On the seventh episode of the #LoudounPossible Pod, podcast host and Loudoun Economic Development Executive Director Buddy Rizer interviewed Mary Ellen Taylor, the proprietress for Loudoun’s Endless Summer Harvest Farm.
The farm, which happens to be Virginia’s longest continually operating hydroponics farm, produces more than 8,000 lettuce plants and other greens on a weekly basis. Those plants, grown in an environmentally-controlled greenhouse in Purcellville, are given the exact water, nutrients and light that they need for optimal growth.
Every week, Taylor and her team fulfill orders for customers from western Loudoun to Washington, D.C. With the outbreak of COVID-19, there was some concern that orders might drop off. Instead, the opposite has been true.
“Frankly, we’re finding that our lettuce, our salads, the greens and the herbs that we’re growing here, are becoming ever more valuable to people,” she explained. “We’re just churning it out over here.”
Hydroponics is on the cutting edge of precision agriculture, relying on meticulously-programmed computers to administer exactly what a plant needs at the exact right time. The results are delicious, nutritious produce that is delivered with predictable quality and quantities.
“The computer pulls the water from the well through a series of pumps and PVC pipes,” she said. “It also injects the exact amount of food that the plant needs. The light turns on to ensure the exact number of lumens that the lettuce crop would need for each particular season is achieved. It turns on the heat, which allows us to grow lettuce in the winter, allowing us to grow 12 months out of the year. It will pull the shade cloth on a day that’s too sunny. It also pulls the shade cloth on nights that are too cold, so that the heat stays closer to the plant.
“The greenhouse systems will call me if the water were to stop flowing, or if the power were to go off. It’s a pretty remarkable technology.”
“People who have operated greenhouses in the past have had to live on-site to open up vents, close down vents, turn on the lights and all of that. But the computer really takes care of all of those environmental controls.”
As a result, Endless Summer Harvest can produce the equivalent of 12 acres of crops in just 12,000 square feet of greenhouses, and do so 12 months out of the year.