Plants grow from a hydroponic NFT.

Meet the Farm Manager

Farm.One alum Danna Matute takes over hydroponic farm maintenance at our New York campus.

In 2015, the Institute of Culinary Education debuted an indoor hydroponic farm at its then-new campus in Downtown Manhattan’s Brookfield Place. For the following three years, a team of hydroponics and horticulture experts maintained the farm. In April, former farm hand Danna Matute joined ICE full-time as the resident farm manager.

Danna developed an interest in hydroponic farming in an environmental science class on soils in college. After graduating with a degree in psychology, she knew she wanted to work with plants and applied to New York companies involved in hydroponics. In 2017, she took a position in the New York Botanical Garden’s (NYBG) plant shop gaining a basic knowledge of indoor and outdoor plants.

Six months later, she began working with Farm.One at its Tribeca production farm and was eventually dispatched to ICE for harvesting and distributing edible flowers and herbs to New York City restaurants. After familiarizing herself with our dozens of plant varieties, Danna has been determining the specific nutrients each plant requires, how sensitive they are to conditions, how much variety can be grown in one space and which plants can be grouped together with the same reservoir of water.

She maintains a nutrient film technique (NFT) for most of the plants, an aeroponic tower for strawberries, an ebb and flow system flooding and draining microgreens and a deep-water bucket system for summer squash. The farm employs a blend of kelp, fish meal and composted seabird guano to add nutrients to the water and introduces beneficial bacteria to convert the nutrients and help plant roots grow.

Danna Matute prunes plants in the hydroponic farm.
Danna Matute prunes plants in the hydroponic farm.

“I like aeroponics because there’s less chance for root rot when the roots are suspended in the air,” Danna explains. “I try to find a balance of nutrients since we grow a large variety of plants in one space. We have organic ways of adding nutrients, but some plants require additional supplemental nutrients during different stages of growth. When testing the pH of the water, there is a general range that most plants prefer, but some prefer slightly alkaline conditions and others prefer slightly acidic conditions.”

Danna’s typical day includes planting, transplanting, cloning, organizing and planning. She monitors the pH levels and temperatures of the water, electrical conductivity and schedule of supplements, all the while recording data and researching. Students and visitors meet Danna during class visits and farm tours, when she has the opportunity to share her findings.

“I really like the thyme,” she says of her favorite plants in the farm. “It grows really quickly. You can cut it down like grass and it grows right back up.”

Danna adds that the garlic chive flowers taste as strong as the leaves and that she often takes basil home to make pesto. She’s a resource for students deciding what to grow to cook or plate with and when to transplant and harvest their projects.

Danna continues to study horticulture in classes at NYBG and has a Master Composter certificate from the New York Department of Sanitation. Stay tuned for more of her findings and news from the farm.

Taste ICE's edible plants on a tour of the campus.

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