Everyone knows about growing crops in soil, but have you ever considered growing a crop in a medium other than soil? This episode will tackle all the ups and downs of growing on an unconventional medium: water. We have farmer Darren Vollmar to take us on his hydroponic farming journey.
Today’s Guest: Darren Vollmar
Darren’s father didn’t want to have an office job—he was perfectly happy with his physical job. So when he was about to be transferred to an office position, he quit and started looking up hydroponics. Today, Ledgeview Gardens grows hydroponically, as well as farms on 18 acres of land servicing their hefty number of customers.
In this episode of Farm Small, Farm Smart
- Diego introduces the episode’s guest, Darren Vollmer (01:23)
- How and why Darren and his family got into hydroponic farming (02:35)
- Why anyone would and should look into hydroponics (04:52)
- Producing massive amounts in a 3-bay gutter system (07:46)
- Crops grown in hydroponics and comparing them to field yields (08:27)
- What attracted Darren’s dad to grow using hydroponics (09:51)
- Zero complaints about the flavor of hydroponically-grown tomatoes (12:25)
- Hydroponics: no soil-borne diseases (14:20)
- Obtaining five months of yield in a single plant (17:28)
- Handling the pollination of tomato and cucumber in an indoor system (19:15)
- How Darren went about moving large amounts of product (21:07)
- Maintaining prices without a need to drop (25:07)
- What Darren and his farm are doing better than farmers of the same size (28:07)
- The edge of Darren and his farm that made them successful (29:32)
- The challenges that growing in hydroponics have to face (33:38)
- Nutrient-activated, oxygenated water and how to go about it (35:44)
- The smallest hydroponic scale that a beginner could start with (39:05)
- The current pricing for a three or a four-bay system (41:40)
- Balancing the volume of product and the variety of product offering (44:55)
- Drawing the line between having 18 acres and needing to plant 18 acres (49:14)
- Timing the harvest when Darren and his farm don’t compete with other farmers (51:55)
- The logistics and economics of growing watermelons (53:33)
- The key to running a successful CSA program (55:57)
- Workshare people and an interesting approach to CSA (59:52)
- Going about deciding which to grow for the CSA program (01:01:20)
- How Darren deals with getting rid of all his extra product (01:03:42)
- Where Ledgeview Gardens is at in terms of the farm’s evolutions (01:05:50)
- Good resources if you’re interested in hydroponic farming (01:10:30)
- Where to follow Darren and Ledgeview Gardens (01:13:00)
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Diego: [00:00:00] Today, I'm talking to a grower from Wisconsin who's getting insane yields of tomatoes for over five months a year on just 8,000 square feet. And he's doing it in a way that you're probably not going to expect. Stay tuned to find out all about that coming up in this episode.
Welcome to the world of farming small and farming smart. I'm your host Diego. When you think small scale farming, market gardening, urban farming, typically you think of growing crops in soil, but one topic that isn't discussed much, and hasn't been discussed much on this show up until this point has been growing in something other than soil. And today, I'm going to do a first and a I�m going to talk to somebody who's growing crops hydroponically.
Today, I'm talking to Darren Volmer of Ledgeview gardens. Darren's part of a longstanding family farm that has a few different operations that make up that farm. There is a large soil-based farm, and there's also a hydroponic operation. One that occupies just 8,000 square feet. And those 8,000 square feet pump out produce. Today, Darren's going to be talking about why they went with hydro, what he likes about it, what some of the cons are about it and how you might go about thinking of hydro if you're going to go down that route. Now, you may be saying, I'm not interested in hydroponics. I'm never going to be interested in hydroponics. I don't care about hydroponics and I'd say. That's fine. This episode is still relevant because like many of you farming in soil when it comes to hydroponics, Darren has many of the issues that you all have. He has trouble selling product, producing too much product, getting that product to customers, and dealing with the CSA.
So he's going to share all his tips in terms of how they've marketed their produce, tips for presenting produce and how they've made their CSA customizable without a lot of work. There's a lot in here whether you want to grow hydroponics or not. At the end of the day, farming is still a business and that business is universally transferable, whether it's soil or some other medium. So let's get into it with Darren Vollmer.
