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Growing innovation at Northern Aeroponics
PARIS — Walking into Northern Aeroponics in Market Square feels a little like entering a homemade science lab.
Bright lights hum above plastic contraptions emitting the soft sounds of running water and sprouting healthy young vegetables.
Welcome to the future of indoor growing technology.
Scott Strother and Vinny Catalano, from Harrison, are the masterminds behind the area's newest indoor-garden center. The two say they've been growing plants – of all kinds – their entire lives.
Strother is the lead builder of the two. He proudly lays claim to next-generation aeroponic designs he says aren't being used anywhere else.
The two men's foray into designing aeroponics came from a simple question: "What can we build that is better than all the rest and we can teach anybody to use?" Strother asks rhetorically.
"Here it is," he says, showing off an eight-pot aeroponic system in the storefront.
Prior to opening their shop, Strother says he and Catalano shopped their inventions to other companies, but decided they wanted to retain ownership of their designs and share them with growers of all stripes.
"This isn't about money," Strother says. "We love this. We love to build machines, talk to people, educate people ... if it was all about money we wouldn't be here."
At Northern Aeroponics, the two have all the equipment, products and know-how an amateur indoor grower could need to start anything from a small, three- or four-plant operation to a full-scale commercial grow room.
"A lot of people have a rough time growing inside," Strother explains. "It's not as easy as just throwing a light up and putting a pot on the floor."
The question immediately arises – what kind of plants are we talking about?
Well, it's the ones you are probably thinking about – as Maine's medical marijuana laws have changed and more people have become licensed caregivers, demand for professional grow rooms has expanded, Strother says.
"All these growers have been here all along," he says, "you're just finding out about it now."
They hope the same indoor growing technology commonly associated with powerful strains of cannabis can be used for cultivating vegetables.
"We already know that [people] will buy it for marijuana," Strother says. "Now we're just after what we haven't been able to have – which is every consumer that buys vegetables."
An aeroponic system works differently than a traditional hydroponic growing system, Strother explains, showing off a display model.
A rectangle of PVC piping is interspersed by eight pots, each filled with porous stones and nestled in a canister outfitted with two sprayers.
Nutrient-enriched water flows from a lower reservoir, through the piping and aerates plant's roots in a continuous, light spray. The water then cycles back through the reservoir and again onto the plants.
The nutrients being used are organic compounds, not chemical fertilizers, Strother emphasizes.
Nestled in their pots, eight young tomato plants are growing quite happily underneath two high-voltage lights.
The aeroponic system might look like something out of a mad scientist's laboratory, but it is surprisingly easy to use, Strother says.
Basically, all an indoor farmer needs to do is maintain a schedule for water and nutrient chances, stay vigilant against parasites and watch the plants grow, he says.
An aeroponic system can grow plants faster, stronger and with bigger, more frequent yields, Strother says. "It's because it's a perfect day, every day," he explains.
An eight-pot system similar to his display will cost around $700, Strother says. The price tag includes construction, installation, beginning set-up costs and two service calls.
But that's just a beginner system, Strother says. He and Catalano are willing to build bigger custom commercial grow rooms that can range to $9,000 or more.
In the next room, Strother shows off another design – a 12-pot, rotating aeroponic system encased in a 10-foot tall box lined with reflective padding.
A few feet away is one of his early aeroponic systems and a smaller device, encased in a plastic tote, where 10-day-old plants are beginning to take root.
A few people have already mistaken Northern Aeroponics for a medical marijuana dispensary, but Strother says he only cultivates vegetables on-site; although, both he and Catalano are licensed medical marijuana caregivers.
"We don't sell weed here, we don't grow weed here and we never will," Strother says. "We're trying to really stay in between the lines and do this the right way."
Northern Aeroponics is located at 20 Market Square, South Paris, and is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends.
GROWING STRONG — Tomato plants grow happily in an aeroponic machine in Northern Aeroponics in South Paris. Scott Strother and Vinny Catalano are looking to introduce aeroponic techniques to vegetable growers in the area.
APRIL VEGETABLES — A green bean plant pokes out of a homemade aeroponics system at Northern Aeroponics in Market Square.
FULL STOREFRONT — Northern Aeroponics, an indoor-garden center, moved into an open Market Square storefront in South Paris last month.
INDUSTRIAL — Scott Strother, one of the founders of Northern Aeroponics in South Paris, shows off an elaborate 12-pot rotating aeroponic system in the company's Market Square location.
NEW TECHNOLOGY — The display example of Northern Aeroponic's cutting-edge indoor grow technology.