Urban Farm Sprouts in South End

September 29, 2017 6:13 pm

Walking into South End’s only farm feels like sneaking into a science lab. Tucked away between art galleries, restaurants and apartment buildings, an unmarked warehouse is the home of Rogue Farms Urban Hydroponics, a local hydroponics farm owned and operated by Nicole Burnette. Entering through the front reception area with standard office furniture and carpet floors, it’s hard to believe specialty greens for the Atherton Farmers Market and Charlotte’s restaurants are grown here, but walk down the hallway, and the building transforms.

The narrow walkway opens into a large industrial-looking room with soaring ceilings and worn-in brick walls. A monochromatic color scheme of crisp white and vibrant shades of green takes over the space while white tubing stretches in every direction, sprouting greens from the top of each row. Fluorescent lights illuminate the greenery and a loud cooling system whirls over the indie music playing on the speakers.

Burnette operates her farm using hydroponics, a way of growing plants that uses only water and nutrients–no dirt. A grid system of white piping creates channels that deliver water and nutrients to the plants, and artificial lighting replaces natural sunlight. Growing indoors means Burnette can use the tall warehouse ceilings to grow up instead of out. It also gives her the ability to control the elements. She doesn’t have to worry about storms or bugs affecting her crops.

“The nature of agriculture is changing,” says Burnette, who started with traditional in-ground gardening and farming and is a certified Master Gardener. Burnette first experimented with hydroponics when she was working as an earth science teacher at a Montessori school.

“We had just gotten our greenhouse and we were doing a winter science project for one of the classes,” she says. “We built a small system and it was something that the students loved, but I loved it even more.”

Burnette soon purchased her own commercial hydroponics system and installed it in her garage.

“When my husband kicked me out of the garage, I ended up leaving that job and starting this business,” she says, referring to Rogue Farms.

At her South End farm, Burnette’s focus is on leafy greens, Asian greens and herbs. Local chefs and visitors to the Atherton Farmers market are her regular patrons but she also donates greens to Friendship Trays, a group that delivers healthy meals to elderly community members. Along with growing specialty greens, Burnette continues to use her experience in education to turn Rogue Farms into a classroom for teaching people about hydroponics.

Her classes, which are every two months, include topics like Hydroponics 101 where people can learn about hydroponics systems and growing techniques. Burnette has also welcomed students from elementary school to high school on field trips to get a peek at what she calls the “new agricultural landscape.” Through the teaching aspect of Rogue Farms, Burnette hopes more people will become interested in alternative methods of food production and support local farmers who are growing in urban areas.

“It’s the way that we need to start thinking for our urban areas and for moving into the future.”

Nicole Burnette and Rogue Urban Farms Hydroponics can be found at the Atherton Farmers Market located inside the Atherton Market each Saturday morning. Learn more about her upcoming hydroponics classes here.

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