Local couple patents vertical aeroponic plant growing system

Last updated: September 25. 2013 10:51AM - 4339 Views
Lewis O. Powell IV Contributing writer

Terry Luebbers and Sarah Hensley stand with one of their vertical aeroponic growing units and about 100 basil plants. The purple plant in the middle is purple basil.
Terry Luebbers and Sarah Hensley stand with one of their vertical aeroponic growing units and about 100 basil plants. The purple plant in the middle is purple basil.
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Scarily, our food systems are under threat.

“We have a food system that at some point is going to crash,” says Terry Luebbers.

With the world’s burgeoning population, land for growing food to feed us all is becoming scarce. Water is becoming an extremely valuable commodity and there is the threat that we may soon reach “peak oil” — the high point of oil production — soon. All of these things are major contributors in the production and distribution of food.

With these things in mind, a local couple — Luebbers and his wife, Sarah Hensley — set out to create a new growing system that makes food production more efficient. Working in their greenhouse and using methods borrowed from hydroponic growing, they created a vertical aeroponic growing system for which they have just received a patent from the U.S. Patent Office last month.

“We did not invent aeroponics,” says Luebbers, “we made it into a high density system.”

Their system — branded the “MoFlo Vertical Aeroponic System” — is quite simple and very easy to use. “It’s idiot-proof,” notes Hensley, “I kill cactus, but I can grow these.”

To most people, agriculture brings to mind the image of farmers toiling away on crops in the field. This new concept takes the field out of the equation entirely. Soil is not used in growing plants in this system, instead, the plants are placed in plastic net cups and the roots are exposed to air. The plastic cups are inserted into a specially designed box.

A mister within the box provides a nutrient-filled mist for the plants and is set on a timer to provide water and nutrients on a regular basis. Any excess water drips back into a tank at the bottom of the box to be recycled through the mister. This system uses water far more efficiently than regular agriculture.

To maximize space, the boxes rise vertically so that multiple plants can be grown in a small area. The first aeroponic system the couple built in their greenhouse was a horizontal system. “When we realized that we could grow 5,760 plants in the same space and at the same pacing as our current 720 plant system [using] 8 vertical rows, we were hooked.”

“There’s nothing unnatural about it,” Luebbers remarks, “we didn’t modify the plants, just the growing environment.”

The system can easily be adapted to small scale backyard gardens or far larger, industrial operations and can be used indoors or out. The couple is currently selling small, 12-plant systems through their website and at Adaleigh’s Nursery on New Airport Road.

Speaking of Adaleigh’s owner Ken Conners, who grows tomatoes using the boxes, Terry Leubbers says, “he grins every time someone talks about the boxes.”

As word of the new system spreads, the local couple has received interest from as far away as Japan and Mongolia. “It’s an issue of food security,” adds Luebbers.

In their greenhouse, the couple has a large, more industrial sized system growing about a hundred basil plants. The fresh, green scent of basil hangs heavily in the air. All around the plants, butterflies happily flit as if to highlight the environmental friendliness of the growing system.

While the impending crisis of a crash of the world’s food system still hangs like a Sword of Damocles over our heads, this local couple is helping ease things by raising agriculture up in the air.

For more information, see the MoFlo Vertical Aeroponic Systems website at www.mofloaeroponics.com.

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