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MIKE MASTERSON: Growth opportunity

Up in the air

It seems surreal to realize that dial phones, encyclopedias, bulky 18-inch television sets requiring antennas, and record players were a normal way of life in 1960s America.

We couldn't have imagined such a relatively short time back what our future held and the astounding ways our lives would change.

The future tiptoed quietly into our lives years ago when it comes to raising vegetables and plants aeroponically. This space-age system uses only air, efficient LED or fluorescent lighting and minimal amounts of nutrient-soaked mists to grow food without the destructive nature of unpredictable weather or the worries over location, soil conditions, and pesticides or fertilizer applications affecting our food supply.

What enchanted tomfoolery is this?

Yes, it's true, and 44-year-old Brent Stewart of Harrison has applied for a patent to recognize his cutting-edge contribution he calls "MrTips" that could transform seemingly magical aeroponics into something even more efficient and effective to feed an always ravenous world.

This growth system has been steadily refined since the first crude versions were attempted in the 1920s then advanced during the 1970s. It uses small plastic containment tubes hosting seeds that will sprout and grow relatively quickly in any enclosed room of a home or commercial building. Operators of these systems will see roots quickly propagate and a final product ready for harvesting (as with lettuce) in as soon as 30 days.

"That means if you place, say, 100 lettuce seeds in 10 tubes each day for 30 days, you will harvesting 1,000 heads of lettuce each day by the end of those 30 days for as long as the harvesting continues," said Stewart.

"It's pretty mind-boggling when you think about the significance and possibilities this holds for the planet." He said with the right equipment to accommodate ever-larger vegetation, it could be possible to grow fruit-bearing and other trees in such indoor settings.

You can easily check the Internet for aeroponics for a fuller illustrated explanation of what the process looks like in its different forms. I liken it to placing seeds in tubes on the seats of miniature Ferris wheels that continually rise back to the light while being lightly misted with water-soluble foods they need to fully mature.

"I predict this so-called vertical growth method will become the standard for growing in all types of areas worldwide," said Stewart, adding that his revolutionary quick-connect MrTips will make aeroponic agriculture much more efficient by more quickly and effectively applying the important nutrients in tiny yet precise amounts.

Developing his sophisticated nutrient-spraying tip required 12 years from the time Stewart sketched its rough prototype until the "very expensive" mold was completed that brought life to his drawing. Now the MrTips mold is capable of churning out at least 8 million plastic MrTips each year.

I admitted shameful ignorance to this prolific food-producing method until meeting Stewart, with his attorney Robert Ginnaven, also of Harrison. He was eager to explain how an efficient, larger aeroponics operation can produce an unlimited amount of plants a year of pretty much whatever a grower chooses that will fit in the proper-sized tube to accommodate and nurture its root system.

"Surprisingly, it's not that expensive or space-consuming for a person to become involved in aeroponics. People can dedicate a room of their house or a shed to growing herbs, flowers, or other plants and vegetables," he said. "Entrepreneurs can set up vast numbers of the vertical growth towers to serve the needs of area grocers. There are different ways and forms in using aeroponics. Overall, the basics are simple."

He said aeroponics also has shown itself capable of virtually doubling the growth rates of plants and vegetables grown both through water-based hydroponics and in traditional soil, as evidenced by the results of a NASA comparison study of the three methods.

Successful and prolific aeroponic gardens in different formats could easily be capable of steadily supplying local grocers across all of Northwest Arkansas with fresh produce, Stewart added, pointing to the boon such development could have on assisting nonprofit organizations and food banks who continually seek contributed food for the needy.

This coming revolution in how we produce foods can benefit many in so many ways, including employment for the handicapped who could easily harvest produce that literally keeps coming to them.

Stewart said his MrTips patent hopefully will become the key to helping unlock a remarkable future for his family and endless thousands of others who soon could be benefiting nutritionally from his intricate quick-connect MrTips contribution to the aeroponics industry.

"This year should be a good year," he said with a smile. Ginnaven, who will serve as Stewart's wholesaler when MrTips becomes widely available, was smiling just as wide.

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Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

Editorial on 04/15/2018

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