A hydroponic pod joined the trucks rolling through Wadena on Wednesday afternoon. The pod is an insulated shipping container designed to grow fresh fruits and vegetables all-year round as a part of a national program with the Electrical Power Research Institute.
The program’s local location is in Staples at the Central Lakes College Ag and Energy Center, with sponsorships and partnerships from Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative, Lakewood Health System and Great River Energy, according to a TWEC news release. Over the last year, TWEC received the project from Great River—after being chosen out of 28 cooperatives—and worked on the partnerships, transportation of the pod and installing the pod.
The community involvement is what set TWEC apart from the other cooperatives, according to TWEC member service manager Allison Uselman. Students and interns at Central Lakes will plant and harvest the food and at Lakewood Health, the grown food will be given to over 600 community members through their Food Farmacy. Farmers in the area could also see future changes.
“In my opinion, it could change agriculture around here to where farmers could produce 12 months out of the year, you know there’s no longer a winter season where they can’t produce,” Uselman said. “The hope, I think, from Todd-Wadena, because we are a huge agricultural community, that this will inspire and educate some of the farmers in our area.”
The education is also for utility companies, such as TWEC, to understand the impact of hydroponics and other indoor agriculture methods. The pod uses electricity daily, especially through LED lights that keep the inside warm for plant growth. TWEC will focus on load forecasting and rate design.
“If this industry does grow as it’s projected to, the utility world needs to be prepared for that, you know how many can we hook up without it impacting the quality of our services,” Uselman said.
Within the first year, the pods across the nation will only grow kale to have consistency in comparing data, though over 200 pounds a week will be grown, according to Uselman. Following this, different fruits and vegetables can be grown in the pod at the same time.
“Supposedly the strawberries are absolutely amazing,” Uselman said. “It’s also all organic, you don’t have to use any pesticides or things like that because it’s blocked out from the outdoors.”
With the fresh food, Uselman also hopes the area food deserts and those with food insecurities will be positively affected. The lower distance to grocery stores will reduce net greenhouse emissions since “leafy greens generally travel an average of 2,000 miles before reaching a store,” according to the TWEC news release.
“That was also a big reason it was so important is … Wadena and Todd County have huge food deserts and often, the Food Farmacy is just one, but food shelves all throughout the area don’t have access to fresh food to distribute to people in need and people in need can’t drive 30 plus miles to go to a grocery store,” Uselman said. “As this grows, if we could place these in food shelves, next to colleges, next to schools it could produce year-round fresh food to feed our communities.”
The future of hydroponics is certainly growing. For now, the pod has visited staff members at Great River Energy in Maplewood, TWEC and Lakewood Health and is planted at CLC with installation and energizing happening this week. A ribbon cutting ceremony will take place in March, when the first full harvest is complete.