UK: Tlush family turns home into working hydroponic farm

Plymouth Township farmer Katie Tlush had spent 15 years as a dental hygienist when the pandemic made her a stay-at-home mom to toddlers Oliver and Lady.  Husband Jonathan is senior foreman at BMW of the Main Line.  The two had always been home gardeners.  Raising crops professionally?  In hindsight, the chickens kind of paved the way.  But it was COVID that triggered the pivot to fulltime – indoor – agriculture and the conversion of the Tlush basement into the warren of tented “grow rooms” and “breeding chambers” that comprise the family farm.

Not that either had any formal training.  So, the two Plymouth Meeting natives spent hours doing research, “trying to figure out our niche…what we wanted to grow and the outlets in which we wanted to present them.”  In the end, they decided to focus on the organic, nutrient-dense microgreens and mushrooms that have become their signature crops and made them regular suppliers for several of the Philadelphia area’s top restaurants, country clubs and private chefs. That said, they didn’t casually dump a few loads of topsoil into the basement and cross their fingers.

“We wanted to do things the right way,” Tlush explains.  “So, the health inspector has been here, and we have practices in place to make sure that everything is the way it should be, with our grow (spaces) and mushroom lab all properly segregated from our living facilities.” At first glance, the farm’s “traditional and hydro-aeroponic” cultivation gear – the vertical pipes that make up its 300-port “living walls” and assorted fans, pumps, meters and tools – looks like the stuff of weird science.  In fact, each is used to calibrate, regulate or measure, everything from pH values and nutrient levels to moisture content, temperature and lighting.

“At one point, a lot of my chefs were unable to get oyster mushrooms because, I guess, Kennett Square was having trouble with (supplies) being stuck out at sea and in the port,” Tlush recalls.  “We make our own fruiting blocks, so that wasn’t an issue for us.  With our mushrooms, from cultivation to harvest, we touch every bit of the process, so, yeah, there’s definitely something to be said about being local…not to mention, the freshness issue.”

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