For some, growing vegetables is a job. For others, it may be a hobby. For Silver Leaf Farms, it’s a way of life.
Co-owners Aaron and Elan Silverblatt-Buser have been promoting the use of local produce for six seasons by producing and selling to local growers markets, restaurants and grocery stores.
It wasn’t until two months ago that the brothers decided to take the next step to better the Albuquerque community by reducing the team’s carbon footprint. Silver Leaf Farms has now expanded its business to be open year-round with hydroponic plants, and chose to install 20 solar panels in order to help minimize energy waste.
“We’re really excited, not only to provide quality produce to the Albuquerque area, Santa Fe and potentially the four corners area, but to do that in the most sustainable way we can,” Aaron Silverblatt-Buser said. “To be able to offset a significant amount of the electricity that we use through our state’s most abundant resource, solar energy, is really exciting.”
The Silverblatt-Busers are still in the process of finishing the 10,000-square-foot greenhouse, but they already have several rows of tomatoes growing inside. By using artificial wind and shelter to protect the plants from Albuquerque’s unforgiving elements, the brothers said they expect to get two to three times as much product while maintaining their organic grow.
Silver Leaf Farms was awarded $7,500 by placing first in the Entrepreneurial Ventures Track category of the UNM Business Plan Competition, and will use it to help fund the farm’s newest hydroponic adventure.
The installation of the solar power system ended up costing $18,090. However, with help from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the farm received a $4,522 grant to cover 25 percent of the building cost. The funding came through USDA Rural Development’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).
The REAP was used to generate interest from farmers, ranchers and small rural businesses to gain access to these type of loan guarantees, according to a release put out by the USDA.
State Director for USDA Rural Development Terry Brunner, speaking to a gathering at Silver Leaf Farms, said the integration of solar power not only helps the farm’s carbon footprint, but also works to promote a healthy community in New Mexico.
“We’re trying to get more fresh and nutritious produce into our public schools,” Brunner said. “An arrangement with the Bernalillo Schools makes it so that kids are introduced to the salad greens and other produce grown here.”
Aaron Silverblatt-Buser said that when he envisioned this project years ago, he never dreamed that it would eventually take such a drastic step into the general health of adolescents in APS.
“From my experience growing up, going to public schools, there was no local food and things like that, so their interest in that was kind of news to us, and great news to us,” he said. “To be able to provide this quality of food to people with less opportunity and really support the health of the community is just awesome.”
Elan and Aaron Silverblatt-Buser are now in a position to change the trajectory from the highly processed foods that currently dominate public schools by offering organic vegetables grown on Albuquerque’s soil.
Brunner said it is a nice change of pace to present the award to a younger generation of farmers. The average age of farmers in New Mexico is 65 years old.
Elan Silverblatt-Buser said it is an honor to receive recognition as a younger farmer, but said it wouldn’t be possible without the entire community coming together to promote local production.
“The whole project doesn’t happen unless all members of the community are involved,” he said. “Working with the University, all of our labor, our contractors, our electricians, are all local. All the food, the most important part, the food that we produce is all sold, prepared and eaten locally.”
Elan Silverblatt-Buser said the continuous support has been gratifying, and he continues to count on it while the local growers’ business continues to blossom.
“That’s really what it’s all about. We’re not in the game to start shipping food to New York, to try to compete in that game,” Elan Silverblatt-Buser said. “The whole foundation of the business is to keep the community involved.”
Liam Cary-Eaves is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @Liam_CE.