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How Green Are My Greens?

Hydroponic farming produces greater yields using considerably less land and water. Now, the founders of Egyptian Hydrofarms hope the growing demand for healthy, chemical-free food will help make this technique mainstream.

By Dominika Maslikowski

 

Hydrofarm founders Adel El Shentenawy (left) and Amr Bassiouny

Hydrofarm founders Adel El Shentenawy (left) and Amr Bassiouny

The seller was suspicious at first and asked what the two men would do with a feddan of land along the Cairo-Alex Desert Road, warning them that the soil wasn’t very suitable for farming. But Amr Bassiouny and Adel El Shentenawy, the founding partners of Egyptian Hydrofarms, didn’t want the land for a typical farm. Tucked away in a greenhouse at kilometer 53 of the road, their farm veers from tradition, from the artsy design on the workers’ residence to their way of growing leafy greens and herbs that decreases water consumption by up to 90 percent. Additionally, the same area of land at an hydroponic farm yields eight times more produce than a traditional farm. There are only a few farms in the region that use hydroponics, a method of growing plants using nutrient solutions without soil. But the founders say this kind of space- and resource-saving farming technique — if done on a wider scale — may offer a very good way to save water and create more value with less resources.

It started on a balcony in Sheikh Zayed in 2011, where Bassiouny experimented with tubes and growing plants without stretches of soil. Reaching out to several hydroponic farms from Israel to Australia yielded some ideas, but ultimately the founders say they had to experiment and develop their own system that worked in Egypt’s climate and conditions. The methods they’ve come up with not only save water and land, but also eliminate the need for chemical pesticides and reduce waste.

Along the way, the farm helped to raise awareness of healthy eating and popularized different varieties of lettuce and herbs with clients, hotels and restaurants. When the farm launched in 2012, 70–80 percent of the crop was dedicated to iceberg lettuce because that was in demand. Now, after Egyptian Hydrofarms exposed more of their customers to different types of produce, the common iceberg lettuce makes up only about 10% of the farm’s harvest. et

DI-Hydrofarm3-HS

“There are two ways to expand: with more variety, or more of each variety. I’m working on both. I’m always increasing the number of products I test, trying to find what grows well in each season, at which temperature and with what water. What we don’t have today is knowledge, and nobody has it because nobody has grown this way in Egypt,” says Amr Bassiouny.

DI-Hydrofarm16-HS

Egyptian Hydrofarms grows four different types of basil, which have different flavors and complement specific dishes. It takes two to three months from when the seed is planted at a nursery, to when it’s taken to the farm to be grown with hydroponics and packed. The farm includes a packing house and a residence that houses eight workers.

DI-Hydrofarms26-MA

The farm grows about a half dozen different varieties of lettuce and another half dozen different herbs, most of which used to be imported. Oak leaf is in high demand, but kale is also soaring in popularity as more Egyptians are becoming health conscious and trying out detoxifying diets and shakes. “Now kale is like a drug,” says El Shentenawy about many of his customers’ obsession with the leafy green.

DI-Hydrofarm7-HS

The produce at Egyptian Hydrofarms is pesticide free. Yellow stickies are placed throughout the greenhouse to attract pests, and also to monitor the types of pests and control them. A homemade recipe that includes garlic, chili, soap and oil is used to keep pests off the plants without powerful chemicals.

DI-Hydrofarms2-MA

A steady stream of nutrient-infused water from a tank outside the greenhouse flows through tubes and then into pipes that have been cut in half. Each plant, kept secure in a layer of foil, sits atop the pipe in a pot with just enough soil to keep its roots secure. A steady mist keeps the plants cool from the Egyptian heat. It’s been about learning from trial and error since the beginning, the founders say, noting that they had to install an upgraded cooling system after 2013’s summer wreaked havoc to the produce and left the farm with nothing to sell for nearly five months.

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INTERGALACTIC COMPANY
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INTERGALACTIC COMPANY
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Jojn Doe, CEO
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Fax: +1 (800) 123-45-69 (any time, 24/7/365)
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Address:
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Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy
INTERGALACTIC COMPANY
"Ridiculus enim cras placerat facilisis amet lorem ipsum scelerisque sagittis lorem tis!"
Jojn Doe, CEO
Tel.: +1 (800) 123-45-67, +1 (800) 123-45-68
Fax: +1 (800) 123-45-69 (any time, 24/7/365)
E-mail: info@intergalactic.company
Website: http://www.intergalactic.company
Address:
221, Mount Olimpus,
Rheasilvia region, Mars,
Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy
INTERGALACTIC COMPANY
"Ridiculus enim cras placerat facilisis amet lorem ipsum scelerisque sagittis lorem tis!"
Jojn Doe, CEO
Tel.: +1 (800) 123-45-67, +1 (800) 123-45-68
Fax: +1 (800) 123-45-69 (any time, 24/7/365)
E-mail: info@intergalactic.company
Website: http://www.intergalactic.company
Address:
221, Mount Olimpus,
Rheasilvia region, Mars,
Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy
INTERGALACTIC COMPANY
"Ridiculus enim cras placerat facilisis amet lorem ipsum scelerisque sagittis lorem tis!"
Jojn Doe, CEO
Tel.: +1 (800) 123-45-67, +1 (800) 123-45-68
Fax: +1 (800) 123-45-69 (any time, 24/7/365)
E-mail: info@intergalactic.company
Website: http://www.intergalactic.company
Address:
221, Mount Olimpus,
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Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy
INTERGALACTIC COMPANY
"Ridiculus enim cras placerat facilisis amet lorem ipsum scelerisque sagittis lorem tis!"
Jojn Doe, CEO
Tel.: +1 (800) 123-45-67, +1 (800) 123-45-68
Fax: +1 (800) 123-45-69 (any time, 24/7/365)
E-mail: info@intergalactic.company
Website: http://www.intergalactic.company
Address:
221, Mount Olimpus,
Rheasilvia region, Mars,
Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy
INTERGALACTIC COMPANY
"Ridiculus enim cras placerat facilisis amet lorem ipsum scelerisque sagittis lorem tis!"
Jojn Doe, CEO
Tel.: +1 (800) 123-45-67, +1 (800) 123-45-68
Fax: +1 (800) 123-45-69 (any time, 24/7/365)
E-mail: info@intergalactic.company
Website: http://www.intergalactic.company
Address:
221, Mount Olimpus,
Rheasilvia region, Mars,
Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy
INTERGALACTIC COMPANY
"Ridiculus enim cras placerat facilisis amet lorem ipsum scelerisque sagittis lorem tis!"
Jojn Doe, CEO
Tel.: +1 (800) 123-45-67, +1 (800) 123-45-68
Fax: +1 (800) 123-45-69 (any time, 24/7/365)
E-mail: info@intergalactic.company
Website: http://www.intergalactic.company
Address:
221, Mount Olimpus,
Rheasilvia region, Mars,
Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy
INTERGALACTIC COMPANY
"Ridiculus enim cras placerat facilisis amet lorem ipsum scelerisque sagittis lorem tis!"
Jojn Doe, CEO
Tel.: +1 (800) 123-45-67, +1 (800) 123-45-68
Fax: +1 (800) 123-45-69 (any time, 24/7/365)
E-mail: info@intergalactic.company
Website: http://www.intergalactic.company
Address:
221, Mount Olimpus,
Rheasilvia region, Mars,
Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy