Staff Spotlight: Harrison Hillier, Hydroponics Manager

Harrison Hillier was an ordinary farmer who spent his time in grad school breeding sweet potatoes until two years ago when he made the unconventional decision to leave rural North Carolina to be a farmer in New York City.

Although the Big Apple lacks the space for traditional agriculture, Harrison’s shift was fueled by his desire to explore the budding industry of urban farming which provides many opportunities for innovation, and for a faster paced lifestyle than North Carolina offered.

Since joining the TFFJ team as the Hydroponics specialist, Harrison has worked hard to take our school farms to the next level. His background in agricultural engineering has improved the quality of our systems from hobby systems to farm grade equipment. He has also developed and implemented farming practices that have enabled us to more than double our crop yields.

Harrison first discovered hydroponic agriculture when he designed and built a large aquaponic system in a greenhouse on campus at the University of Maryland. After that, he was exposed to the life of rural agriculture while working for the Sweet Potato Breeding program at North Carolina State University.

With his passion for agriculture cemented by his time at UMD and NCSU, Harrison realized that he wanted to continue practicing, but needed an environment with different opportunities to use his expertise  in applying commercial grade standards for crop growth, post-harvest handling and greenhouse sanitation.

On top of being an expert in Hydroponic farming, Harrison is also a poet (who knew?!). Last month, Harrison presented an oral essay on urban farming at NYC Ag Collective’s event, “Fresh in February,”  where he focused on the impact of intensive hydroponic urban farming for TFFJ Teens. Check out the full text below:

Combining the technology of modern Urban Agriculture with the boundless energy and unencumbered creativity of city kids has the potential to give direction to untold lives and shift the bedrock of communities.

Providing those in their opening act, a chance to watch life run its course from seed to harvest, propelling them to greater levels of understanding of the world around them, instructing them to the Ebb and Flow of life.

A sense of purpose instilled in the youngest generation that will remain as they take the reigns of society and use today’s lessons to forge tomorrow’s paths.

Immersing children in the technical precision of modern iterations of the oldest tradition imbues their psyche with a thread of continuity. Connected to every human on earth and as old as civilization itself.

Giving children otherwise disadvantaged, a leg up in the world through access to tangible application of the usually abstract practices of science and math. Openly sharing vital knowledge, lest it be locked away.

New life is breathed into disenfranchised communities, struggling to find their place in an ever more rapidly changing world, increasing their access to the most fundamental need, the most inalienable of rights: quality, affordable food.

Planting the seed of hope. Showing them that living a healthy life is not above their means. Inspiring them to demand to be treated with the respect and equal access they deserve.

Coupling the wisdom of those who work with the earth, and the exuberance of those who have just been borne onto it. Beginning a grassroots movement in the truest sense, bringing us together to move forward.

– Harrison Hillier

Empowering Teens Feeding Communities Building a Healthy Sustainable Future