Illinois agschool begins selling hydroponic lettuce

Through a second partnership with Hy-Vee Food Store in Macomb, the Western Illinois University School of Agriculture is now growing hydroponic lettuce marketed through the local grocer. The "Rex" butterhead lettuce is grown in WIU's Knoblauch Hall through collaborative research and classroom work by two agriculture professors and their students.

"We just delivered our first load of hydroponic lettuce to the local Hy-Vee store," said School of Agriculture Director Andy Baker. "I have been working with Gary Jenkins, the Macomb Hy-Vee's produce manager, to get this accomplished. Hopefully we can grow our relationship with Hy-Vee even further in the future. We are super excited about getting additional food products, raised in the School of Agriculture, into our local Hy-Vee store."

WIU Agriculture Assistant Professors Shelby Henning and Dan Atherton started working together a few years ago when they built a small system in the basement of Knoblauch Hall to grow the produce. The production process allows for several research opportunities for students, including the process of detecting nutrient deficiencies.

The roots of the lettuce grow in channels similar to vinyl rain gutters, which allow for the introduction of nutrients. LED lights are utilized to increase production and to ensure the lettuce has adequate hours of light during the day.

In October 2020, the School of Agriculture began selling ground sausage, as well as links and patties, in traditional and zesty flavors, produced by Leatherneck Country Meats (LCM), through Hy-Vee's East Jackson Street location. LCM is an organization that sells pork products that were raised on the University Farm.

It is also anticipated that bell peppers and tomatoes, grown through the University's agriculture program, will be sold through Hy-Vee's produce section beginning soon.

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