroponic greenhouse, the sun also provides the main source of light. But in the factory, rooms can be too dark so lighting becomes a major energy cost, compared to the free sun. Today’s technology uses LED lights that are more cost effective because DC current can be supplied by solar power. The LED’s last up to 100,000 hours. (Deleon) LED lights guarantee that the plants get their mandatory amount of light per day.

Broccoli, lettuce and non-flower producing plants will thrive in these conditions. Using another scientific breakthrough by rotating the plants on a carousel around the light source, Vancouver’s Omega Garden’s Carousel system, claims their commercial carousel system produces as much as a 1500 square foot greenhouse in only 150 square feet, and their LED system just sips electricity. (“OmegaGarden”) Currently local Bridgeport grocers receive their produce from far away farms reducing the vegetable shelf life while having a high carbon footprint. Local hydroponic farms use close to zero fossil fuel compared to the conventional distant farms with tractors, pesticides, and shipping which requires special packaging and refrigeration, each heavily dependent on fossil fuel. Not only is the Bridgeport hydroponic farm energy efficient, it is environmentally friendly.

It uses no pesticides or preservatives. The science exists today to change the future of Bridgeport. Bridgeport’s abandoned plants and water vapor pumped as waste into the atmosphere is actually a resource for hydroponic farming. The best part is hydroponic farming produces what is really needed, healthy food. Now imagine this. Imagine that the children of Bridgeport CT go to bed each night, with a full stomach of healthy food, knowing that their parents are working.

Everyone breathes easier, especially the asthma sufferers. It’s the magic of science to create one hydroponic farm out of waste. Let’s make the magic a reality, create jobs and test the limits of science. Eventually, the Bridgeport model can be replicated throughout the United States.