By Tanya Hunt, AmeriCorps Farm to School Coordinator, Wayne County, WV
Fresh heirloom tomatoes and bibb lettuce in January? Yes please. Liza (F2S Coordinator in Pocahontas County), Emily (F2S Coordinator in Greenbrier County), and I enjoyed these, as well as local organic ginger when we visited Mock’s Greenhouse January 6 – 8.
I cannot say enough good things about Paul Mock and his operation. Mock’s Greenhouse produces 30,000 pounds of tomatoes ad 225,000 heads of lettuce each year, along with watercress, basil, arugula, cilantro, raspberries, and ginger. Most of these crops are produced year-round, with the help of greenhouses and an elaborate, yet elegant, hydroponic system. Below you can see where water goes through small white tubes into a long box-like object where it runs over the roots of the plants that are placed in holes on the top of the contraption.
Paul integrated the three of us right into his operation so we could learn on the ground level what is going on. We planted lettuce and tomatoes and watercress, harvested and packaged lettuce and tomatoes and watercress, clipped tomato plants onto their string trellises, saw how ginger is harvested (not like you think), and received a lot of instruction from Paul himself. We came away from the experience feeling a lot more informed about hydroponics and greenhouse growing.
Greenhouse growing and hydroponics are really great for Farm to School programs because they provide year-round produce and are easy to integrate in to teaching lessons. Many schools already have greenhouses and hydroponic systems could use this space efficiently. We also learned about Paul’s experiences with the school system and how he had come to sell to his local school district. We will be taking all of this information back to our schools and using it to teach our children, inform our farmers, and integrate into our schools.
Have you ever grown anything hydroponically? What did you grow? How awesome is organic ginger?