Gardens on Air
Space Age Chard; Rainbow CIty, Alabama
Once upon a time, we might have heard of plants growing without soil and thought that maybe it was something too high-tech, something that might only happen on Mars, or with a bunch of chemicals. But in actuality, growing crops hydroponically has been around for centuries with some even pointing to Sir Francis Bacon’s mention of it in his 1627 tome, A Natural History. True enough, some plants seem to particularly thrive, growing in nutrient-rich water, either flat or in towers.
Gardens on Air owners Lee and LeeAnn Harrison raise a number of crops hydroponically and are thrilled to offer these through the Stone Hollow Farmstead CSA. We recently talked with these hydroponic farmers about the benefits of using this method.
What are the advantages to growing hydroponically?
We typically grow Hydroponic Salanova Buttercrunch and Hydroponic REX Bibb Buttercrunch Lettuces. We also grow Hydroponic Swiss Chard. We are able to grow (plants) about 40% - 50% faster growing hydroponically, and because we utilize our greenhouses year-round, we are able to produce regularly and consistently. That results in reliable crop production at consistent prices. We prefer using the Deep Water Method of Hydroponic Farming due to its consistent water temperatures year round. There are some plants that do better in large tables, such as lettuce, and there are some plants that do better in smaller tables such as Swiss Chard. The Tower Method that we used to use all the time is AirGrown Towers, which is proprietary.
Have you always been a farmer? Have you always farmed this way? What has surprised you most about farming this way?
I was not a farmer until July 2010, and even then I wasn’t what you considered a "farmer."
My father had been diagnosed with cancer, and my brother and I wanted to try some new farming techniques so that we could provide him with produce that wasn’t laced with the chemicals so often found in the mainstream grocery stores. We both came up with the name “Gardens On Air,” and it was a play on words because we decided we wanted to grow in Vertical Aeroponic Towers. We bought our very first Aeroponic Towers and put them in Albertville, AL. We went through all the required certifications, and we were honored to be the first certified USDA Organic Commercial Aeroponic Farm in the United States. And we're also the first hydroponic lettuce farm to be allowed in the State of Alabama Farm to School Program. We've been in Marshall County schools for months and will be in Colbert County schools starting May 14th!
I was a police officer from 1992 until 2016. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be farming for a living. Once I retired from law enforcement, I drove a truck for about a year. But all the while – well, since 2010 -- we had a greenhouse using Aeroponics, Hydroponics, and NFT growing. We also learned how to grow sprouts and microgreens utilizing UV technology.
In January of 2017, we took things to the next level with our business so that we could have a more full family life, help our church community, help our feeding groups of the community, and ultimately provide veterans suffering from PTSD with a safe, fulfilling place to work.
What’s surprised me about farming this way was the ability to grow so much and do it year round without having to use all the pesticides and chemicals that other companies use.
We appreciate this partnership Stone Hollow Farmstead has with Gardens on Air.
Us too! We started selling to the CSA last year; this is such a great group of local farmers that we thought it would be a great partnership. Every single person that I talk to at Stone Hollow Farmstead is warm, friendly, and energetic. I absolutely love delivering our products to them just to hang out.
What does it feels like to see ‘Gardens On Air’ on local menus and popping up on Instagram feeds?
Seeing our food on local menus and gaining popularity has been such an honor. It’s almost unreal sometimes, but my ultimate goal is to succeed to the best of my ability so that I can give back to our community. I smile each and every time I see someone share our website, Facebook, pictures, or anything else. It’s very satisfying.