During a good year, Alaska’s outdoor growing season is three months for most lettuces and herbs, so providing greens for a community year-round is a feat in itself. Doing so sustainably is another challenge entirely!
In 2018, innovator Henry Krull and his family decided to provide healthy, fresh, locally-grown greens to the Kenai community and foster local interest in sustainability.
“In the summertime, greens and vegetables can be grown, or sourced from other local farmers, but for the other nine months of the year, consumers are compelled to get store-provided produce, that is often grown in another hemisphere, or at a minimum, thousands of miles away in the lower 48,” Krull said. “Fresh365’s custom-built, insulated and ventilated containers are fitted with vertical growing towers that grow plants hydroponically inside a computer-controlled environment. We provide optimum conditions year-round, regardless of the outdoor weather.”
Maintaining those optimum conditions in what’s basically a tricked out ConEx container comes at a cost, particularly for annual energy.
In 2022, with a $104,381 grant from USDA Rural Development’s Rural Energy for America Program and a significant investment of their own time and money, the Krulls installed a 96-kilowatt photovoltaic solar array. The system produces more than 89,000 kilowatt hours per year, which is enough electricity to power eight homes, or their one hydroponic operation.
The Krulls grow what they like to eat, because it turns out that’s what Alaskans want to purchase.
“We have romaine lettuce, butter lettuce, kale, spinach, microgreens, and six different herbs: basil, mint, dill, chive, cilantro, and thyme,” Krull said. “We have people walk right in and they ask for two heads of lettuce and 2 ounces of basil, and we go and pull the lettuce off the wall and clip the basil.”
In late November mushrooms will also be available as the Krulls continue to bring fresh food to their family, friends, and fellow Alaskans.
USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program helps agricultural producers and rural small businesses purchase and install renewable energy systems and make energy efficiency improvements. To learn more about this and other programs, visit https://www.rd.usda.gov/ak.