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CEA School: Molding the Minds of Aspiring Growers…and Employees

Technology Center East Lettuce Growing Controlled EnvironmentOur most recent CEA school provided a great opportunity for our attendees, and myself, to learn the ins and outs of controlled environment agriculture. I am new to FarmTek and have been working here for just about a month, and while I moved here from a small town in New Hampshire, I truthfully have very limited agricultural and farming knowledge. The most I could tell you about farming prior to this is that cows have dry tongues, and catching loose chickens is a tougher task than you originally think. However, after being given the opportunity to sit in on the majority of lectures at our most recent CEA school here at Technology Center East, I, like all of our attendees, have gained a lot of knowledge and interest in the previously mysterious topic of controlled environment agriculture.

On the first day of our three-day schoolCEA School Tour Growing Rooms, we covered the topic of hydroponics. What I thought was most interesting about this topic was that a lot of people seemed to have experience with growing hydroponically. Personally, I had never come across someone growing crops without using the old fashioned “dirt and water” technique, but, sure enough, this topic seems to have caught on.

Everyone seemed to really enjoy the tour oLettuce Growing Room Technology Center East Tourf our 30’ wide by 72’ long grow rooms and 20’ wide by 23’ long fodder room, they asked a lot of questions and took pictures constantly. When the tour was finished, everyone reconvened in the classroom for our first guest speaker, Joe Swartz of Swartz Family Farm. Joe is a hydroponic consultant and he covered the topic of marketing produce. He gave some great advice on how growers can increase the overall profitability of their business through marketing and sales techniques.

Our second day of classes wrapped up our hydroponic topic and moved into aquaponics. Rich McAvoy of the University of Connecticut and Jon Adams of Svensson gave the final presentations regarding hydroponics. Rich McAvoy gave some great insight into hydroponic tomato production, while Jon Adams presented his wealth of knowledge on greenhouses, touching subjects such as energy efficiency and blackout shade systems. Our Greenhouse Manager at our Iowa location, Sam Shroyer, transitioned us into aquaponics with an excellent talk about the symbiotic relationship between plants and fish. Aquaponics was by far my favorite topic to learn about and the topic that I absolutely took the most from. Brian Mansour of Cabbage Hill Farm in New York stopped by to share his first-hand experience with aquaponics. Cabbage Hill Farm operates a large aquaponics system, and he covered everything from production, to system maintenance and business planning.CEA School Presentation

The final day of our CEA school covered fodder. We started off with a presentation by our fodder specialist here at Technology Center East, Abigail Tobey. Abigail gave a great presentation that covered a lot of the technical aspects of fodder, but also did an excellent job breaking down the process and making it easy to understand. She was bombarded with questions, but answered them all, providing a lot of additional information to our customers.

Following Abigail’s presentation was Hands-on Fodder Cornell University professor, A. Fay Benson. Fay revealed his in depth knowledge of fodder and gave many tips and tricks that he has learned with his years of experience in the field. We wrapped up our fodder day, and the school itself, with a presentation that had a little taste of home for me personally. Josh Cline, of Stonewall Farm in New Hampshire discussed his success growing fodder. Turns out, this particular organic dairy is growing fodder in the town right next to my hometown, and I had never heard of fodder prior to working at FarmTek; it’s funny how small the world is sometimes. The attendees were greatly impressed with the knowledge they received about fodder, both through the presentations and our hands-on learning session.Fodder Growing Room Hands-on

I can’t wait until our next CEA school in April. I have been learning everyday that I have been working here, but I really enjoyed the in-depth knowledge I was able to gain through our CEA school. I think everyone involved in our February session would say it was a success, and our classes get better and better each time.

If you are interested in any of the topics that we discuss during our CEA school, I highly suggest attending. It is packed full of information and provides tips and tricks that even some of the more experienced growers in attendance were unaware of. If you have any questions or would like to attend our CEA school please visit for details about upcoming events, or you can contact me, Justin Dunham at Hand-on Learning Session

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