At Duke’s Chowder House, we are constantly in pursuit of new opportunities to increase our sustainable food options. My team and I spend countless hours sourcing the highest-quality, most eco-friendly ingredients we can find in order to serve food that our customers can feel good about eating.
While my passion will always be fresh, Wild Seafood, that doesn’t mean other food is less important. Our society needs to come up with innovative ways to produce more food as our populations continue to grow, and I try to support those efforts however I can.
It’s for this reason that we have recently begun exploring the science of hydroponics. This growing method is one of the most sustainable options out there, and the possibilities are almost limitless! I’d like to share with you some basic information about how it works, it’s amazing benefits, and how we at Duke’s are embracing it.
What Is Hydroponics?
While it sounds fancy, hydroponics is centered on a basic concept. It simply means growing plants in an aquatic based environment versus soil based. The plants are fed with a liquid growth mineral solution. While you may immediately picture plants floating with their roots dangling free into water, this is not the only method used in hydroponics; gravel and sand also work well with certain plants. There are a variety of methods used in hydroponics, each with their own benefits:
- Water Culture: This is the method most frequently associated with hydroponic growing. Plant roots float freely in water and are fed with growth solution through the water. An air pump keeps the water adequately oxygenated.
- Wick System: This passive method allows plants rooted in sand or gravel to draw nutrients up through a number of ‘wicks’ that descend into a watery reservoir.
- Ebb & Flow: Plants in a grow tray are alternately flooded with water and growth solution, usually automated and timed with a water pump.
- Drip System: This is one of the most popular methods of hydroponic growing. Water and growth solution is pumped from a reservoir into elevated water jets that drip down onto the plants.
- N.F.T: An acronym for Nutrient Film Technique, plant roots are grown in a shallow ‘film’ of water and nutrients in a grow tray. This provides roots constant access to the important minerals, oxygen, and water they need.
Duke and the Brothers
The DeGoede Brothers farm, located in the Puyallup Valley, has been serving customers in the flower business for nearly five decades. Pioneers in year-round growing methods, hydroponics are an important aspect of the DeGoede operation.
Phil and Paul DeGoede are twin brothers and partners in the family-owned and operated farm. Their father John started the business in 1968, and they have been involved since toddlerhood. At Duke’s, we share a lot of the same values—quality products, sustainable farming and unbeatable customer service—so when Chef “Wild” Bill Ranniger and I approached them with our idea, a partnership just clicked!
One day, Bill and I were exploring ways to get more organic produce for Duke’s kitchens, and we decided to approach some local farms that are known for their high-quality organic farming methods. As I mentioned, the DeGoede brothers were enthusiastic right away. They have agreed to grow some butter lettuce exclusively for Duke’s restaurants using the ‘water culture’ method of hydroponics, and we couldn’t be more pleased with the results. We use a wide variety of fresh, sustainable produce in our kitchens, so working with the DeGoede brothers to grow other produce in future is a very real possibility.
Working with local producers is one of the most efficient ways to source quality, sustainable ingredients for our kitchens. The DeGoede Brothers Farm is one such local source, and we are excited to embark on a new project with them.
6 Reasons to Love Hydroponics:
Hydroponic growing operations use approximately 10% of water used in traditional methods! Water loss is almost nonexistent, usually through evaporation or occasional changes to the growth nutrient solution. This is a huge benefit, as agriculture is one of the biggest consumers of water worldwide. So, if you’re looking for ways to save water in your own household, consider setting up a hydroponic garden.
When you grow using hydroponic methods, you have complete control over everything in your plant’s environment. Nutrients, water, light, pH balance, and many other factors can have a negative or positive effect on the health of your plants. When you have the ability to customize each of those variables, to suit the unique needs of your plants, the results are astounding! Higher yields and greatly improved success rates are a dream come true for gardeners and farmers alike.
Traditional agriculture needs a lot of land with good irrigation, good soil and the right amount of sunlight for a successful yield. Hydroponic operations can take up to 50% less space to produce the same amount of crop! Since arable land is decreasing rapidly in the United States and around the world, this is a massive benefit. Hydroponic growing can save thousands of trees that would otherwise be clear-cut for more agriculture, leaving land available for other uses, such as wildlife preserves. It’s also great for areas with limited green space, such as urban cities, to set up sizable growing operations.
Artificial light, controlled irrigation, and consistent nutrients mean that hydroponic growing operations can produce crops all year round, regardless of growing seasons. This has huge implications when it comes to food production and distribution. Instead of delivering out-of-season produce from California or Mexico to every state in the country, everyone could grow their own. It also means that crops can be consistently produced year to year, whereas the success of traditional agriculture is dependent on a wide variety of uncontrollable, natural variables.
Food grown in soil-based agriculture is actually less nutritious than hydroponically grown vegetables and produce. This is because, as time goes on, certain vital minerals and nutrients can crystallize in soil, robbing root systems and limiting the growth potential of a plant. Hydroponic vegetables are typically larger, juicier and more brightly colored than soil-grown varieties due to their higher nutritional value.
All of the benefits outlined above, and many more, make hydroponic grow operations much more sustainable and eco-friendly than traditional methods. Just to name a few, they:
- Use less fertilizer and no harmful pesticides
- Lower fossil fuel consumption by limiting the necessity of food distribution and transport across the country and the world
- Provide exponential possibilities to feed over-populated areas
- Ensure that future generations have access to nutritious, organic food
Chef “Wild” Bill and I are excited about this project with the DeGoede Brothers farm, and look forward to the endless possibilities available with hydroponic growing power! Book a reservation at one of our six locations. Learn more about how we source high-quality, organic and sustainable ingredients for our menu, and taste the difference that sustainability makes.