Urban Farming in Fishers
Aggressively Organic Aims to End Food Insecurity
Writer: Josh Lowe
Photography provided by Aggressively Organic
It all began in a college lecture class. Jonathan Partlow was listening to an organic urban farmer explain the importance of soil. He listened intently to how industrial farming has designed genetically modified plants that use too much water and depend on too many chemicals. It was then that he had an idea.
The idea really began long before that lecture at IU. Partlow remembers how his grandparents farmed their own vegetables, and he realized how much food was wasted in industrial farming. Lettuce simply shipped from the West coast will use dozens of gallons of water and are caked with chemicals and preservatives. To Partlow, there had to be a better way.
“My grandparents had a garden in their 90s. You look around my house right now and I can’t keep up with what I’m growing on my countertop,” Partlow says. “All you need is love, love, and a little water.”
He notes that we kill off many nutrients from plants by cutting them up. Partlow wanted a system that would allow people to cut off leaves of lettuce and kale on demand. A system that would allow growers to simply cut and watch the vegetable or fruit grow back.
Over the years, Jonathan developed and patented a hydroponic system that grows plants not in soil but in water. No expensive lighting techniques, chemicals, planters, or watering systems needed. Within each box grows an individual plant, and there is no competing root system from other plants so very little water is needed. The plants he tested in his nutrient-rich water weren’t genetically modified and they thrived on water straight from the tap. His house was full of growing plants – from lettuce and kale to bok choy and carrots. Eventually, Partlow set up shop in Launch Fishers.
After developing the prototype, he and his team were ready for a beta test. In each Aggressively Organic box was planted seeds and nutrient-filled water. Growers need just water the box, keep it close to light, and watch it grow. Partlow was amazed to hear that some customers are still reaping the bounty of just one head of lettuce – months after the shipment.
“Imagine having a three month supply of baby greens growing on your countertop, ripe for a salad?” says Partlow, who notes that many places around the world have a food deficit due to poor soil. He hopes that Aggressively Organic could ship its system across the world to places like the Virgin Islands, which imports more than 90 percent of its food.
Aggressively Organic will soon be taking more orders for its boxes. Partlow anticipates selling plants in packs, some pre-grown and some ready to be planted. He hopes to begin an exchange program allowing for people to use their lettuce or kale until the plant’s supply dwindles and then exchange the old box for a new, fresh plant. Partlow is also working to provide a low cost, LED light that will cover all the plants in a pack. Each pack of plants will come with special directions for watering and lighting.
Partlow is especially proud of the educational work of Aggressively Organic. He looks to further educate the community with work in local schools. Partlow provides the plants and is often a guest speaker in some local classrooms. Recently, Brooks School Elementary students were able to watch tomato plants grow while learning math concepts of measurement and arithmetic and science concepts of photosynthesis and watering.
In the future, Partlow hopes to become a part of the Internet of Things: each box might be wifi enabled, sending messages to people’s phones with special instructions or alerts. Each box might feature QR codes that unlock virtual educational lessons and activities for a family to learn and enjoy together.
“We want to end food insecurity in my lifetime,” Partlow says. “So many people don’t know they can grow their own organic food. And they haven’t been given a way to do so until now.” Through their unique system, Aggressively Organic aims to give food security back to, as its website says, We the People.
Visit aggressivelyorganic.com. or visit their Facebook page for updates for more information.