After their first produce sale to Larry’s Supermarket in Pelican Rapids, Lake Region Electric Cooperative’s latest pilot program on hydroponics is in full production.
Since installing a hydroponic GroShed at their headquarters in July 2021, LREC has been learning the ins and outs of hydroponics and what it takes to grow different varieties of lettuce and peppers. In addition, LREC has been using the GroShed as an example of beneficial electrification using renewable energy sources, according to an LREC news release.
“The process of growing hydroponic vegetables has been fun and challenging,” said Candace Rastedt, an LREC employee who volunteers in the GroShed. “Figuring out planting and harvest timelines, along with which varieties thrive best in a hydroponic setting has been like an exciting science experiment these past few months.”
With hydroponics, plants flourish because they are receiving a constant flow of fertilized water and optimum LED lighting every 12 hours. These perfect conditions increase plant development and cut grow time by a few weeks. At one time, LREC’s hydroponic GroShed can produce 144 lettuce plants across four vertical growing racks and 26 pepper plants within their wrap around growing area on the adjacent wall, according to the release. LREC is growing romaine and buttercrunch lettuce and poblano and habanero peppers.
“Once our GroShed was delivered, we met with both Larry’s and Manna Food Co-op to see what their needs were,” said Dylan Aafedt, another LREC employee volunteer. “Our goal is to provide our local communities with the opportunity to purchase fresh, organic, locally grown produce year-round.”
LREC says there is still a lot to learn about hydroponics in general. According to the release, the team still experiences setbacks occasionally but are working to eventually have a smooth operation with predictable harvest timelines and quantities.
“The more we understand and can improve, the better it will be for those relying on our produce,” said Hannah Cox, another LREC employee volunteer. “At the end of the day, we are here to serve our communities as best as we can and if that future involves hydroponics, we want to jump in feet first.”
LREC’s hydroponic GroShed is an example of beneficial electrification and positive renewable energy uses. Around 50-60% of GroShed’s power source comes from the LREC GoWest solar array located at their headquarters. The secondary source of power is the wind-solar hybrid which powers the Erhard substation and is the energy source for LREC’s headquarters. In total, the GroShed is served by approximately 70% renewable resources and is an opportunity for research and development, according to the release.
“Beneficial electrification and renewable energy are important to us and our members,” Aafedt said. “This pilot project could open a new industry for LREC and the surrounding communities.”
If you would like to learn more about LREC’s hydroponic GroShed or take a tour, you can call 800-552-7658. For more information on LREC’s renewable energy opportunities, visit lrec.coop.