Organic, Hydroponic Greens

Heart of Christmas Farms
Composting and good dirt are such fundamental parts of most organic gardens that it's hard to imagine any other way.  What if you didn't need any dirt? Heart of Christmas Farms is proving that it can be done, on rural acreage a short drive from Orlando, Florida.  Richard and Diane Kann have built a solid reputation over their five years of organic, hydroponic farming.  They grow to organic standards, even though they've not acquired a costly organic certification.  A Florida organic group recommended I talk with them because they're one of the top Central Florida independent growers.

"Here, taste this," said Richard, as he urged me to sample one of the micro-greens. Then another.  The Kanns wanted me to understand that fresh, hydroponic greens are full of flavor, as well as nutrients.  I tried a distinct green that tasted of citrus.  They said it was a micro-green version of tangerine gem, which is actually a marigold.  Micro-greens are grown a bit larger than sprouts, have the roots trimmed off, and are a size smaller than baby greens.

Tango Variety Oakleaf Lettuce
I felt unqualified to comment on the tasty samples, because these growers are accustomed to visits from chefs of five-star restaurants.  Their fresh, local salads end up on the tables at places like Loews Royal Pacific and Peabody Orlando.  Richard says, "They appreciate us because they love the flavor of the food."  He's proud that restaurants get compliments on their salads when they serve Heart of Christmas Farms produce.  Diane explains, "Part of what we do for the restaurants is try to give them their own personal mix. Loews came to us with seven different varieties that they wanted in their lettuce plate and we can grow that specifically for them. We know the growing times and we coordinate it all together, so what they get is their perfect salad. Peabody Hotel wanted a different mix, they have a different mix."  Altogether, the farm offers 28 varieties of mostly heirloom lettuces.  Edible flowers like the showy, orange nasturtium become part of the salad presentation.
Edible Nasturtium Flowers

This farm teams up with a few local, sustainable producers of other products such as fish to offer prompt delivery along the Eastern Florida coast.  The Kanns want customers to receive their fresh picks in less than 24 hours.  If you live locally or are in the area for a visit, you're welcome to visit the farm yourself most Sunday afternoons.  You are not required to join a Community Supported Agriculture group in order to buy.  Diane says, "We chose not to do a CSA at this point, because that obligates people to do every single week, taking what the CSA gives them. Our way of doing it, they can come in here with whatever they need that week and we try to fill their order."  Visitors can also see the farm animals and buy fresh eggs.

Micro-greens on Water Table
The hydroponic methods used involve a mixture of perlite and coconut fiber, and sometimes only water, enriched with fish emulsion and seaweed.  The farm field includes stack after vertical stack of polystyrene containers growing more than 160 varieties of vegetables.  Recently the Kanns have been experimenting more with floating plants on water tables, and they plan to do more of it.  A motorized pump helps circulate the water.  The Kanns say growing outside of soil requires about 1/20th the amount of water as conventional farming.  Richard credits his wife's difficulties growing in challenging Florida soils and her venture into hydroponics for their success. "She's the backbone of this whole thing. She grows stuff in the summer and in the winter that no other farm can do because of the hydroponics. She's amazing. She's changed a lot. She's got a green thumb now, a couple of them."

Diane Kann
Richard Kann

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