On this episode of The Barron Report, host Paul Barron sits down with Lisa Merkle, the co-founder and executive director of Box Greens. A former yoga teacher and holistic health coach, Merkle co-founded Box Greens in 2018 with business partner Cheryl Arnold. Box Greens offers urban South Florida access to hydroponic box farms filled with fresh leafy greens, herbs, and microgreens. Barron and Merkle explore the science behind hydroponic farming, the growing national interest in plant-based eating, and current adoption of agriculture technology in Florida.
“A big part of our mission is using the business as a platform to talk about sustainable farming practices,” says Merkle. Restaurants and individual consumers who use local sources for ingredients can trust that there is minimal to “no impact on the environment from the transportation of the food.”
Box Greens transforms old shipping containers into indoor hydroponic farms. Racks, an irrigation system, an HVAC system, and lighting are fully built into each container. No dirt is used—the plants are not placed in any soil, and absorb all necessary minerals from the water. Box Greens uses floating rafts to allow for a constant flow of recirculated water as farmers monitor the minerals and pH levels.
On average, a functioning container can produce about 600 to 800 heads of lettuce per week all year round, and a 320 square foot hydroponic farm yields the same amount of produce as a traditional 1-2 acre farm.
For Merkle, education is key. “One of [Florida’s] biggest economic industries is agriculture,” notes Merkle, “and it’s behind when it comes to adopting technology.” She has found that many people do not realize the lettuce they consume for lunch was likely harvested weeks ago in California, and has changed hands many times. “And in the process,” she adds, “it’s lost its nutritional value to a pretty serious degree, and flavor.”
Plant-based diets, to Merkle, are the future. “Leafy greens have the highest concentration of vitamins and minerals,” says Merkle. “Food for a lot of people comes down to access—both in terms of physical accessibility and price point.” And hydroponic farming is “an incredible opportunity to turn people on to plant-based eating.”
Check out the podcast above to learn more about how Box Greens began, using hydroponic farming with vegetables and fruits, and possible partnerships with local restaurants and research universities. And if you would like to keep listening, check out The Barron Report podcast on iTunes Now!