University of Wisconsin Oshkosh alumnus Bryan Ernst ‘12, of Ripon, is an entrepreneur who started Ernessi Farms, an original hydroponics system that grows herbs and vegetables.
Hydroponics is the growing of produce without the use of soil. Plant roots are suspended into a nutrient liquid mixture, which provides just the right amount of nutrients that the soil will accept. Ernest can control the specific mixture that certain plants receive to maximize growth and yield.
This venture is something the geology graduate has always been interested in pursuing.
“Prior to going to UW Oshkosh, I was a marine and had been to many barren areas, so I’ve seen first hand how hard it is for people to find food,” Ernst said. “I’ve always wondered how we can grow food efficiently in dense urban areas.”
Ernessi Farms grows all sorts of herbs and more than 100 types of micro-greens like kale, cabbage, basil, chives, cilantro and sage in Ripon’s urban downtown area.
“Basil is by far our highest selling item. We have done 2,100 pounds of basil in the first quarter here in our little grow operation,” he said.
Ernessi’s organic produce can be found in 17 Festival Food stores across the state as well as in local grocery stores and restaurants like the Roxy Supper Club.
He said supplying local people with local food that isn’t transported from overseas is gratifying.
“We come in at the same price as a producer from Mexico. By doing this we ensure that we don’t price certain people out of the market for our healthy and fresh food.“
The hydroponics system used in the operation is unique because Ernst designed it over years of experiments and research.
He also designed and had his own LED lights specially manufactured. Through research, he learned that most plants only need red and blue wavelengths. This saves energy costs and helps the plants grow more efficiently.
In addition, Ernst programmed an app that assists with the seeding and harvesting processes.
“The app was something I taught myself to design. It is a bunch of algorithms that indicates what plants need to be seeded and harvested weekly so we always have a constant turnover of product,” Ernst said.
Aside from growing plants ,the entrepreneur also grows mantis bugs. Since he doesn’t use pesticides, he controls pests by releasing carnivorous mantis bugs into the plants to find and eat the bugs that would otherwise damage the plants.
As Ernessi Farms keeps growing, Ernst said the next step will be expansion.
“We are looking to either franchise in other areas of the state or other states so we can provide food locally to other areas with intense farming seasons or areas of food desert,” he said.
Ernst said being an entrepreneur isn’t easy in the beginning, but it is rewarding once you get your feet on the ground.
“There is never a good time to start a business and you are never going to have enough money, so if you have a good idea you have to just jump into it,” he said.