So, Darren, you're one of the unique farmers that I know in this space in terms of how you're farming because you don't just grow crops in the field, in the soil, you also have a hydroponic component to your farm. Can you talk about how you and your family got into hydroponics and why hydroponics?
Darren Vollmar: [00:02:51] We originally got into hydroponics. Dad's always been an avid grower even when we lived in a duplex, when I was young. He had a backyard garden that was so big it went into the neighbor's backyard. They were all right with that, but we've set ourselves. We've said to neighbors, we just. We gave a lot of stuff away. And then, I think from all the time, I was like maybe four or five years old, we were already going to farmer's markets, just with the excess that he was growing. So it was always big and growing. And that's really where this all stems from. It was at a point where, his physical job was getting turned into an office job and he didn't want that.
So he decided, I'm done with that. I'm going to retire from that profession and we're going to, we're going to do something else. And he was doing some research. And this is back in 2001. So he had little to almost no idea how the internet really worked. So with the help of my mother, they did some research came across, hydroponic farming. He looked into that a little bit, got connected with, Crop King. And, it all stemmed from their chatter system from Crop King, did a lot of learning and consulting with them and just figuring the whole thing out. He's very handy person and he's taught a lot of that to me. So from the time that he got the system, and so even now we've pretty much built the whole thing ourselves as far as construction wise go. We had to hire some outside contractors, net to do some of the harder things, but most of it, we built ourselves in improvements. We'd pretty much do ourselves. We're hitting every aspect of what we're doing, the growing you do all of it.
So we are a little bit different and like you said, we do grow stuff outside as well. And hydroponics is one portion of this very large portion, but it's only one portion. So we also grow between 18 and 20 acres of organic practice produce and in the soil as well, every year.
Diego: [00:04:42] With the crops in the hydroponics, why focus in that area based on your experience? Your dad initially researched it, but you've been around the system. You've seen it in production. You've seen it compared to field systems. Why would somebody want to look in that direction? I ask, because in this space is hydroponics gets a little bit of a downcast. I think people don't see it the same as farming in the soil, but at the end of the day, you're still producing food. What's your take on that?
Darren Vollmar: [00:05:08] That kind of hit the nail on that day. We don't necessarily get the best reviews from maybe our farming peers depending on their background, depending on their beliefs or anything like that. I see the major benefits and it mostly because I've been in it for 16 years now, just watching it progress and learning from it.
We're still able to diversify. We're able to produce high amounts, high volume food, out of the hydroponic system. And it's clean. It's natural to me. I know I'm going to get flack for that. If people don't agree with me, but as far as not growing in the soil. We're as close to natural as you can really get, other than having a soil base to grow.
And it's, our medium is pure light where everybody else's medium is this soil. So I know. I've done my research and my learning. I know what the benefits of soil growing is, but I also have an open mind enough and been around it that I can see the major benefits planting hydroponics as well. And just to list a few, the major benefits are, using solar light, it's plastic.
Sides and roof. So we're pulling in a lot of sunlight and that intensifies, it's a double layer Polly. there's a lot of heat retention. There's, the floor that we grow on is painted white to reflect. Sunlight to use every angle of it. our plants are getting all the sunlight they can get.
They're really benefiting from it a lot. So we're fully using all the sunlight that comes to the building. We're utilizing water a lot better. One of the major benefits is the production in our greenhouse. If you were to take and try to compare the amount of product. That we can pull out of our greenhouse in a yearly basis, you would need 20 acres planted. So this is just basing on tomatoes. Now, if you were to try to produce the same old tomatoes that we produce in a hydroponic system, you'd need 20 acres outside to do that.
Diego: [00:07:05] And what do you have now that's compared against?
Darren Vollmar: [00:07:07] We have a three Bay gutter connect system. So our first few years it was, once one wall to the next was be steak tomatoes. So just by, based on that math, we can pull out one ton of fruit per house per week. So full production of large fruit, one ton per house per week, in order to do that, you'd need at least 20 acres soil grown to be able to it's based on space. So I can fit two plants in a one foot by one foot space in my greenhouse where outside you need. You almost need the planter, usually space 24 inches apart. So just doing the math and how many plants do you need to produce one ton per week? You know what I mean? So three times a week, per se. And try to put that production soil to take about 20 acres.
