NBA player Ekpe Udoh sees promise in hydroponic farming

Published: Thursday, February 14, 2019 By: Brian Brus Source: The Journal Record

Utah Jazz basketball player Ekpe Udoh revealed the motivation behind his new business venture to area high school students at the Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City campus Thursday.

Find a need and fill it, he told them. In the case of startup LGR Farms, that need is healthier food and a healthier planet. Udoh is trying to get fresh produce into homes and schools through hydroponic containers designed to grow commercial-grade vegetables with water, electricity and no soil. His efforts also promote water conservation, recycling and alternative energy sources.

“This is one of the biggest needs that I saw in the market,” Udoh said, adding that LGR stands for Let’s Get Right. “We’ve got to give kids a better option.”

Udoh played for Edmond Santa Fe High School before going pro, so OSU-OKC officials invited the basketball team to campus Thursday for the announcement of the land grant school’s partnership with LGR Farms. OSU-OKC President Brad Williams said Udoh’s 40-foot, modified shipping container will remain on campus for student field trips and farming experience. The school is also known for hosting a popular farmers market on the weekends.

The trailer is stocked with nutrient fluids, plant stock and purplish growing lights, which seemed to hold students’ attention during a walk-through demonstration Thursday. Udoh said one other container is based in Edmond, and he has plans for more as the market responds.

LGR Farms Vice President Erica Young said the company’s business model is geared toward its nonprofit sibling organization, LGR-OK, which is headed by James Billings. The company is more interested in increasing consumer access and community involvement than profit margins, she said. They are not seeking investors.

“Oklahoma City Public Schools is paying a huge amount of money to get produce. Some of it is healthy, some of it is fresh, some of it is not,” she said. “We want to make it affordable for schools to get good food, and maybe get into some stores as well.”

When asked how youth could invest in such a project, Udoh stressed using available resources rather than high-tech growing facilities. He said Young had suggested he not reveal how much the prototype LGR Farms trailer cost.

“You can set up a greenhouse for less than $50 and really get to work,” he said.

Josh Williams, the boys basketball coach at Santa Fe High School, said he wanted to show his students the good works Udoh is doing since graduation – “things outside of basketball that help the community,” Williams said.

Richard Cody Yocom, principal at Cristo Rey Catholic High School, said he brought his ninth-grade students to the Udoh announcement in hopes they might find motivation for their own works. The school leases classroom space on the OSU-OKC campus.

“Our students are really interested in putting what they learn in class and turning it into social impact,” he said. “They’re in an entrepreneurship class already … building apps, doing technology, trying to solve problems toward community action. Many of their research papers have focused on hunger, too. So we could see them really making a significant difference someday.”

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