Planting the seed: Natick tests hydroponic farming

Lettuce grows in towers illuminated by LED lights inside a re-purposed former refrigerated shipping container behind the Combat Feeding Directorate at Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center. (U.S. Army photo by Michael Stepien)

By Bob Reinert/USAG Natick Public Affairs

NATICK, Mass. (Oct. 16, 2015) — Don Holman was raised on a farm in Michigan and served 30 years in the Navy, which makes him a perfect fit to help test whether American warships could one day grow their own fresh vegetables.

Inside a repurposed former refrigerated shipping container tucked behind the Combat Feeding Directorate, or CFD, at U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, Holman has been growing lettuce since August in a climate-controlled, 40-by-8-foot “hydroponic farm.” What will be a year-long effort has been undertaken for the Navy, which aims to explore the capability of growing produce at sea utilizing hydroponics technology.

“I want to see what can grow and what can’t grow,” said Holman, an engineering technician with the Joint Foodservice and Engineering Team at CFD and a retired command master chief. “We want to experiment with all varieties of vegetables and see how much produce we can produce.