Diego: [00:08:04] So if you think about the three-way gutter system, what is that in terms of square footage you have?
Darren Vollmar: [00:08:10] It's about 8,000 square feet.
Diego: [00:08:12] So 8,000 square feet. That's a fifth of an acre. So yield is huge. When you look at yield tomatoes, you can do more yield than hydro than in the field. What other crops are you growing in there and how does that compare to field yields?
Darren Vollmar: [00:08:29] We also grow cucumbers, the English variety cucumbers. We do a six inch and a 12 inch cucumber, so a large and a small variety. And then we also do a lettuce production. So this year we're actually, elbows deep in putting our new lettuce house in. So we'll have one whole house just by itself for lettuce. So we can control that environment a little bit, but the other product that we grow majority of is cucumbers. And we've tried a number of different things in our buying system, but no, really the overhead is high in hydroponics. we have the cost of heat, cost of energy, the cost of fuel, that kind of stuff. So overhead being high, you want to produce as much weight as you can per square foot.
So that's where you really look into tomatoes and cucumbers are your two highest producers. So your return is going to be better, based on square feet.
Diego: [00:09:21] When your dad initially researched this and got into it, was the yield potential per square foot, and the ability to grow and all seasons, what attracted into it? Because you're growing up in Wisconsin, you have 18 acres of field crop.
This is not an inner-city thing where you don't have arable land to grow on. He made the choice to say, okay, let's go inside with hydro on this versus growing it in the field.
Darren Vollmar: [00:09:48] Initially. He was looking for kind of a controllable and he was also looking for something different. He's a thinker by trade or more by passion, I guess just likes to play with things and learn new things. So this was ran along that line of an, a tinker with stuff, loving to learn new things. So I think that's really where his draw at the hydroponic came from. But, when we first started, it was like I said, Walla was beefsteak tomatoes. And we were literally in over our heads.
If the States maze, we had no idea what we were going to do with them. All the production was astronomical. We were stacking them up, any place we could until we could get rid of them. Our shelf life is very long on our tomatoes. we're still doing a vine-ripened product, so it's, we don't harvest that fruit and it on the mind.
we're not talking cherry red, but we're talking orange breaker stage. it's a ripe fruit. They ripen inside out. So the last thing to happen is that to me, it turns color. So comparing our produce or our fruits to a conventionally grown or conventional hydroponically grown, fruit that you get out of the grocery store. It's apples to oranges.
You go to a grocery store and buy a tomato that's out of season, and it's like cardboard, it's dry. There's zero case it's pink, almost white inside. That's not a ripe fruit. That's not a vine ripened fruit. What that is a fruit that got to the right side. It was harvested at green stage paths and ready to ship. And then it's gas in the truck with an ethylene gas and all that SME gas does is make it turn red. So that make, it just makes it turn red. So you have literally the red colored green tomato that you're putting on your sandwich. Ours is a vine rice and product. t's so similar to what you could grow outside, but we're harnessing the benefits of hydroponic based on, light filtration, energy, and space and minimal water use.
Diego: [00:11:46] And that's one of the big knocks against hydro for right or for wrong. And I think a lot of people are just saying this without really knowing the details like you talked about is stuff coming out of hydro doesn't have flavor, it tastes like water. Do you find that customers, based on your practices are complaining about any flavor coming out of the hydro system?
Darren Vollmar: [00:12:11] We don't usually get complaints about the flavor. We sample at our markets, whether we're supposed to or not, we pass out some samples during the year and we don't do it every week, but just enough to allow some people to really try them and, I get a lot of people come up and, Oh, it's me. They don't even know what's hydroponic. They just grab it to natal, pop it in their mouth. And, Oh man, that's a good tomato. And then we get that an opportunity to tell them about our system. And they're almost impressed, not necessarily baffled, but they're impressed that it's a hydroponic tomato because everybody knows what, hydroponic tomatoes in the grocery store junk.
They just, they don't have the flavor in that. That really is just the fact that those, that fruit has to make shipping. Because that company that's producing me as they can't. They're, like I said, their overhead is high too. they can't take the chance of having that product, not get to the store shelves and having to replace that product, give credit on that product.
