Vertical grow towers work to improve food security in Alaska; across the country

CHENA HOT SPRINGS, Alaska (KTVF) At the Chena Hot Springs 'Renewable Energy Fair,' energy leaders gathered to talk about new ideas and inventions. One invention on display that is not new to Chena Hot Springs is the vertical grow tower.

At the Chena Hot Springs 'Renewable Energy Fair,' energy leaders gathered to talk about new ideas and inventions. (Sara Tewksbury/KTVF)

Bernie Karl, co-owner of Chena Hot Springs, created this 'do it yourself' version of a vertical grow tower to share with the community and he says it's designed so third and four graders can build it. "Because we want to spark young people's imagination. We want them to bug their parents, they learn how to build it, now they can grow food. They'll go home and bug their parents. We want one in every school in America," said Karl.

Upward Bound, is a federally funded program that works to improve graduation rates of underserved high school students. There is an Upward Bound program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and students in the summer program worked to automate the vertical grow towers. They placed one of their new automated grow towers at the hot springs to be one of their tests.

One new feature is that the students can remote in and help those who have a grow tower.

"We can take one of these and put it in a library in a rural Alaska, and a librarian with minimal grow experience, could follow a thing, and if they get stuck they can hit a screen there and say 'we need help' and a group of students who are connected to the network could reach out and say 'we're noticing that your pH is too high, or that your nutrients aren't what they should be, and it's time to do something to it,' said Adam Low, assistant director of Upward Bound at UAF.

Senator Lisa Murkowski put one of these towers in her office in Washington D.C. to show that you can grow fresh produce even in an office. "We've been working on it for three years, we have had multiple crops, and it's not so much, about the fresh lettuce we get and share around the office, it's demonstrating not only to Alaskans but to our visitors, who come into our Washington D.C. office, that we're really serious about these innovative ways to help grow our own," said Murkowski.

To download the instructions of how to build a vertical bucket grow tower: https://chenahotsprings.com/vertical-bucket-grow-tower

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