DreamTree Farms the Future with Hydroponics for Youth Nonprofit

By Jesse Moya

Imagine growing nearly 2 acres worth of food in your closet, year-round.

Hydroponic pioneers at DreamTree Farms are doing the unthinkable.

They have started producing food for Taos in a storage container in the front yard of the DreamTree Project. After more than a year of work and several trials and errors, the container has been up and producing since February and is capable of producing nearly two acres worth of food in an 8-foot by 40-foot shipping container that has been retrofitted for growing food year-round.

"I love it and I'm so excited," said DreamTree Executive Director Catherine Hummel. "The whole goal is to raise money for DreamTree."

In 2017, DreamTree began its venture into the hydroponics world when the youth services group applied through the town of Taos to put the shipping container on the property. After a special-use variance was obtained, the crew began attending trainings and setting things up to start the indoor farm. The venture allows DreamTree to grow several different types of vegetables and herbs to sell to local restaurants and markets to bring in some revenue.

With a bit under 10 gallons of water per week, DreamTree's Freight Farms container is capable of up to 52 harvests per year at full capacity and is climate- and light-controlled, so the food can be grown at any time of the year without fear of frost. Currently, the small facility grows leafy greens, radishes and some specialty herbs. Crops must have similar growing conditions since the trailer is kept at the same temperature year-round.

"We don't worry about what's going on outside," laughed farm manager Jerrod Rowlison-Elliot.

With a specialized system, Rowlison-Elliot can seed crops with ease and quickly transport them from seed trays to vertical gardens. The vertical gardens act like bookshelves holding the plants up in rows while a specialized drip system sends water directly to the roots. When the harvests are ready, twice per week, the vertical trays of plants are moved from their hanging racks, placed on a table where they are harvested and bagged for transport and sale.

A few local businesses have already started taking advantage of DreamTree's farm and have been using the product to replace imported goods. The goal is to expand the farm and get the vegetables into more local avenues and reduce some of the footprint made by imported produce.

"This is a really secure way to provide food locally that doesn't require a lot of fossil fuels or traveling," said Rowlison-Elliot.

On the outside, the container was a giant white train car that had to undergo a beautification process, according to town codes. Without hesitation, officials at DreamTree agreed to bring in local talent to paint the side of the container with an image honoring the DreamTree and the youth clients they work with.

Local aerosol artist Omar Wilkins agreed to work with some of the DreamTree youth to develop a mural for the farm that symbolized their time at the center. With their help, Wilkins is actively adding pieces to the mural when he can and is even teaching some of the teens basic art techniques.

"It's an opportunity to paint another mural in Taos," Wilkins said.

DreamTree is an active center to assist youth in the area who need an extra hand. The center offers a transitional living center for teens to help them get accustomed to the adult life of paying bills and managing money. Several of the youth will be working both on the mural and with the farm to learn about the business mechanics of selling the vegetables, according to Rowlison-Elliot. In the future, DreamTree hopes to purchase another shipping container and expand its food-growing program.