This quote came from our gracious hostess during our first day of tours of Session IV as VALOR fellows sat down for dinner after a tour of Endless Summer Harvest in Loudoun County.
Mary Ellen Taylor was a gracious host, taking us through the two greenhouses and storage/starter building of her hydroponic farm. The farm starts 8000 seeds at a time, and sells or harvests that ’round’ of plants at a specific date, and then begins again. If a head of lettuce is not up to the standard for sales, they still harvest it because there isn’t time or space in the growing plan to keep it. This process made logical sense to me; to run such a business takes exact timing, planning and preparation. Her positive attitude and vibrant personality were contagious. It was a joy to hear her story.
The art of hydroponics has intrigued me in the past, but has my wheels spinning even more after Mary Ellen’s tour. The act of starting and growing a plant from a piece of medium, suspended in what looks like a rain gutter system with constant water flow is a beautiful and technical process. I’ll admit I was too amazed to take thorough, technical notes, but I caught a few pictures between thoughts.
In her greenhouse, Mary Ellen grows different types of head lettuce and microgreens. The ‘trend’ of microgreens relates to all the nutrition of a baby plant being contained in the first two leaves; not to be compared to sprouts, which are different, they are added to all kinds of dishes and salads for nutrient and aesthetic value (they are also sold by the OUNCE). The turnaround time on microgreens is also very quick.
Currently nothing is being grown outside in gardens or beds; everything at Endless Summer Harvest is started and grown in a climate-controlled space and in a controlled medium. The electric bill, as well as heating, is quite eye opening in the months of December through March. As the daylight is shorter and temperatures are colder, most of her costs are incurred during winter to keep the plants growing on time for customer orders.
Endless Summer Harvest sells almost all of their product to end users, meaning it leaves the greenhouse and heads straight to someone’s plate, either from a farmers’ market stand or through a talented chef’s kitchen in a NOVA area restaurant. Farming within 30 minutes of D.C. doesn’t hurt business either. She is currently selling everything she can grow, but doesn’t have plans to expand. She does, however have plans to help the next family who’s interested learn the ‘tricks of the trade’ and she’ll eventually retire. Their motto on their website is “Always Fresh, Always Local”.