If the prospect of winter blues are already beginning to get you down, then a quick cure exists: Grow your own food indoors.
The Root 66 Aquaponic Garden Shop at 8863 Burlington Ave. in Brookfield can furnish the supplies and information to “get up and grow.” Step inside and it’s like you’re in another world, where futuristic conservation methods are in common practice.
“The Root” had its grand opening on Oct. 28 and 29, although interested visitors were invited in to look around even before that.
Shawn Odneal is the owner and vice president of sales and operations. Running the business with him are Jayson Piper (gardens and service consultant), and Jimmy Torello (sales and service consultant), offering oceans of advice and expertise on ultra-modern indoor gardening.
“Not everybody has a backyard,” explained Piper, “and this is a way to turn people into self-sustainable gardeners. You can grow your own fruits and veggies. Chicago-area citizens only have one season for growing. With aquaponics, you can grow all year.”
Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture and hydroponic gardening. In other words, it is highly water-based, but the water isn’t always just flowing, flowing, flowing. Water is recycled and recirculated. If Grodan-brand rock wool blocks are used, the water is even stored in a sterile medium, and the plants cannot be over-saturated. There is very little wasted water, except for what naturally evaporates.
“When it comes to lighting, the most high tech form is L.E.D. (Light Emitting Diode) lighting,” Piper pointed out. “Compared to H.I.D. (High Intensity Discharge) lighting [traditional greenhouse lighting], L.E.D. is more energy efficient, and very effective for growing plants. Also, they produce very little heat, and use very little electricity.
“This obviously gives you the advantage of being more cost-effective. As a bonus, it is well known how therapeutic it can be to grow plants,” he said, laughing. “It also teaches patience.”
Two water displays (L.E.D. lit) in the front windows, with tilapia fish, are always eye-catchers, and they serve to get people interested enough to come inside, look around, and ask questions.
“If someone is interested in landscaped gardens using fish, we can advise them about the maintenance and installation of fish tanks and ponds when combined with the aquaponic system.”
There are 30 plants growing on the west wall (yes, the wall) on “Vertical Gardens,” using the Grodan Gro-Blocks. These coleus plants are a traditional annual. They root very easily.
Also available for viewing in the shop are seedlings of basil, cilantro, mustard and arugula.
“Those are smaller, quicker-growing plants, lettuce and herbs that grow in a smaller space, a real space saver,” said Piper.
Gardening books and pamphlets are available for sale to experienced gardeners, or to those just starting out and “getting their feet wet.”
If growing vegetables on a small scale also sounds a little like farming, that’s understandable. Owner Shawn Odneal started life as a farm boy in northwest Ohio. “I don’t know how many bales of hay I’ve stacked in my life,” he said, smiling. “I remember riding on the back of the bean spreader, making sure the beans dropped properly.” Since that time, he earned a degree in microbiology, worked in corporate sales and finally decided to go into this business of small-scale organic growing.
“Farming on an indoor level is a thriving market, ideal for feeding an ever-expanding population. Micro-farming and micro-gardening are expanding every year. A recession-proof market.
“Giant farms and macro-growing aren’t the answer. It’s cheaper for them to use all the insecticides and herbicides. That skips over the health and nutrition of organically grown food. It’s time to turn the tide, back in the direction of quality, growing-your-own organic produce indoors.”
“The Root” isn’t just for adults. Ms. Kunkel, third-grade teacher at nearby St. Barbara School, took her class to the shop for a field trip. “The children really enjoyed it, and I learned some new ideas, too,” said Kunkel.
“We are very local,” said Odneal. “We want to grow with the community.”
Further information about the Root 66 Aquaponic Garden Shop can be found on Facebook and Twitter. Text “ROOT 66” to 94932. Or just phone 708-680-7505.