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Angel Eyes Produce receives United States patent

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NORFOLK — Two St. Lawrence County men behind Angel Eyes Produce Inc. have received a patent for their “safe food” technology.

Andrew E. Maslin III, Norfolk, and Brooks A. Washburn, Potsdam, received the patent for their “container-based plant husbandry apparatus and controlled horticultural environment.”

“The environment optimizes all environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, and light cycles in a controlled, sterile environment where pests, molds, fungus, and other hindrances to maximal plant growth may be effectively controlled if not eliminated,” the patent reads.

Mr. Maslin said they applied for the patent in November 2005, and he and Mr. Washburn received it in February.

“It’s extremely overwhelming to receive a patent,” he said.

Mr. Maslin, Angel Eyes Produce Inc.’s founder, began as a large-scale produce farmer. But in 2004, a combination of too much rain and not enough sun caused an epidemic of fungus and molds across his fields, leaving him with nothing.

That’s when he decided to focus on something with which he had been successfully experimenting for a number of years — indoor growing in a climate-controlled environment. His idea was to have a “super grow building” in every community across the United States, providing safe and healthy vine-ripened, hand-picked produce to consumers year round.

He contacted Mr. Washburn, a local architect, and the two worked together on the patented Terra-Ponics design for providing high-quality, pollution-free, mineral-enhanced produce.

“No more tractor repairs; no more equipment repairs,” Mr. Maslin said.

The certified organic produce is grown in a sterilized-soil, pollution-free, filtered-air, climate-controlled environment, using what they call “super grow units.” Lights simulate the sun and provide the heat necessary for the growth of the products.

“The lights heat the facility year-round. It’s more efficient than a greenhouse,” he said, noting there are no outside factors that would cause stress to the produce, giving it a higher nutritional value.

“There are no acid rains. We use a sterilized soil system” that imitates primitive soils, Mr. Maslin said. “This soil is sterile, virgin soil. It grows that much better. In here the root systems are second to none”

That, he said, allows them to grow fresh produce in a healthy environment year-round.

While their operation is on Route 310 at a site called “Country Organics,” one of the “super grow units” is on a wall at Vino Vidi Vici, a restaurant owned by Crista M. Makdouli and her husband, Tarek, in the Harte Haven Shopping Plaza in Massena.

A cabinet contains all the equipment that’s needed to grow produce on the spot at the restaurant, according to Mrs. Makdouli. Artificial light simulates the sun behind the closed cabinet doors, and once the produce is grown, it can be snipped off for use and the growing process starts all over again with no muss or fuss.

“I happened upon Andy through my work in Central Payments. He started tell me what he was doing, and I found it fascinating. He showed me his whole operation. It really was so simple, so unique,” she said.

Rather than relying on produce from local supermarkets, Mr. and Mrs. Makdouli can simply open up the cabinet door and take what they need for the dish, “farm to table” in no time flat, Mrs. Makdouli said.

“All we have to do is water it,” she said.

Mr. Maslin said a restaurant/home unit costs about $4,000. Sixteen individual trays will yield about a pound and a half of produce per tray per month, he said.

Mr. Maslin also has a “super grow unit” at Grandmother’s Attic, in the former Clopman’s Furniture store in downtown Massena. There, he tends to several racks filled with containers growing the produce under the artificial light. The containers sit in a tray that holds the water, and the roots of the produce grow underneath the container.

He said he hopes that soon the super grow units will be springing up in many other places throughout the United States, allowing owners to grow and use fresh produce on the spot.

Basil, for instance, is grown in 3-inch by 3-inch pots and will grow to be 10 to 12 inches tall. The average growth time is 85 days, but Angel Eyes is able to produce plants in 35 days by using its artificial lighting system to increase the number of optimal degree days.

Squash, beets and radishes also can be grown year-round, as opposed to purchasing produce that comes from California during the winter and needs to be eaten within two days of picking to obtain its highest nutritional value, Mr. Maslin said.

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