Stu Hutson – (352) 273-3569
Bob Hochmuth – email@example.com, (386) 362-1725
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Today’s economically spurred resurgence of the home vegetable grower can’t entirely be dubbed a "return to the earth." Many burgeoning farmers aren’t breaking soil, they’re using hydroponics.
"There are a lot of new people interested in growing, and many of them are realizing that hydroponics just makes a lot more sense," said Bob Hochmuth, a multicounty agent with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. "It’s one of the most reliable ways to grow crops. And, for people that don’t have a lot of land, which I think is a lot of these new growers, it’s a more cost-effective investment."
In fact, interest has been so high that IFAS’ first multiple-day course on hydroponic techniques this week, offered at the North Florida Research and Education Center in Live Oak, Fla., became overbooked to the extent that a second course was added at the last minute.
In total, the courses have drawn more than 70 attendees – not just from Florida, but also from Alabama, Ohio, New York and Georgia.
"Across the country, there’s been more and more interest in locally grown products. Now, these economic conditions are coming in into the mix and making people think long and hard about the best way to do it," said Tim Carpenter, owner of Verti-Gro Inc. in Summerfield, Fla.
Carpenter is one of the suppliers of hydroponic equipment who says that demand has nearly doubled over the past year.
"Hydroponics involves mechanics and plumbing, and it’s not going to be right for everyone," he said. "But for a good percentage, it’s just going to be a very practical choice."
Simply put, hydroponic techniques are used to grow plants in structures that supply water and nutrients without soil.
These structures allow plants to be grown in greater density and with better control of variables such as pests, the overuse of fertilizer and exposure to foodborne pathogens like salmonella.
Additionally, hydroponic techniques usually involve growing the crops inside greenhouses or in tight clusters. These methods mean protection against bad weather and a year-round growing season – big boons to growers interested in using their crops for supplemental income.
"Hydroponics isn’t easy, and it’s not something that just comes to you," said Belinda Cheney, who uses hydroponics to grow vegetables and ornamental flowers on her small farm in O’Brien, Fla., as a way of supplementing her family’s income while remaining home with her children.
"I think this would be pretty inaccessible to a lot of people if it weren’t for help and information from UF extension agents," she said.
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