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Local Spotlight: Blue Ridge Farms

Natural Times, July/August/September 2012

By Gretchen Hein

Blue Ridge FarmIt was a sunny, breezy day when I met Wayne Hawthorn at Lake Ella. He was standing behind a table of coolers, each packed full with produce he’d grown. He’d come to sell his produce and I’d come to learn about Blue Ridge Farms and his growing methods. Each cooler contained a different salad green; crispy, green and fresh. One contained bok choy. He’d already dropped his New Leaf Market order off and was hoping to sell the rest at Wednesday’s Lake Ella Growers Market where he is a regular.

Wayne’s been providing produce to New Leaf Market since 2001. As I listened to his story, I knew I’d eaten quite a bit of his produce over the years and was happy to meet the grower and learn about his farm. I try to eat locally grown as much as possible. Meeting the growers makes the connection between what I eat and where it comes from even more personal. Wayne was quite pleasant and friendly and ready to share.

Blue Ridge Farms, Wayne’s home, is located north of Tallahassee. It’s a little different than your average farm. Instead of rows of cultivated plants stretching across the horizon, you’ll find greenhouses full of greens thriving in an aquatic environment. Wayne grows his crops using a popular hydroponic technique known as NFT—Nutrient Film Technique.

Wayne explained that NFT is only vaguely connected to the hydroponics of the 1960’s. Hydroponics has moved forward in so many ways—it’s more than growing plants in an aquatic medium. Wayne uses certified organic ionic solutions to grow his vegetables, which he feels is a step beyond traditional organic farming techniques. He has no pests to contend with and his plants receive all the nutrients they require to grow fast and efficiently. And he does not have to worry about early frosts or the ravages of a seasonal pest. Summer’s heat can be a problem however, so he shuts down production for a few months and starts back up in early fall.

When using the NFT method, the plants rest, suspended above a channel, supported by clay balls. Only the lowest portions of the roots sit in a PVC channel through which an ionic solution of minerals flows. The roots absorb a rich array of minerals that provide the optimum conditions for growing. The solution is circulated and recycled through the system until the minerals are depleted. The solution is then renewed and the process continues. Wayne loves this type of farming. It’s easy on his body as the tables are set up hip height so there’s very little strain on the back; there are fewer unknown’s to worry about and the product is picture perfect and nutritionally balanced.

Blue Ridge Farms also grows Fuyu persimmons and chestnuts. New Leaf Market carries these when they’re in season. Even though Wayne’s most productive selling season is coming to a close, I’ll keep my eye out for his produce when it’s back in the produce coolers.

Editor’s Note: Blue Ridge Farms will be on the 2012 Farm Tour on October 20 and 21. Mark your calendars now and meet Wayne for yourself.

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