It’s a growing business in Alabama that is sowing a different kind of agriculture and is helping to meet the expectations of polished palates, healthy eaters, and people struggling with food insecurity.
“It’s so exciting,” said Fran Fluhler, director of the nonprofit Manna House in Huntsville, which uses its 15,000-square-foot indoor hydroponic garden to grow 6,500 heads of romaine lettuce every month, plus bushels of succulent, blue lake green beans. Manna House uses its own-grown bounty, as well as fresh produce, meat, and food staples that they purchase, to help nourish needy families across the Rocket City region.
Fluhler grows her vegetables in Hydro-Stackers – white, polystyrene towers that stand roughly 5 feet tall, each one holding multiple plants. Because her lettuce is grown in water – no soil at all – she said it’s safer to consume by people with suppressed immune systems or other health issues and who must avoid contracting bacteria-related illnesses from raw vegetables. Like other indoor hydroponic farms, Fluhler uses LEDs as an alternative to natural sunlight.
An unabashed advocate for hydroponics, Fluhler eagerly shares information and provides tours to people curious about the process – whether they want to start a commercial operation or are simply interested in creating a personal container garden on the corner of their porch.
“I’m all about growing it forward,” Fluhler quips. Beyond the Manna House mission of sharing healthy food with families struggling to make ends meet, Fluhler says, “my purpose for us is to train and educate people in hydroponics, so they will start their own hydroponic garden – at home, or anywhere.”
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