Farming has been a constant in his life, and in fact the lives of his predecessors, too. Steve was raised a 4th generation dairy farmer in Syracuse, New York. After coming to the conclusion he would be happy if he could truthfully say that he had milked his last cow, Steve and wife Kim Martin returned to northern New Mexico. He went to college in Los Alamos, and on heading back west, knew where he wanted to settle in the Alcalde valley along the Rio Grande.
Back then, they were total newcomers to growing vegetables and hydroponics. Now, their produce is well known, and an especially bright source of color in the winter. “Steve and Kim are famous for their year-round supply of plump heirloom tomatoes. Speckled, striped, green, red, orange, yellow, and deep purple, these tomatoes are a favorite for Squash Blossom chefs and regular shoppers,” Nina Yozell-Epstein, founder and CEO of Squash Blossom. “There’s nothing quite like the taste of a local tomato, and to be able to access that juicy sweet tang in the middle of winter, is something only Growing Opportunities can offer us.”
It should come as no surprise that hydroponic farming is uniquely well suited to the high desert of northern New Mexico, maximizing efficiency for scarce resources and exploiting the abundance of others. In a land chronically challenged with water conservation, hydroponic farming uses more than 40% less water. And our seemingly endless supply of sunny days means that the Martins grow exclusively with natural light. The greenhouses are set in a north-south orientation to use all available light during the low arc of the sun in the winter months.
The hydroponic system uses a soil-less growing medium: at Growing Opportunities, the Martins use a combination of coconut coir (produced from the brown husk that surrounds the coconut shell) and perlite, which is made by heating silica (flakes of glass) until it expands – not unlike popcorn. This produces a light, porous, inert foundation to support the roots of the plants, which are then fed a nutrient solution
Modern hydroponics represents an intriguing intersection of simple materials and precision technology. While the growing medium and nutrients are essentially basic elements, the specific recipes for each combination are computer controlled to the decimal point. Temperature and humidity are similarly precisely monitored and controlled – computer-driven doors and fans operate to maintain the perfect climate. Water is run through a paper mesh to add humidity to the environment.
Pollination is done the old fashioned way, with a twist – each greenhouse contains a number of small hives, home to a docile bee bred especially for this use.
There is something a little other-worldly about walking into this environment. The sheer symmetry of the architecture, the rows, the airplane-engine sized fans is breathtaking – in the even, diffuse white light inside the greenhouse, the plants positively glow emerald. It’s a serene, quiet space – you can almost hear the plants growing. But despite how foreign that space may feel at first – at the end of the day, the yield – shiny cucumbers and vibrant colorful tomatoes – are as familiar and delicious as any you’ve ever tasted.