Ever wonder how we're able to carry tender, locally grown butterhead and mixed lettuce at the Farmstand, even in the coldest days of winter? Well, it's all thanks to the beauty of indoor hydroponic farming, and the passion and hard work of Tim Gehman and his crew at the Gehman Family Farm in Telford, PA. The Gehmans grow lettuce, basil, and pea shoots year-round in greenhouses that are heated primarily by the sun and with the help of wood and propane stoves in the winter. And as though their operation wasn't sustainable enough, they grow their crops in rainwater that has been harvested from their greenhouse roofs and cycled through a closed loop system.
Recently, the farm's owner, Tim Gehman, was kind enough to answer a few quick questions about his growing practices, his thoughts on sustainability, and his overall farming philosophy.
Fair Food: When did you start farming, and what got you into this kind of work?
Tim Gehman: I grew up in a family operated greenhouse and produce business.
FF: How would you characterize your core growing practices?
TG: Our growing practices are sustainable closed loop hydroponic growing.
FF: What methods do you use to protect your crops from infestations and diseases?
TG: We control the climate as best we can to minimize pests and diseases. We exclude insects with insect screening. We provide food such as flowers with nectar for beneficial insects. We use a banker plant system to provide food for the beneficials. We use organic and conventional sprays very rarely.
FF: What does sustainable agriculture mean to you?
TG: Sustainable means not harming the environment. It also means profitable. That which is not profitable and practical will not long be sustained. It means paying our employees a living wage.
FF: Which crops are the toughest to grow/raise?
TG: Basil is the most finicky of the greens and herbs we grow.
FF: Is there anything you wish you had known before you started farming? What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out?
TG: To someone starting out: start small and learn as you go. Don’t endeavor to start with a million dollar operation, whatever it is. Passion to learn and provide the best you can to your market is the top thing you need to have. If you want to be a farmer, be ready to work hard. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. If you need a source of advice, talk to experienced farmers or the county extension agents. Don’t buy a franchise type of business. Buy some good books on your interest and visit real farmers.
FF: What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a farmer?
TG: The biggest challenge is the weather. The next biggest challenge is finding good employees.
FF: What are some of the greatest rewards?
TG: Being able to raise a family on the farm. The opportunity to work together. Farmers work with God and nature to feed the world.
FF: Are there any goals you hope to accomplish or milestones you hope to reach for your farm in 2017?
TG: We are always improving and making improvements. In 2015 and very early 2016, we added another greenhouse. In 2016 we became GAP certified. We are always working on food safety.