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Metro ink - 08.16.06 

FARMING INDOORS

click to enlarge SUJATA GUPTA

Dirk Biemans is one of the few Rochester-area farmers growing tomatoes almost year-round. That's because Biemans owns Intergrow Greenhouses in Albion, a 30-acre covered facility that operates from about late February to early December. He says he'd love to operate during the coldest winter months, but Rochester doesn't get quite enough sun. (No kidding).

Biemans is also tapping into another trend: hydroponic farming. The benefits to eliminating soil, says Biemans, are numerous. Hydroponic greenhouse operators know exactly how much water a plant will consume in a given day. Plants tend to grow faster than those grown with conventional methods. In soil, Biemans says, tomatoes typically grow about 6 to 8 inches a week, compared to 10 inches in water. Biemans says he collects about 99 percent of his water in collection pools outside the Albion facility. "When we have a long, dry spell, then we have city water as a backup," he says.

Bob King, an agriculture specialist with Rochester's Cornell Cooperative Extension, says that while greenhouse farming is growing in popularity, most operators are still using soil rather than water. Both hydroponic and soil greenhouse farming, he says, tap into the market of consumers looking for specialty produce, such as organic or locally grown crops. "There's been a big trend toward fresh fruits and vegetables," he says.

Biemans, a Holland native, says greenhouse technology always made sense to him. "I just kind of grew up in it," says Biemans, whose family operated a soil-based greenhouse. Biemans says he was attracted to hydroponic greenhouse farming because he could control both the inside temperature and the nutrients that a plant consumed in a given day.

There are, however, risks to hydroponic farming, King says. Most notably, because water is pumped through a central system, he says, plants' diseases "have tended to be more virulent."

Bill Karcher, an Intergrow employee who showed me around the facility, says the company has installed methods to reduce the risk of disease. The pumps, he says, are infused with natural fertilizers containing nutrients such as iron and potassium. Karcher pulls out a box full of bees. These, he says, are used to pollinate the plants. A single bee can pollinate up to 10,000 flowers. And to ward off predators such as butterflies, Karcher can introduce other predators, such as aphids.

Biemans' continued success, says King, will likely depend on the long-term sustainability of hydroponic greenhouse farming. "We've had a growth spurt in the number of controlled climates, including hydroponics," he says, but the growth has been sporadic, with advances in the 80's followed by declines in the 90's. Most recently, however, hydroponics has made a comeback because of technological advances, he says: "It's an old technology that's been made new again."

--- Sujata Gupta


UNDER-COVER AG

Greenhouse farming is an old agricultural method. Really old. And greenhouses were once an important part of Rochester-area agriculture. Bob King, an agriculture specialist with the Cornell Cooperative Extension, offers this bit of history:

"Greenhouses are as old as the Roman Empire. However, what we think of as greenhouses today originated during the 1600's (mass-produced glass) and were continually improved upon well through the 1800's. The predominant use of greenhouses during this time period was for growing exotic and ornamental plants for either research or entertainment purposes.

"This was true of the Rochester region as well until the turn of the 20th century, when greenhouse technology was adapted for vegetable production and reportedly reached a peak in its use during the 1920's and 30's. With the advancement of the transportation system, produce became more of a commodity and was being shipped into the area from warmer regions with longer growing seasons, which adversely impacted the profitability of local greenhouse vegetable operations. The vegetable greenhouse market significantly declined during the 50's and 60's.

"At one time, Irondequoit boasted some of the most innovative and intensive areas for vegetable production greenhouses in the northeastern US, due to the sandy soils in the area. By the early 1970's, many local operators had either quit or shifted to ornamental production.

"Today, what we are seeing in the greenhouse industry is a reinvigorating of this production practice due to energy prices, advancements in production practices, and a shift back to consumer demand for locally produced products. There is also increasing interest to erect high tunnels: basically cheap greenhouse structures without electric supply, covered with a single layer of plastic. These are proving useful for season extension, especially in the spring, and are being used for vegetables (chiefly tomatoes), raspberries, and cut flowers."


ART IN LIMBO

click to enlarge Nancy - Jurs' "Triad" will be moved, to make way for a business center.
  • Nancy Jurs' "Triad" will be moved, to make way for a business center.

The fate of the public art at the airport appears to be, well, up in the air.

Details of the airport administration's plan to relocate some of the art came to light in a Democrat and Chronicle article last month, prompting outrage among some segments of the community. Acting Airport Director David Damelio has fielded dozens of phone calls and e-mails from upset county residents. A few people spoke at the County Legislature's August meeting. And more than 400 people signed an online petition sponsored by this newspaper.

When the airport was expanded in the early 90's, the design provided space for major works by local artists. And artists, selected in a juried competition, designed sculptures and other works for specific locations. But security measures after 9/11 resulted in construction of a large, central screening area. During its construction, a clock tower by Wendell Castle --- which stood where the screening area empties passengers into the terminal --- was removed more than a year ago. Damelio says it's in storage. A tapestry by Ruth Manning has been moved to the lobby of the airport administration offices.

And the remaining art has begun to compete for attention as exhibits of advertising and cars have increased at the airport. A row of chairs has been placed in front of the large photographs by Richard Margolis, covering a few inches of the bottom of the works.

Now the next stage in the renovation project is beginning. It includes, among other things, the creation of a new enclosed business center at the entry to the western concourse, where ceramist Nancy Jurs' large sculpture stands.

Damelio insists that the Castle and Jurs works are not being permanently removed, that they are simply being relocated. "The art is not being taken down or thrown out," he told City Newspaper last week. "When that renovation is completed, we will have more art than ever before." The airport recently received a Ramon Santiago painting it plans to exhibit. Officials also plan to incorporate rotating displays of art from local schools.