Anything like their margins are so slim, so have a little compassion for those companies. But if there was more, if there was more time spent marketing a local product growing and selling to a local market, those tomatoes wouldn't have to. Endure how many miles of shipment, so they wouldn't have to be picked before the right and then steak ripen. They would be allowed to ripen on the vine. So we'd have a higher quality price in grocery. So it'd be more available at a higher quality product year-round but again, they got to make shipping.
Diego: [00:13:36] So with hydroponics indoors, it's enabling higher yield, season extension. Now you could get the season extension growing in soil inside of a heated greenhouse. If you think about hydro, if you're growing in soil, regardless of where you're growing, plants exposed to potentially soil-borne diseases in hydro, there is no soil. There's no soil borne diseases. True?
Darren Vollmar: [00:14:03] Correct. Yeah. There's no soil-borne diseases. There's still diseases. we've been battling a disease called detritus for the past few years and it's one that it's a systemic disease. It's something that comes in, if the plants are weak, everybody knows the powdery mildew is we still get that. and that just comes from hiking acidity. If the greenhouse isn't venting out properly, if we're having a cooling system problems or anything like that, where we can't get rid of that. That's a powdery mildew. It opens the plant up and allows it to be affected by other diseases. So it still happens. They're not soil-born diseases, but these diseases on the last pill, we're not free of plugs. We're not free of disease in any way.
It's more controllable. Similar to growing in a hoop house, almost, the soil and palaces, you can nine times out of 10, way better than your large acreage soil, because it's a small, condensed area you're trying to fit as much product as you can, or as many plants as you can into that, who posts. So you're really caring for that soil, especially in those bets. So most people do permanent raised beds in there, who policies, they focus on that. So that's beautiful. And those beds. So it's a little similar to that where it's a smaller contained system yet we're producing high amounts of food, but it's contained to a point where this is my focus area.
So I'm not going out and trying to spray 20 acres. If I have to do any kind of spraying whatsoever, it's attacking the spot that has a problem, and I can see it from the end of the road. Yeah, it's a little bit easier to maintain and control in that sense. as far as season extension goes, like you said, we're in Wisconsin.
we are able to start producing like we're harvesting fruit in may, and then we use air bubble to carry fruit through and harvest. just past Christmas. And then our plant's got to come out. We got to clean everything up. we got to get the next plant started for the year. So we're not year round, hydroponically on the tomatoes and cucumbers, at least, our lettuce. We are able to fill that system. Almost like the plants go dormant and then they just come back as they're ready as the sunlight gets, our days get longer to something like it's a little bit more intense.
We're not spending a ton of money on heat just to try to get them to, a growing temperature. So let things go a little bit more naturally. we try to limit our heating expense as much as we can. It's a high expense. So we do what we can to keep that low, I'm an extended season. I'm not year-round.
Diego: [00:16:31] So in your system, you can get five months of yield out of the same plants, or do you have staggered plantings?
Darren Vollmar: [00:16:38] No, it is five months of yield out of the same plant. we use indeterminate varieties, the varieties that are bred, they're hybrids. So they're bred to be. growing for a long seasons alumnus, really those plants, they do start to get tired. They start throwing wonky through here and there.
we get small ones, they get, odd growth coming out of them as the plant. Life continues on. So they get older. the STEM gets a little smaller at the top of flowers are a little bit more spread out, so they just start to get tired. You can see it at the end of the year, October into November starts to come around and you can see the plants are just like, they're coming down.
they're not going to perform like they usually would. So we don't push them much longer after that. just try to get the last of the harvestable fruit off and then call it a year on it. But those plants are, we use the lean in mower system. I know you've talked about that with, Curtis a little bit. And that's the same, that's what he talks about for lean and Norris system in his suit policies is something that was developed for hydroponic grow. These plants get, 25 to 30 foot long by the end of the growing season. We only allow them. So from the pocket to the wire, that the Trello system is built on.
There's only eight foot. So they go up, they slip, we drop them down, move them over. we hard prunes, three leaf branches off the bottom. We pick the fruit, we cut off the empty clusters. We pull off any clips that we use time up and then let them grow back up. Do another foot stack up to that wire. And then the whole thing starts all over.
