The Ak-Chin Indian Community has deep roots in traditional agriculture. In July, it welcomed a new kind of agribusiness to its enterprise – hydroponics.
Ibarra Family Farms recently broke ground on a 1.2-acre parcel at Santa Cruz Commerce Center and hopes to be ready for production before January.
“Although it’s different technology, we are longtime farmers, and this is going to work out perfect together,” said Ak-Chin Tribal Council Member Ann Marie Antone during a groundbreaking ceremony July 19.
Hydroponics is a soilless cultivation that utilizes recycled nutrient solution to grow small crops. Ibarra Family Farms estimates it will save up to 95 percent of traditional water usage, pumped from underground Ak-Chin water.
Owner Carlos Ibarra, his wife, sons and daughter will operate their future 16,128-square-foot greenhouse that is unlike any other in the country.
“What I did with this and the design is I adapted everything, technologies from different parts of the world, and I’m trying to adapt it to Arizona weather conditions,” Ibarra said.
The greenhouse will be lower in height than traditional structures. A motor-operated weather station will open and close the roof automatically, depending on weather conditions.
The cosmopolitan operation will include hydroponic channels from Brazil, a Canadian greenhouse and various equipment from the United States.
Ibarra is a third-generation farmer with previous operations in Mexico spanning more than 25 years, growing a variety of crops from sugarcane to soy beans. His latest project will produce organically and conventionally grown lettuce, kale and spinach year-round, thanks to the adapted greenhouse design.
Ibarra’s son Carlos Ibarra Jr. will take up marketing for the Maricopa location. He hopes to bring a fresh perspective to the farm’s philosophy as the next Ibarra generation to cultivate the family business.
“It’s also good to have the best of both worlds; the older generation and our new generation, in a more sustainable way, a greener way,” Ibarra Jr. said.
As the farm grows, Ibarra Jr. would like to explore solar power options to its greenhouse and include sustainable friendly packaging and labeling for its produce.
Phase 2 of the project could see new crops including edible flowers and other vegetables.
Maria Hernandez, vice chair of the Ak-Chin Industrial Park Board, said the Ibarra Family Farms project has been two years in the making. She views the operation as the beginning of what’s next in the local agro-industry.
“We’re a farming community, but this is a different aspect of farming where we are getting into more of what’s in the future: Hydroponics,” Hernandez said. “It was kind of exciting because this is what we always wanted this area to be: More agribusiness type.”
This story appears in the August issue of InMaricopa.