WORTHINGTON — Nobles Cooperative Electric is going green and producing green with innovative technology that will help stock local food pantry shelves with fresh produce year-round.
The electric cooperative recently began utilizing its new hydroponic GroShed, an 8-by-12-foot shed equipped to grow vegetables despite the frigid temperatures outside.
“It’s so simple, it practically runs itself,” said NCE Member Services Manager Tracey Haberman about the cooperative’s Living Green program.
Regulated at a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit, several lettuce varieties, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers are being grown in the shed since it arrived at the cooperative’s U.S. 59 home north of Worthington on Dec. 23.
LED lights above the plants and tubes below or injected into the pots keep the plants adequately supplied with enough artificial sunlight and water to meet their growing requirements.
More than 100 pods are available for lettuce varieties to grow, while seven planters are used for vegetables like tomatoes and peppers that require more growing room.
The fastest-growing lettuce variety currently being produced in the GroShed requires just 43 days to mature.
Haberman said the GroShed is an innovative way the cooperative can meet its commitment to improving its members’ lives.
As the vegetables reach maturity, NCE will donate produce to local food shelves in Nobles and Murray counties, where their customers reside. Recipients will include Manna Food Pantry in Worthington, Murray County Food Shelf in Slayton and Fulda Food Shelf in Fulda.
Haberman said as NCE begins harvesting and donating produce to the local food pantries, it may adjust what it grows next based on need and desire.
The cost of the GroShed was about $11,000. Nobles Cooperative Electric received a $5,000 grant from Great River Energy, as well as $3,500 from Community Wellness Partners and Southwest Health and Human Services, which received dollars from the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP).
Community Wellness Partners Coordinator Cecilia Amadou said SHIP jumped on the opportunity to partner with NCE because it saw value in increasing access to fresh local fruits and vegetables.
“Having produce available at our local food shelves provides the opportunity for individuals to be healthy,” Amadou said. “GroShed is going to provide produce all year-round, so for the cold winter months when produce is scarce, we know that people are still going to get some produce, which will reduce the amount of canned goods people are going to consume.”
NCE’s purchase of the GroShed makes it the first energy cooperative in Minnesota to own a food-producing shed, it learned at a Great River Energy meeting.
As of early January, other cooperatives had scheduled visits with NCE to learn more about the shed.
That was part of NCE’s goal: To inspire other entities with its Living Green initiative. Local individuals are also welcome to schedule a time to tour the shed.
NCE General Manager Adam Tromblay sees the GroShed as a potential opportunity for locals folks to stay on the family farm.
“It will produce some income on a relatively low investment,” Tromblay said.