Diego: [00:18:07] One thing I hear often come up when it comes to indoor growing of things like tomatoes is pollination. How do you guys deal with that 8,000 square feet under Polly? That's a lot of square footage and it's a lot of plants because they're at a high density. How are you handling the pollination for both the cukes and the tomatoes?
Darren Vollmar: [00:18:27] We bring in bumblebees. So we have, we work with a company called Colbert biological systems. A lot of that comes through prop cane. but we get hives of bumblebees. Bumblebees are. Oriented by objects instead of sunlight on these are oriented by sunlight. So the mum will be bees. We put the box in, we built another little protective box so that the hive isn't getting wet.
and then running up behind that box, we put a piece of PVC with, Just black electrical tape wrapped around it. So it looks like no, Barbersville, that's their object. So the honey bees chew their way out of the hive where the hive is built. They got a little mesh stream that they got to chew through.
So they chew the way out of the hive columns and down, they come out and they start making small circles right around the eyes and they just orient themselves, figure out where they're at. You know what kind of building they're in and how to get back home and their surface just get bigger and bigger until they're completely covered the whole house.
And then they go to work. So the bumblebees do a fantastic job. If I didn't have bumblebees, even in our three Bay, we're a small system compared to most people doing hydroponics, a three Bay, all full of tomatoes. I would probably have to pay somebody. Eight to 10 hours a day, three to five days a week just to go in and pollinate. So it's a major deal that we have a Bumble bees for pollination.
Diego: [00:19:53] Yeah. It's cool to hear how that it all works together. And there's all these little developments that have came to make these hydro systems work. One thing that can be a challenge. And you alluded to this a little bit earlier is you're producing so much yield. You have to have somewhere to move it. How have you guys decided to move all the product? Because as you mentioned, you're small on the big scheme of things, but you're bigger in producing more than somebody growing on one or two acres. How have you guys decided or came about, been successful moving that volume of product?
Darren Vollmar: [00:20:32] Our first years, when we were just doing, beef steak tomatoes in there, producing one ton per house per week, three tons of these steak tomatoes stacked up in our pack house. we were sweating. we were stressing about where these tomatoes are going to go. And a lot of that fell on my dad. I was still in school, so I wasn't able to help a whole lot with that, but he just started approaching grocery stores. And pushing them. we didn't make as much on those as we should have because, we just had to get rid of them. So we're willing to negotiate prices with them.
so since that point we have diversified and we've diversified a little bit more every year. So we went from just producing red beefsteak tomatoes to producing red in orange beef, steak tomatoes. so that's a low acid product. nice big fruit, just like the rent, but a really bright orange color, almost like a sunflower.
those are really nice. these States made a very meaty and really good flavor and those really started to hit with our customers. Now we're increasing our orange beefsteak tomato production every year. And just starting to pull back a little bit on the beast steaks every year. so every year we for a few years, at least we started adding varieties.
so we went from red V steaks to red and orange beef steaks. Then we added red cluster tomatoes. So that's five to six, fruit on a cluster and a cup of STEM and sell it by the STEM. Then we went into Romas and then we started adding cherries and grape tomatoes. So really it just comes down to diversification.
then we moved into the cucumbers and the more you can offer different products and have a little bit less of them, the less you are swimming in one type of product that maybe you can't get rid of. So it really, and that resonated with our farmer's market customers. we used to go to the farmer's markets, set up one table, put on red tomatoes and had a scale.
And we just sell, try to sell that tomatoes and we just, we're not selling enough and we couldn't figure out why we couldn't get people to come into our stand. And once you started diversifying and going into different products and offering different colors and different types of fruit and telling them what they're good for, and beef steaks are really good for sandwiches and postures are a little bit better for salads and Romans are really good for sauce and just developing that marketing.
It really started to open up and then we're able to see. Okay. We need to diversify more. We need to get into a few more crops. So we always had a little bit of land going outside and there was a conventional soy and corn farmer that was coming down and using part of the land. and every year we were taking more and more back, eventually he just said, it's not worth it anymore.
