Let Us Introduce Ourselves, And Tell You About
“Our mission is to provide everyone access to
fresh, healthy, affordable, locally grown produce.”
……Bob Hagemeier & Lena Reid, Owners, WhatchaEden Hydro-ganics
WhatchaEden Hydro-Ganics, Inc. is owned and operated by Bob Hagemeier and Lena Reid who have introduced the first “Urban Farm” of its kind to Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte Counties in Florida. Currently located in North Port, Florida, Whatcha Eden has been providing produce to restaurants and citizens in the area for the past two years. As Lena says, “My favorite restaurant is Evergreen Restaurant in Nokomis! They really care about the quality and cleanliness of their food. They just love our lettuce, especially the Arugula! I don’t think the Arugula, aka “Rocket,” ever makes it to the tables – I think the owner keeps it for herself!”
At WhatchaEden Hydro-Ganics, our goal is to expand our clientele to include local restaurants, caterers, food baskets and local residents. We have a commitment to the City Of North Port. They have just been wonderful! We promised to participate at the local farmer’s markets, as we truly do want to be part of the farm-to-table in our community.
“I always wanted to be a farmer!”
Prior to becoming a freight farmer, Bob’s closest connection to farming was in Iowa and the nine generations of farmers in his family. “I spent summers, holidays and harvest time at my grandparents, uncles, and aunts farms. I played in the barns, wandered around the fields and just loved the farm. I always wanted to be a farmer! As is the case with so many farms, however, those days have long gone by, as our family farm was sold for real estate development. I grew up in Iowa, on the farm, and recently went back to Iowa to do a lot of research. We wanted to grow organic and non-GMO (Genetically Modified Organism.)”
Whatcha Eden acquires their seeds from the Seed Exchange in Iowa. Some of the seeds date back to the 1800s, therefore they have no pesticides or GMO’s. “It is super important to us that we produce food as clean as we can, by the Grace of God.” Bob and Lena’s youngest daughter, 5 year old Khloe, is growing up loving vegetables. As a toddler, Khloe was able to pick peas and beans and eat them right out of the garden! Her absolute favorite vegetables are cucumbers and carrots. “That is a great example of why we are doing this," Bob added. “We want to get our local community to love greens again…fresh, locally grown, and always the best quality.”
Lena’s closest connection to farming was with her grandparents in North Dakota. “Every year my Grandmother’s letters included information as to how their garden was growing! They believed in letting the garden ‘go to seed’ in order to ‘save seed’ for next year. So, I have always been interested in ‘saving seed’ from their influence! We were very saddened when we learned of GMO’s and how they have taken over the seed and food supply in the US”
“My husband tests everything!”
“One year he used all the seed I had saved and, much to our surprise, we got nice, green, full plants but NO FRUIT! We got absolutely NONE from the GMO plants! It was then that we made the decision to start researching the food supply and learning everything we could about it. That included road trips to the Midwest to see first-hand what is happening to the food supply and visit with the local farmers in this country. When my husband came up with the idea of becoming an ‘Urban Farmer,’ I was delighted! But when it became clear that we had to move to a home located in ‘Agriculture Zoning’ (from a home that was a walk to the beach), it took me a long time to come around. We eventually found a wonderful property in North Port Estates, where we farm today, and I just love it! The City of North Port is very supportive and is a great partner for Whatcha Eden!”
Whatcha Eden isn’t your typical farm! It is what’s known as a “Freight Farm” with climate controlled greenhouse units made from refrigerated, recycled, shipping containers. For now, there are only about 50 or so “Freight Farms” units currently in operation all of which are located in urban settings. There are only 5 in Florida and none in our tri-county area.
“WhatchaEden is the first! And, we hope, not the last!”
Whatcha Eden is a low impact business with no offensive or objectionable noise, vibrations, odors, heat, dirt, pesticide, run off or electrical disturbance. We use a climate controlled green house and a van for delivery — a pretty simple operation.
Our primary crop is lettuce and Micro-greens. Most of us eat a salad or have lettuce on a sandwich, at least once a day, and good lettuce is so hard to come by. It often travels from California which, over the past years, has experienced flooding, fires and drought. Whatcha Eden grows several different varieties of lettuce:
Coastal Star Romaine,
In addition, we grow Arugula, Cilantro, Basil and herbs as well! “Bob is always experimenting with new types of lettuce, herbs and his own special micro-greens mix. I’ll never forget his first test of Basil – it grew so big we called it a Basil tree!” says Lena.
