APPLETON, Wis. — You may not expect to see farm fresh veggies while at the airport. In Appleton however, you can now see the greens and the farm they came from.
Marketing Manager Patrick Tracey recently showed off the latest addition to the ATW concourse.
“People are very curious to see what is going on and they can peer in and see the little baby lettuce’s growing. Kids love it,” said Tracey.
The airport recently became the first in Wisconsin and the third in the world to offer a hydroponic food system.
“The greens are literally harvested fifteen feet from our restaurant, ensuring our customers with the freshest possible food,” said Tracey.
The flex farm unit currently grows lettuce for sandwiches and burgers at the Fox Cities Eatery. Three hundred pounds of greens will be produced each year by the system.
“As we learn to be farmers on the concourse here, our hope is to expand the farm so that we can have all of our fresh greens come from our own flex farm,” said Tracey.
Fork Farms, an indoor agriculture startup out of Green Bay, designed the system. Adding flex farms in airports wasn’t originally on their radar, says company president Alex Tyink.
“When we started this, we thought we were going to help out some schools, some food deserts, things like that and it’s just exploded.”
The company has now installed over 600 flex farms in 23 states.
“We really want this to be food for the masses. To be able to put a farm in a box so that anybody out there can be a farmer and start to produce hyper local super fresh food,” said Tyink.
According to Fork Farms, these greens take three weeks to grow versus sixty days for traditional agriculture. For Wisconsin customers, a head of lettuce could already be 3 1/2 weeks old by the time it hits their plate, losing 40% of its nutritional value.
The flex farm which runs on LED lights, water, and nutrients should provide travelers with a high level of nutrition where they may not be expecting it.
“It is hard to maintain a good healthy diet when you’re traveling so we think this is a great option for folks,” said Tracey.
Foy Tyink, Fork Farms is more than a business. He feels the food system is broken and people have a tough time finding healthy options.
“Pesticide, herbicide use are getting worse. Salmonella outbreaks are on a rampage. We feel like by decentralizing the food system, making food feet away from where people are consuming it, we have a really unique opportunity to increase quality and reduce cost.”