A graduate of the University of Connecticut has developed an organization to combat food insecurity by developing hydroponic farms in Hartford, Connecticut and around the world.
Christian Heiden, who graduated from UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources in 2020, started Levo International in 2017. In addition to setting up hydroponic farms, Levo International trains farmers to cultivate these farms and works in the research and development of hydroponic technology, according to Heiden.
Hydroponics is the farming practice of growing plants in tubes filled with nutrient-rich water rather than soil. According to Levo International’s website, using hydroponics saves 75% of the space and 90% of the water used in traditional farming while increasing plant production by 25% and cutting back on labor and maintenance costs.
Before he started Levo International, Heiden was introduced to hydroponics by a Boy Scout leader. Heiden said that after seeing it in the Boy Scout leader’s yard, he decided to work with hydroponics for his Eagle Scout project. He originally wanted to do his project in Haiti, but the Boy Scouts did not sanction the trip.
Heiden created a hydroponic greenhouse at his high school in West Hartford for his project, but then went to Haiti with his father and brother and did the project there as well. Heiden set up his first greenhouse in Haiti in 2016, then formed Levo International a year later.
“Recognizing the immense opportunity and impact we could have with hydroponics was the start, and we officially started the organization in 2017,” Heiden said.
Levo International still does work in Haiti, which has one of the highest levels of food insecurity in the world.
“Now we support 500 of those households with a steady supply of nutritious greens and peppers, and that program continues to grow and we continue to hear great stories from people,” Heiden said.
According to Heiden, the challenges of setting up hydroponic farms can vary. Internationally, in places such as Haiti, the major limiting factor is problems with access to resources like viable water and electricity. Domestically, Heiden said that the challenges are mainly centered around finding the capital and physical space for the hydroponic farm.
Heiden said that Levo International supports local organizations, including the Hispanic Health Council, Hartford Hospital
, and Saint Francis Hospital, by developing hydroponic rooftops and greenhouses and providing technical support for the farms.
The organization also has projects in Jamaica and Puerto Rico
, and plans to launch one in Mexico this December, according to Heiden.
“We’ve seen a lot of growth particularly over the last three years here in the U.S. and internationally,” Heiden said.
Heiden said that he is also working with UConn professors and institutions. This includes doing research in the floriculture greenhouses and working with professors such as Nathan Fiala and Jonathan Moore to explore research and economic opportunities.
“We’re definitely still very much connected with UConn and continue to collaborate with UConn professors,” Heiden said.
According to Heiden, Levo International is actively researching technology and innovations related to hydroponics, including organic hydroponic fertilizers. Heiden said that they have gotten “really promising results” on that side of the organization.
“Because we are experts in one of the fastest growing branches of agriculture, which is hydroponics, particularly our branch of simplified hydroponics, we have huge growth opportunities, not only nationally in the United States but internationally,” Heiden said.
Heiden said that the most rewarding part of his work is seeing the opportunities that these projects provide for people to “take control and gain independence in the food system.”
“We provide people with skills and access to technology that allows them to grow food for their household, for income,” Heiden said. “So I think the most rewarding thing is the impact we have on households here in the United States and in Haiti.”