So we took everything over. I just cover crop or pasture planted a whole lot of it, but every year we diversified a little bit more out there as well. So our selection got. a little bit wider. Our tables got bigger, we got more solved at the farmer's markets. And eventually we just became one of the names at the farmer's market. So yeah, we're producing a lot. We are smaller than most hydroponic people are. And we sometimes get lumped into those, just a hydroponic guy, but we are more diversified in that. And we do offer a lot of products.
Diego: [00:23:40] When you look at, let's say your farmer's market sales, you're probably a large vendor there compared to, again, somebody's selling on a small scale and you're very familiar where with farmers in this space that have smaller land bases. Producing as much as you are outside and inside in the hydro system, where do you think you're falling on the scale of pricing of product? Do you have to drop pricing to try and move at all? Or are you able to maintain a, I'll say higher than wholesale price to get a bit of a premium, like a more artisan grower might get?
Darren Vollmar: [00:24:25] Yeah, we haven't really had to drop price very much. We did earlier on, we would drop our price and we'd dropped prices a little bit as the season goes on, it's really a supply demand thing. when the market becomes flooded with tomatoes, cause there's, almost everybody that has a garden grows tomatoes.
Yeah, it's just a staple. So at some point in the year, there's, w our market is actually really large. in our area, we got 150 or more vendors, at some point, and it, sorry, those aren't just vegetable producers or anything there, it's 150 vendors, all fold that's with hot food and crafts and stuff, but at some point almost every farm has tomatoes.
So our price has dropped a little bit. we changed the way that we care for the plants in the hydroponic system, so that we can reduce the output. so we reduce our labor a little bit. We reduced our output of fruit and we just allow those plants to sit a little bit stagnant for awhile.
And then once those outdoor, tomatoes start dropping off, then we can start ramping back into production. So we do what we can to keep our price pretty steady. we don't really do a whole lot of wholesaling. I sell to some restaurants, but, restaurants even are paying almost retail. the only time they really get a better price than what I'm giving my farmer's market and our CSA customers as if they're buying large quantity.
if they're going to buy know eight to 10 cases of tomatoes, they're going to get a better price. But other than that, there, we pretty much sell everything at retail cost. but that just stems back to diversity. the more you can diversify your crops, The less, you got to drop your price.
those first years, like I said, with all these steaks, we had to drop price. Where are we going to get rid of that many, these things, tomatoes, now that we have other options and we can produce, at some point a year, we can just say, I'm going to increase my cherry production. So I'm going to decrease a little bit on the large fruit, the beef steaks and the clusters. And I'm going to try to send more cherries and we can do that, we have that flexibility.
Diego: [00:26:21] Hearing that, if you think about competing farmers in your area that are similar size to you, but ones that you know don't do as well. What are you guys doing better than them?
Darren Vollmar: [00:26:37] That's a hard question to answer, we got two really great farms in the area. small and large. I guess one of the things that we're doing different than the larger funds in area is we don't use any chemicals. a lot of the larger farms in the area are just, their conventional farms. they produce a large amount of fruit or vegetables and they use sprays.
So they're doing some preventative spraying they're doing, Herbicides pesticides, things like that. So we set ourselves apart by being chemical free and advertising chemical free. I don't use the word organic unless it's an organic practice. but I certainly don't put that in, on any of my advertising.
our advertising is just chemical free, yeah, I try to really stay away from, flirting that line of what's organic and what's not, I don't like that argument. Too much. So it just turns into Sunday. You could get fined for it. but as far as doing anything better.
Diego: [00:27:34] Yeah. And just trying to get it, what's your guys' edge? Like what do you think has made your farm successful? let's look at, just one segment restaurants, why are restaurants buying. From you guys versus competitor X, is it just you guys hustled built those relationships? Is it a better product? Is it better price?
Darren Vollmar: [00:27:56] We built relationships and that's, there's no doubt there. I spend time doing outside activities. not just farming, not just. Talking to my restaurants, but, in the past I've gone and done walks for charity with them and just spending that time with my chefs, it's restaurants, aren't even a really large portion of our business, but those guys are important because they're there before the farmer's markets are and they're there after the farmer's market.
