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Agriculture of the 21st century grows in Pahrump

The Pahrump Valley has been playing host to an agricultural trend of the 21st century for a little over a year to a company that’s about to spread its leaves a bit further.

Urban Seed Inc., which supplies close to four dozen restaurant labels on the Las Vegas Strip and around the Las Vegas Valley with fresh produce, grown locally in Pahrump, is about to expand its footprint on the town’s south end. But the company isn’t going to bring in any tractors or any heavy equipment to get the land ready for planting, the company has been using aeroponics to grow its baby leaf and microgreens.

Just a short drive south of the Mountain Falls subdivision, a single-family home sits along the road and has a facade that looks like any other in the Pahrump area.

Behind the back gates of the property sits the production area of a booming business venture. From what was once likely used as a living room for the previous owners of the home, Rachel Wenman, co-founder and president at Urban Seed, explained the next phase of growth for Urban Seed and the large-scale increase the company is planning in the local area.

“This was a property that we launched just over a year ago, and we decided to make this our research and testing facility, so we could prove out our systems and showcase what we’re really bringing to the world, which is our seed-to-plate model and really integrating all aspects of the food system,” she said.

Utilizing greenhouse facilities already on the local property, Urban Seed has been servicing its customers using a roughly 2,400-square-foot space, where several hundred thousand fresh greens have been harvested from Urban Seed’s vertical grow system. The next iteration of Urban Seed’s growing is moving from a greenhouse atmosphere to an indoor environment in its more than 50,000-square-foot planned facility in Pahrump, over 20 times larger than its current grow operations in town.

“We’ve been running tests for the last six months or so,” Wenman said. “We have an indoor facility in Las Vegas that we use as kind of our indoor testing grounds and now we’ll be able to launch on that technology.”

Urban Seed broke ground at its Las Vegas facilities at 4770 Wynn Road, just north of Tropicana Avenue, in July 2016. According to Wenman, the company is planning to announce additional expansion plans for Las Vegas over the next couple months.

It currently serves well-known restaurant labels in Las Vegas such as Sage at the Aria Resort and Casino and Echo & Rig at Tivoli Village.

With the company growing in Nye County, some of its special greens could end up on dishes served at local restaurants. Employment opportunities could also come with Urban Seed’s growing operations, according to Wenman.

With the current expansion, Urban Seed is planning to add many people to its team in Pahrump and in Las Vegas as things start to progress, according to Wenman.

For more information on gaining employment with Urban Seed, head to UrbanSeedInc.com/careers.

Grow System

A reporter with the Pahrump Valley Times toured the vertical grow systems Urban Seed has been using for over a year now in the first part of September. Company officials said things were winding down at that time, as the facility was taken offline and operations were moved to a Las Vegas facility during the construction process to a group of about a half-dozen people.

Urban Seed has worked for the last several years on developing, engineering and manufacturing its grow systems.

The system viewed at the local property contained three main areas. Seeds began their journey inside a germination chamber, which was engineered to speed up the germination process, explained Dr. Suzanne Stone, vice president of horticulture.

“We do probably 15 to 20 varieties right now,” she said. “That’s something, with scale, these germination chambers are shaving time off of the germination stage, so some seeds can take up to two weeks to germinate, that’s going to cut into your bottom line. These seeds take about 24 hours to germinate.”

The next stop was a propagation area, which was inside a greenhouse, where plants would sit for about two weeks. Plants were then moved into a separate greenhouse where they were eventually harvested and sent to Las Vegas restaurants.

Some 24,000 plants typically sat inside the final greenhouse, explained Stone. There were several rows of A-frames with plastic panels, all containing dozens of slots where plants would sit. Inside the A-frame, the roots of each plant received water and nutrients via fog or fine mist.

Stone explained that the system is closed-loop, so water and nutrients aren’t getting wasted.

The mix of nutrients a plant receives is also customized for each of the many varieties grown at the site.

A comparison to traditional farming was made on the tour.

Wenman used an example of a traditional farm that grew on 24 square feet in soil, which would get a farmer about 50 plants in 28 days. Comparably, Urban Seed gets 550 plants in that same 24 square feet within the 28 days.

Water use is also reduced in the system. A traditional farmer uses about 14 gallons of water to bring a head of lettuce to maturity, according to the company’s website. In the Urban Seed model, that drops to 22 ounces.

When the new project is completed in Pahrump, the new facility will have over 300,000 plant sites and contain LED lighting designed in-house.

Contact reporter Jeffrey Meehan at jmeehan@pvtimes.com

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