URBAN HYDRO PROJECT By Andrew Sullivan | Photography by Jessie Holloway + Hannah Messinger
It’s March, the weather is a warm tease, and Jeffrey Orkin is driving us to the site of what will be Greener Roots Farm, his newest project in hydroculture. “I recently found out that there’s a well-known dive-bar across the street from our new place,” he says as we ride down Murfreesboro Pike. “So if this project doesn’t work out, there’s that.” Before arriving at Greener Roots Farm, we stop by Jeffrey’s previous venture in sustainable farming, Urban Hydro Project. With the help of his friend and colleague Austin Litrell, Jeffrey renovated a 130-square-foot storage closet into a small yet telling example of clean and efficient farming in an otherwise gray, urban landscape. After walking down a rabbit hole of parking garages, side-stairs, and narrow hallways, we finally come upon his old site. Most of the grow trays, reservoir tubs, and other pieces of equipment are still assembled in columns that utilize every piece of Urban Hydro Project to its optimum potential. As Jeffrey gets everything running for us, I can see how this little room seamlessly mixed nature with science when it was still producing vegetables. It’s the little details that lend credit to the fact that Jeffrey is a mindful individual. His plan is always to produce at maximum output while thoroughly limiting energy consumption. For Jeffrey, energy conservation is a focal point, and it hasn’t had a negative effect on
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productivity in the slightest. If you’ve eaten at SLOCO recently, your appetite is already familiar with Jeff’s work. Jeffrey’s fascination with the authenticity of our nourishment came about, dare I say, rather organically. His vegetative obsession started out harmlessly enough. With no other space readily available, he began with a few simple plants in the windows of his condo (at the same complex that would one day house Urban-Hydro Project). Upon completing his MBA at Lipscomb with a concentration in sustainability, Jeff took to his newfound purpose by gathering the initial funds through a Kickstarter campaign, setting up a lease agreement with the management at his condominium, and starting up UrbanHydro out of a rooftop storage closet. Within a year’s time, what grew from humble beginnings soon gained in popularity around town. Eventually, the demand for Urban Hydro’s harvest outgrew the harvest itself, and from that point on, Jeffrey became the occupant of a 6,000-square-foot warehouse— across from a dive-bar. Yes, that’s right, 6,000 square feet.
Greener Roots Farm will be the first of its kind in Nashville and will provide sustainable agriculture on a truly massive scale. However, Jeffrey has no intention of stopping there. The way he sees it, Greener Roots Farm has the potential to not only be a farm, but an educational center, research facility, and space for community as well. “A huge piece of this to me is not just about growing food but about education around local food,” he says. “Working with school programs is a top priority of mine. Schools are out for the summer [harvest season], which means that kids rarely take field trips to visit outdoor farms. At Greener Roots, we can grow all year long, so we have the potential to show and get kids interested in how food works while they’re still in school.” Jeffrey has already taken active steps to raise green awareness here in town. He’s allocated 1,700 square feet of the property to a local non-profit called Nashville Grown, which provides businesses and individuals with a link to food sources nearby, reducing dependency on distribution behemoths like Sysco. He’s also been working with Austin’s research and development project, Green Leaf Aquaponics. Aquaponics is a food production system that combines aquatic life with hydroponics—the fish create the nutrients for the plants, thus eliminating the need for additional nutrient solution. “This is a dream,” he tells me as we drive away from the site. “I’ve loved talking about and teaching about the importance of local food. Up till now, it’s always been a theoretical thing, a this is how it could be thing. But now, I have the opportunity to expand upon something I’m deeply passionate about and use that to the benefit of those around me.”
“THIS IS NOT JUST ABOUT GROWING FOOD. . .”
Published on Apr 4, 2014
Our Green Issue, featuring Nashville's Langhorne Slim, Buffalo Clover, Green Home, Green Door Gourmet, Urban Hydro Project, Brian Owens, Ale...