So I would say, just as a view of what our farm does. I'd say CSA is probably our largest, form of income restaurants or farmer's markets, second restaurants, third, and then the little bit of wholesale, like larger quantity wholesale that we do after that. So restaurants fall in third, on where, our major money comes from, but I still value them because they're their before and after.
So they're, good people to deal with. And. They really do enjoy a fresh quality product. And I think some of the way that we are able to stand apart is with our hydroponic system and the products that we offer there, they're consistent. They're extremely high flavor. they just, they stand out color flavor, texture.
It all stands out to them. And then our shelf life is excellent. And our lettuce production producing hydroponic lettuce, I don't have to wash it. So in restaurants are supposed to wash it anyways. So the most you really going to find on your lettuce from us, there's going to be some dust and pollen, cause it's not going to slow.
and there's no overhead water. So there's nothing bouncing back for splashing up on the Leafs. So it's a very clean product to begin with. So when we go out and harvest and we can just. No, we harvest early in the morning where it's cool. We bring it into our walk-in cooler and give it a an hour or so then we cut it down, cut the roots off and everything, pack it up into bags and boxes and it's ready to go to our restaurants and they're able to get two to three weeks out of quantity of lettuce.
So they're buying 20 to 25 pounds a week. Some of our restaurants and two to three weeks, they can get out of it if they have to. So I think. Quality of product, the cleanliness. we focus on cleaning everything. So even our outdoor products, anything that does come in contact with soil, we're vigilant about cleaning it and product does not go to CSA member to the farmer's market to a restaurant account, unless it's ready to go. It's gotta be clean.
I don't expect somebody to grab it and eat it, but if they do, I don't want them to crunch on dirt. So it's going to be clean. At the farmer's markets, we get a lot of compliments and how clean our product is and how nice everything looks. And we do take a lot of time post-harvest to clean everything down.
cutting onion tops, and twisting off the roots when they're dry and, it's just, I don't let anything go that doesn't look nice. And that's really where I try to pull us apart from everybody else. I see walk around the farmer's market and I see tables that have stuff that, yeah, it gets fresh, it just came out of the ground, but I don't really want to take the ground with me and I don't think other people do too.
So that's where it's at is that I want my soil back on my farm, so I shake it all off, out there and get rid of it. And then I put in a nice clean product in it. And the shelf life is much greater. If you've got a clean product.
Diego: [00:31:19] With the hydro system, what are some of the challenges that you face that you wouldn't face if you were growing outside in the soil?
Darren Vollmar: [00:31:27] Really one of the only true negatives that I see is if something were to happen to our feed system, I pretty much lose it all. there's not a lot of, there's no, in the lettuce system, there's no medium, so there's no clear light. There's no soil or vermiculite or anything that those plants are in.
it's a Rockwell cube. That's stuck into top of the tray and it roots out in those roots. Just roll on the bottom of this tray. So there's constantly fresh water going to it. cold, nutrient activated oxygenated water go into it at all times. we had last year we had an issue with our pumper pump, went out and we didn't know until almost the end of the day.
One of us went out and we're just trying to figure out what we're going to have available for the next day for restaurant orders and everything was laying over just blasted by the heat because there was no moisture there anymore. So that's, we're a little bit relying on technology. and sometimes it fails, but as far as, production wise, environmental wise, I don't see much of a downfall to it.
we put shade off over the house. It's very easy to stuff. Tug a piece of shade over the house and we got it covered. No, we can control the environment to a point of adding heat in the afternoon or at night, if need be and venting the heat out during the day. we can control humidity. The only thing we can't really control lights, unless we're going to, get a lighting quote for 50,000, just to do this one house, a lettuce. So that's a little high. So we won't be doing lights. At least now we won't be doing lights in this new house. Just due to cost.
Diego: [00:33:12] You mentioned a nutrient activated fluid water is always flowing through the system. How much of a chemist do you have to be? Is there any complexity to that or a learning curve or is it pretty much you follow a recipe and that's that?
Darren Vollmar: [00:33:28] a little bit of learning curve, but we do just follow a recipe, that our, we get our water samples are tested. and that goes, through crop King who I believe they're in Seville Ohio, and I believe the university of Ohio, there's a very large hydronic system there. that's just based on trial and error and learning, through the university. So the university would take our water sample and take the square footage of what we're doing in the props that we're doing. And they create a nutrient list for a certain nutrient recipe based on what our water is.
we're well water, and it's hard. Water got a lot of iron in it, so we need to. Balance the pH of our water before we add anything to it. So we start with a hard water and we bounced the pH to a certain degree. And then after that we start mixing our nutrients into it. those nutrients are kept separate at the beginning.
