Hydroponic Lettuce In A Hog Barn


Operator: Ed Ange
Production: Vegetables, Leafy Greens
Location: Washington County, NC

“Other farmers who have unused buildings could come and see that they could change a few things and have a new enterprise on their farm and create a new income out of a building that might have been sitting unused.”

 
Ed Ange operates a small diversified operation in the coastal plain county of Washington. This 38 year old North Carolina native has worked in agriculture for most of his life, earning a degree from the Ag Institute at North Carolina State University and is now working a full time job for a local agricultural and chemical company. His farm, like many other farms in North Carolina, has empty buildings that were once stocked with poultry or hogs when commercial livestock operations were booming. Ed’s intention for receiving the TCRF grant from RAFI was to take a vacant commercial structure on his farm and retrofit it for cultivating specialty crops for markets desiring fresh, local produce emerging in the state. The commercial structure was a long derelict concrete building with a rusty tin roof that Perdue, a giant poultry agribusiness, installed the housing for meat birds on Ed Ange’s farm sometime in the 1970’s. More recently, Ed has used the housing for raising hogs.


Ange will use the reward from the TCRF grant to yet again retrofit his “hog barn” into a hydroponic operation for growing lettuce. In eastern Carolina, where the weather can become hot and humid and pests thrive in plague-like multitudes, lettuces can be a very difficult crop to grow in the field. The indoor hydroponic system could allow Ed to grow premium lettuce, protected from the harsh summer heat and insects, to sell to local markets that desire healthy and fresh produce. Hydroponic systems are no-soil systems, where vegetables are grown in circulating water with nutrients mechanically added to the water for uptake by the plants. This system allows the farmer to carefully cultivate sensitive vegetables because nutrients can be closely monitored and soil-born pathogens are avoided. Ed believes that the hydroponic system is a “…clean and safe way to produce food.”


Retrofitting old structures on the farm is an essential practice for revitalizing North Carolina’s sustainable agricultural economy. Agribusinesses in livestock have left small and medium scale farms behind in a move to greater concentrate land, operations, wealth, and power, leaving many farmers with abandoned concrete structures filled with dust and refuse on their land.


“Other farmers who have unused buildings could come and see that they could change a few things and have a new enterprise on their farm and create a new income out of a building that might have been sitting unused.” says Ange.


He hopes that his retrofit toward specialty crop production could serve as an example for other farmers with unused structures searching for new markets. His plan is to replace the tin roofing on the poultry house with heavy, clear plastic to act more like a greenhouse. Ange will then install beds and styrofoam sheets to make a hydroponic raft system that will hold the plants in place and continually circulate water through their roots.


Ed hopes to eventually expand the hydroponic operation to grow other vegetables and anticipates $100K gross income from the operation in the future.

Challenges: Most hydroponic rafts are installed on a slope to use gravity for water circulation. The structure is on a level surface which means Ed must find a method to circulate water without the use of gravity.