The leafy green machines from Freight Farms grow acres’ worth of produce in a fraction of the space. It may be hot and humid or torrential rains outside but inside it is a balmy 63 degrees and the air is heavy with the earthy smell of fresh greens. The future of Urban farming lies inside! The climate conditions are controlled to ensure the perfect environment for a year-round harvest. Growing local eliminates the cost of shipping produce thousands of miles and significantly reduces the carbon footprint, supports sustainability commitments and the local food economy.
Freight Farms CEO Brad McNamara tells FOXBusiness.com, “We are taking this back to the way it was 200 years ago, where local food was the expectation and people were actually part of the food system.”
How can this farm grow year round?
Whatcha Eden relies only on LED lights, not sunlight, and doesn’t use pesticides or soil! We only use about the equivalent of a shower per day’s worth of water. Florida, in the summer, offers less-than-ideal growing conditions, consequently the food supply available is often shipped in from hundreds, to even thousands, of miles away. What motivated us, at WhatchaEden, to start farming was our desire to supply our region with locally grown, fresh produce. Grower Bob says, “The agriculture industry is old, slow, and not fully embracing technology.” Bob can grow 4,500 plants at one time and only needs 20,000 to 30,000 kilowatt hours of energy per year! While the average American shower uses about two gallons of water per minute , our Leafy Green Machine uses only around 10 gallons of water in a full day, due to the fact that the water is recycled.”
Whatcha Eden will be adding an additional climate-controlled unit soon! “We would like to power by solar, eventually. We also want to add fresh eggs, strawberries, and vegetables grown outdoors, hydroponically! Khloe, our 5 year old, wants a goat, so there may be goat cheese in our future. In addition, I am very interested in a new Bee Hive from Australia.” Bob adds.
“One of the important things that Whatcha Eden wants to offer is training.”
When people learn of what we’re doing out here, they are curious as to how they can grow clean food for their own table, on a much smaller level. Whatcha Eden hopes to answer the call to educate and help others get “up and running” to a smaller degree, right from their own lanais. We want to promote “Urban Farms” and the “back yard gardens” that fed families years ago. We will be offering classes to the general public as well as to the schools. We are also very involved in the Foster Care system and want to offer discounted produce to local foster families.
“Freight Farms,” from Boston, is part of a new wave of companies bringing innovation to agriculture while meeting the growing demand for high-quality, fresh, locally grown and sustainable produce. Other brands include “CropBox” in North Carolina, “Growtainers” in Dallas, and “PodPonics” in Atlanta. These containers have basically been up-cycled to be a hydroponic farm producing around 800 heads of lettuce per week while using 90% less water than regular farming, with no pesticides and no soil…all within a 320-square-foot space! The big commercial food industry and, more specifically, the mono-cropping, etc., is just not sustainable.
“ A ‘Freight Farm’ can allow for 240 plants per square foot!"
While traditional farmers plant one or two plants per square foot, a “Freight Farm” can allow for 240 plants per square foot! Growing in a shipping container, where the light and water can be precisely controlled , allows farmers to deliver a consistent product no matter the season or city. Freight Farms “Leafy Green Machine” has the ability to take a hyper-local food system and, using technology, make it both extremely efficient and ultra-connected. We are having heat waves and droughts and flooding. That impacts the farmers greatly, A system like this, because it’s so contained and grows 365-days a year, regardless of the weather outside, allows for the creating of this perfect environment, completely sheltered from all of that.
Overall, the agriculture industry is the user of about 80 percent of all the water consumed in the United States. A perfect example is California. With their frequent and extreme droughts, the amount of water needed to be pumped into the desert in order to grow the country’s produce is just unsustainable.
We’re happy to say that our City of North Port* is on the cutting edge of this technology! It is the future of Farming and Energy! Someday, perhaps, North Port will offer a chance to have the entire food supply for their city to be grown locally! North Port could be the city that makes building a local food system part of its long-term “Climate Action Plan!”
* Note from the origin of our process of locating our Urban Farm in North Port, FL. - Sarasota County welcomed WhatchaEden Hydro-Ganics Inc. and owners Bob Hagemeier and Lena Reid. WhatchaEden will begin providing the county of Sarasota with fresh produce year-round! There is some thorny bureaucracy of restrictive zoning laws in Sarasota County.
The City of North Port, including Katrina Romano, Sherry Willette-Grondin and Michele Norton, at the Neighborhood Development Services/Planning Division in North Port, reviewed the use of the hydroponic farm in accordance with Florida Statutes and the Unified Land Development Code concerning bona-fide farm activities in the Agricultural zoning district.
We weren’t aware that the state of Florida passed a law called the ‘Right to Farm’ on land zoned Agriculture. This made it much easier to get permitting and get our Farm Exemption done. Some cities can take up to 6 months to work with Urban farmers because this is such new technology. But inside of a week North Port was on board. There are only a hand full of states that have the “Right to Farm" law.