Agriculture is an industry that is being explored as a way to diversify our economy here in TT and the list of companies that supply innovative goods and services for this sector is certainly growing. One such firm is Green Age Farms, based in Freeport, which provides everything needed to start a farm, regardless of size, while using the latest agri-technology.
Green Age Farms’ main expertise falls within the area of vertical hydroponic farming, which is highly space and water efficient. The combination of hydroponics, which is the process of growing plants in sand, gravel, or liquid, with added nutrients but without soil, and vertical farming, which is growing produce in vertically stacked layers, results in an innovative solution for the home gardener all the way to the large commercial farmer.
So how did husband and wife team, Faariah Khan-Singh and Kevin Singh, both process engineers, happen on a venture such as Green Age? “We started hydroponics as a means to earn an additional income by growing and supplying produce. We tried a lot of different types of hydroponics systems but none of them provided what we needed. They used too much space, were tedious to set up and required a lot of time for monitoring and adjusting,” recalled Khan-Singh.
They researched many different options before eventually deciding to go with the Mr Stacky vertical hydroponics system. “We loved it and thought that people would love it as well,” she added. They knew there was a need for an all-round service that made it easy for people to get started and succeed at hydroponics, while providing innovative and sustainable solutions for the more experienced hydroponic farmers. “We were able to secure the distributorship for the Mr Stacky and Spring Pots brands. With the backing from these international manufacturers, we were able to further promote our brand and systems.”
One of the major challenges they’ve faced since launching the brand is introducing the concept to the local market. “Since our system was completely different to the more conventional hydroponic methods that were used locally and traditionally in farming, it was important to build an awareness for our product and service and highlight the advantages using our systems.” But now that the brand is fully launched and operational, Green Age lets their customers speak for them. “We continue to get a lot of referrals from customers who used our system.”
The popularity of the system was not only due to its general ease of use but also as a result of a demo system that Green Age made available to illustrate to potential customers the easy installation and low maintenance levels. These demos, Khan-Singh said, show “the high efficiencies of the system in terms of space, nutrients and power that resulted in low operating costs with high use.”
Green Age now has several customers who use their systems for home gardens – many of whom are new to gardening in general, much less hydroponics. “They were really impressed and happy that they were able to successfully use the systems to provide high quality produce for their family and also drastically cut down on their market bill. They were so happy with the results that some even expanded on a commercial scale.”
One of the recent companies to engage Green Farm is Hyatt Regency. “We were really excited about the farm to table project at Hyatt. We were actually approached by them to work on this project together using our systems. They were looking for a sustainable way of growing their own fresh produce to supply the hotel’s needs,” said Khan-Singh. “Within three weeks, after the system was set up, they were already harvesting fresh produce. They harvested six different types of lettuce, including romaine lettuce, and continue to harvest other produce.” Green Age also provided training to the staff at the Hyatt, and they have been able to successfully operate their system.
“We’ve got a lot of great feedback from the Hyatt on how easy the system is to operate, and the high quality and yield of the produce grown. They also got great feedback for their guests who were very impressed with the produce used from the garden.”
Green Age also has a couple of clients with catering businesses, who produce fresh ingredients for their meals, as well as some produce delivery businesses, who supply customers directly with fresh produce. “We also have a lot of clients using our systems to supply supermarkets and restaurants and to homes (who want to) supply healthy fresh produce for their families,” said Khan-Singh.
The Ministry of Agriculture has also used Green Age’s vertical systems as a demo at their site. It is currently set up at their Aquaculture Unit in Valsayn and is used as part of their training initiatives. “We have also spoken to the Agricultural Development Bank, which is on board with providing financing for any of our systems.”
Green Age’s goal is to encourage more people to grow their own food, whether it be for home use or commercial use.
“We believe that this can greatly improve the level of food security within TT and help reduce the food import bill and promote healthier lifestyles.”