Big Tex Urban Farms uses Arize™ Lynk and Arize™ Element Top Lighting LED growing systems to serve up more fresh greens for Dallas communities.
LED solutions are saving businesses big energy costs and helping cities grow smarter, but can light fixtures also help feed entire communities? Thanks to Big Tex Urban Farms and Current, powered by GE, the answer is yes.
Farming at the Fair
Located at the State Fair of Texas®, Big Tex Urban Farms is part innovation lab, part production facility and fully on a mission to grow fresh produce for food-desert communities. A food-desert area is one that lacks easy access to grocery stores, farmers’ markets and other healthy eating options—a problem that has long impacted large parts of South Dallas.
“It’s incredible that we’re able to have a farm in a parking lot,” says Jason Hays, creative director of Big Tex Urban Farms, which launched in 2016 as a revolutionary mobile agriculture system in the heart of the State Fair of Texas.
Initially, the farm on concrete started with 100 raised garden boxes, but quickly grew to over 500 boxes able to produce 2,700 pounds of food—or about 21,000 servings annually. Still, Big Tex had bigger goals.
“After the first growing season, we saw that the dent we were making in the community was minimal, so we started to focus on indoor controlled-climate agriculture,” Hays says. “In 2017, we added a deep-water culture bed to our greenhouse and recently installed a second one with the help of our friends at Hort Americas.”
Big Tex counts on Hort Americas, a commercial greenhouse and hydroponics supplier, to deliver innovative and economically viable solutions that will result in even greater food yields. Along with the brand-new grow bed, Hort Americas brought the urban farm another bright idea—an LED system from Current that provides the most suitable spectrum of light for indoor farming.
“We’re always looking for ways to increase productivity and provide food to those in need,” says Drew Demler, director of horticulture for Big Tex Urban Farms. “We were already using LEDs in our first deep-water bed, so we knew the benefits, but Chris and Matt told us, ‘Listen, we have something we think will work even better for you.’”
Up and Growing with LED
Chris Higgins (general manager for Hort Americas) and Matt White (customer support specialist) met with Hays and Demler to demonstrate how the Arize™ Lynk LED lighting system provides optimal light spectrums for plant growth. On one spectrum, higher red content promotes flowering and fruit generation while on another, higher blue content helps produce thick, healthy leaves. A third spectrum, balanced red-to-blue, encourages overall growth.
Arize maximizes the potential of indoor farms by optimizing light intensity and uniformity for rapid plant growth.
Past experiences had taught the Big Tex team that LED lamps offer longer life, energy savings, lower maintenance and less heat as compared to traditional horticulture lighting options like fluorescent tubes and high-pressure sodium fixtures, making the decision to add the Arize system to its newest deep-water bed an easy one. As Higgins explains, it only took a few weeks to see a dramatic difference.
“I checked on Jason and Drew shortly after the project wrapped, and they showed me some red leaf lettuce from the tank with Current’s LEDs, and the comparison from the other tank was really unbelievable,” he says. “The consistency of the color, the size of the heads—it’s obvious the light is having a big impact.”
Big Tex’s state-of-the-art grow bed also features a nano-bubbler system that suspends small bubbles of oxygen in the water. Together with the Arize Element Top Lighting LED system, these technologies are allowing greens to grow more consistently through the heat of the Texas summer, which is also leading to a larger crop and increased excitement for how the hydroponic garden can benefit South Dallas for years to come.
According to Hays, Big Tex is on pace to produce 11,000 pounds of food this year, which translates to 140,000 servings. In fact, the urban farm has already produced over 20,000 heads of lettuce in addition to an appetizing array of herbs and other veggies, including basil, Swiss chard, black-eyed peas, purple-hull peas, summer squash and five varieties of peppers, to name a few.
“Chris and his team service multiacre facilities and we’re just a small operation, but they provide us the same engagement and respect and understand our goals,” says Hays. “We look to Hort Americas for the equipment we need, and we’ve been very pleased with Current’s LED lighting. Visually, it's outperforming the other systems we have in the building.”
An Even Healthier Outlook
Over the past year, Big Tex has converted its greenhouse from a sometimes storage space to a full production facility that never takes a day off. As the farm expands, and as Hort Americas continues to lend its expertise to the budding operation, Hays can see a setup that can one day produce a million servings of food a year.
“Our role is to continue to innovate in urban agriculture and to be an open resource for anyone who wants to replicate what we're doing,” he says. “We get special guests every week, some unannounced and from places as far off as Paris, who want to see how it’s done. It’s an opportunity to inspire people and connect with like-minded individuals. We want to be that hub for our local community and for other innovators around the world.”
Hays notes that 100 percent of the fresh greens grown by the farm are donated to Dallas-area organizations that distribute the food to various communities.
“Urban agriculture can happen anywhere from a warehouse to a downtown skyscraper,” he says. “It's not easy to grow inside but the economics can be beautiful, and there’s incredible opportunity here.”
“We can feed more people because of the new lights.”
– Jason Hays, Creative Director, Big Tex Urban Farms
“It's been humbling to see what we've achieved in a short time in a financially conscious way. I think it’s a model for other organizations wanting to give back to their communities. We’re here for the long haul, and now we can feed more people because of the new lights, which only has us thinking about what comes next and how soon we can get there.”
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All photos courtesy of Hort Americas and Big Tex Urban Farms.