Hydroponic farm in Ponce to produce strawberries commercially in ’23
Grupo Vesán — a hydroponic Farm based in Ponce — will start selling their harvested strawberries by 2023, with plans to double the size of their current 8,000 square-foot building to 16,000 square feet.
Vesán currently harvests different types of lettuce, such as kale, sala nova, romaine, tropicana and American, adding up to 10,000 lettuces in 2,000 square feet that take up to 30 days to harvest, without using herbicides.
“The indoor hydroponics system involves special lights, modified to be mostly red and blue, temperatures and we even control the oxygen level of the area,” said Francisco Santana, owner of Grupo Vesán.
“We work at 1,000 PPM, about three times what is normally outdoors, and this is achieved by dosing carbon dioxide that is programmed semi-automatic,” said Santana.
Santana explained how with the increase of carbon dioxide, the plant accelerates photosynthesis, therefore grows faster, so it can be produced in less time, and development tends to be completely different from what is harvested outdoors.
Vesán, which modifies its light to be 10 to 12 hours of continuous “simulated sunlight” has an approximate of 12 harvests per year, two more than exterior farmers usually have, as Santana explained.
“To increase productivity, we have an air conditioning system that simulates 62º for the area, and all the water produced by the devices is collected and about 200 gallons per week we return to the system, so we try to avoid waste,” said Santana.
Vesán has also experimented harvesting other products, such as broccoli, tomatoes, and peppers, but due to their harvesting time, they do not produce as much, since they are focusing on strawberries and lettuces.
“We also grow micro grains, which sprout very quickly with simple processes, although the grain market in the southern area differs from that of San Juan,” said Santana.
From a container to full-blown farm
The farm started off in a 40-foot container in 2015, which is now being used to produce the first couple of batches for the strawberry production which currently has an estimate of 1,000 units and will soon have its own special container to increase production.
With the projected expansion, Vesán Group is aiming to integrate an agricultural interpretation center project by the middle of next year, to engage with students from the island and the United States mainland to boost education in agriculture, as Santana explained.
Vesán manufactures containers for sale, called “módulos,” supplies four supermarkets, coffee shops and bakeries, and currently has three employees that help maintain and experiment improvements in production. “I believe that if indoor farming were implemented more in Puerto Rico, new professional careers could be created and agriculture on the island will be boosted,” said Santana.