Growing Upwards: A Pilot Vertical Farming Project Captivates Anguillans
In Anguilla, the pilot of a modular hydroponics growing unit called a Flex Farm is generating a great deal of excitement, hope and new ideas from all ages about climate-smart agriculture and food security. Anguilla’s arid conditions, plus the seasonal threat of hurricanes, leave little room for error in traditional crop farming. But, the water-efficient, self-contained Flex Farm units provide a powerful response to these challenges.
The Flex Farm, is an agritech product of Wisconsin-based company Fork Farms. It uses a closed-loop system with 288 plant spaces that recirculates water and nutrients, reducing water use by 98 percent compared to traditional agriculture. The electrically powered units which need a standard outlet and just 10 square feet of space can be easily transported and set up in a variety of locations, but are designed for use in a temperature-controlled environment for optimal yield.
Minister of Sustainability, Innovation and the Environment in Anguilla, Quincia Gumbs-Marie explained that the technical team at the Department of Natural Resources Agricultural Unit working closely with Fork Farms, set up a single unit in December 2022 to grow lettuce and basil. She noted their excitement at the chance to be “true scientists” as they operationalised the unit and have already started experimenting with different ways it can be used for Anguilla’s unique needs. One team member even wants to test how the unit can work efficiently without temperature-control to lower electricity costs.
Their enthusiasm has also been fuelled by the curiosity of Anguilleans including youth, traditional crop farmers and backyard gardeners. Minister Gumbs-Marie said that as Anguillians have heard about the unit some have approached the Department to transfer some of the produce grown in the unit to their backyard gardens. Though unsure about what the outcome might be, the team agreed and have been pleasantly surprised by the success rates of growth after the transfer.
Students in one school have already pitched a business idea that leverages Flex Farms for large-scale production. In addition an entrepreneur is interested in obtaining units for a container farming initiative and the Ministry of Education wants to incorporate this type of farming into the agriculture curriculum.
Minister Gumbs notes that, “The actual operation of the system has been a bit easier than we anticipated so now we feel a bit more confident in giving these opportunities to different kinds of persons, different groups of persons in different ages.” She explained that the differently able community would be one such beneficiary.
The Minister reiterated that The Flex Farm pilot which has been made possible with the help of the Caribbean Climate-Smart Accelerator, Fork Farms and the support from the government of Anguilla has already propelled climate-smart agriculture as an important part of Anguilla’s national development.
Anguilla is the first of 6 territories in the region to undertake the pilot and is keen to share what has been learned with islands in the region as the pilot rolls out in five additional countries with the support of the Sony Foundation.