But while he says he's listened to all the complaints his office has fielded thus far and is willing to listen to more --- "It does matter to us what people feel," he interjected at one point --- he's also quick to uphold the importance of the renovations. Even if that means the art cannot be displayed in its intended space.

"As much as this is a gateway to our community, this is a facility that has to operate efficiently," Damelio says. "This isn't a moving-the-art project; it's a construction project."

If Damelio believes his critics fail to understand the importance of the renovation project, the feeling is mutual when it comes to the placement of the art. Critics say the renovation plans ignore the original design for the airport expansion --- and the importance of the art having been designed for specific locations.

"They don't get it. They don't get the idea that you just don't stick things anywhere," says Roz Goldman. "It's site-specific, and you don't just plunk something down any place."

Over a decade ago, Goldman spearheaded a fund drive that paid for the art, then chaired the committee that selected which works would be commissioned. One of the key criteria at the time was that the art be site-specific, designed for the two rotundas or a center area, spaces designated for public art in the original architects' plan.

"It was done so carefully, and the artists worked so hard to incorporate the rules," says Goldman. Now, with new construction comes a new set of plans, which put the business center where Jurs' piece stands.

That's a bitter pill for Jurs.

The new plans are "completely asinine," she says, since they treat art as something that's "in the way."

"The only place they can find in the whole airport [for the business center] is where my sculpture is," says Jurs.

Both Goldman and Jurs say they're concerned not only about the specific pieces of art they fear are in jeopardy, but about the larger visual experience at the airport.

"I'm concerned that there's no design standard in the airport," says Goldman, particularly when it comes to advertising. "Things are just thrown in. It looks chaotic."

Moving the art around would exacerbate that, she says.

"The original architect designed the airport to be symmetrical," says Jurs. "The whole symmetry of the airport is just thrown away."

It's unclear what will happen next. The County Legislature approved a budget authorizing the construction last month, so airport officials appear to be free to move ahead. Democratic legislators, though, say they didn't know that moving the art was a part of the budget they were voting on. They're considering trying to re-vote on the bonding for the construction, which they have enough members to thwart.

They've also introduced legislation to create a citizens advisory committee on the issue. That proposal goes to the Legislature's Environment and Public Works committee at 4 p.m. August 23.

--- Krestia DeGeorge


WHOSE HISTORY?

When fifth-grade students in Rochester schools open their new social-studies books this fall, on the second and third pages they'll see a portrayal of Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. Looking more like a tourism ad than A history lesson, the copy says: visitors can eat a colonial meal, ride in carriages, and experience what it was like to live in 1700's Williamsburg.

Pictured below are two black people and two whites. The white man is wearing a red coat and vest, the white woman a straw hat and long yellow dress. The black woman is wearing a black dress with a white apron; the black man is standing proudly in a clean white shirt, brown vest, and kaki-colored hat. The blacks, of course, are slaves.

All four are smiling.

"I'm pretty sure that there wasn't a whole lot of smiling going on during slavery times," says Rochester School Board member Cynthia Elliott.

Elliott was the lone dissenter in June when the School Board voted to buy the new books, and she sought to have the publisher remove the pages. "The books give the wrong message to students," says Elliott. "We all know the power of images, especially to impressionable young people. Slavery was a serious thing. All the people in that picture were not happy to be there. And they certainly didn't have brand new clean clothes to wear."

"If we are concerned about engaging all of our students, remembering that 80 percent of the children in our schools are children of color, we need to include their history, too," says Elliott. "Why should students be interested in something that is not about them? Kids see through this. They can see that this is not truthful. They know this is someone else's story, not theirs."

The textbook does cover slavery. A former slave shares his story of 30 years in bondage, for example. But Elliott says her point is less about one page in a textbook and more about the need for culturally sensitive images that nurture positive self-esteem. There's a direct correlation, she says, between the district's low graduation rates and teaching methods that alienate some students.

That's a position advocated by educational consultant Jawanza Kunjufu, who will visit Rochester later in August as part of the district's professional development program. Kunjufu has written several books, including "Countering the Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys."

While the pages were not removed from the new social-studies books as Elliott had hoped, a spokesperson for the district says teachers have been going through orientation training on how to use the book and how to address some of the more sensitive subject matter.

--- Tim Louis Macaluso


RHINOS UP, RATTLERS OUT

When the Rochester Rhinos ventured north August 9 to play the Montreal Impact, the result wasn't pretty. The Rhinos lost, 2-0, to their bitter rival in embarrassing fashion. "We really had our asses handed to us," said Rochester goalie and captain Scott Vallow.

The Rhinos redeemed themselves two nights later, however, when they dominated the same Montreal team on their home turf at PAETEC Park, winning 1-0 on forward Matthew Delicate's team-leading eighth goal of the year. The win gave the Rhinos three crucial points in their chase to overtake the first-place Impact in the race for the USL First Division playoffs.

But perhaps more important, it gave Rochester a huge shot of confidence with less than a month left in the regular season. "It proves to my guys that they're as good as anybody in the league," Rhinos coach Laurie Calloway said. "They showed tonight how good they are."

Meanwhile, the Rochester Rattlers concluded their 2006 Major League Lacrosse season on Saturday by thumping playoff-bound Boston, 19-13. Unfortunately, it was a case of too little, too late: at 5-7, the Rattlers will miss out on the MLL playoffs. "We have no one to blame but ourselves," said Rochester player-coach Regy Thorpe.

True, Saturday's win ended a four-game losing skid, and it did help ease the pain of missing the post-season, but the victory also left some wondering what might have been. "If we had played this well all season," said team captain Chris Schiller, "we would have gone somewhere."

--- Ryan Whirty

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