So I have a try to paint a visual picture a little bit, but, we have four tanks. All the way to one side, is our acid tank, which is just a high pH water that is used to correct the pH of our final mix tank. So that brings that corrects the pH of the water so that the tomatoes and the cucumbers.
Are always drawing from the proper pH moisture. Then our second thing is nitrates. Our third tank is phosphates, and nitrates can be mixed in small amounts. And in fact, some of them are mixed in each tank, but there are a few that when they come together in high quantities regulate, so we would essentially plug up our system completely if we allowed those two to mix together at high volumes.
So we keep them separate at the beginning and then. Through the use of bellows pumps and timers. Those nutrients are added in small amounts to our final tank. So it's all diluted down in the 50 gallon. So yeah, acid glued into 50 gallons. The phosphates diluted into 50 gallons, nitrates diluted in the 15 gallon and all those solutions are then put again into dilution of 50 gallon.
So it really we're able to control that dilution pretty well. So our nutrient base, that really having to be a chemist in any way, we got to test pH and EDC. that's most people can do. It's not real difficult tasks. We do have to do it a little bit more often because our easiest, especially which is electrical conductivity needs to be controlled a little bit more, depending on the heat.
as we get into the mid part of our season, when it's the hottest, we've got to bring that AC down a little bit. and it just helps with the stress of the plant and that I don't understand it fully yet. That's a little bit more on my dad's end of it right now. But, I do, I get the gist of it.
Diego: [00:36:15] With the system like you have, do you have a sense and you may not, of what's the smallest system that makes sense for somebody looking to get into this to start with? Because there's obviously going to be some, a lot of capital costs that go into this relative to farming in the soil. But to have 500 square feet or some small amount of hydroponic production, like you're not going to get enough product to justify the costs. Do you have a sense of where that number is?
Darren Vollmar: [00:36:50] and maybe I'm biased. I don't know, but I guess I would think three days would be the right way to go. Sometimes we wish we had just initially gone with four days. But, the past few years, while we've been dealing with this to try this disease, enter tomatoes, which directly affects the shelf life of them, I'm pretty happy that we're only at three, just six pieces of the amount of work that needed to be done.
but I think one person full time just doing hydroponics and maybe just doing one type of fruit, like tomatoes and or supervisors, one person on a full-time basis could handle four bays by themselves. that would be, environmental management, plant management, harvesting, and potentially selling.
no, it's definitely full time. It's no joke, but, I think one person you'd definitely want to go for based on their own. So my recommendation would be to go bigger. you can get a high cost, but you could, if you had the house and you didn't need it, you could not grow in it where you can diversify.
No, and that's what we ended up doing. we took one Bay that was growing tomatoes and took all the buckets out of it and put in a lettuce bench because we didn't need that many tomatoes all at one time. Now we're to a point where we're selling so many of them that I, and let us has taken off that I need lettuce.
So I need that space to do it. So we had add no greenhouse for that. Plus then I need, another greenhouse to do more cherry variety or large fruit variety. And it's just, it's like the idea of a walk-in cooler always go bigger than you need. You never know what you're going to need.
but my initial suggestion would be three, maybe four bays. But if you're going to try to. No, that would be a side job. You can be an over your head, I think.
Diego: [00:38:37] Do you have a sense where current pricing is at for a three or four bay system with technology today?
Darren Vollmar: [00:38:44] Yeah, it's going to cost around, probably 600, 650,000 for a three to Four Bay. the systems are changing a little bit, and the cost has definitely come down a little bit on technology since we started ours. But four bay, even three bay. you're probably looking at minimum a half a million.
Diego: [00:39:04] Where's most of the costs in that?
Darren Vollmar: [00:39:06] For one structure. technology's big. The fans that you got to put in for, for environmental controlling and we use a wet wall, which is like a swamp cooler, that's at the very back of the house. So that's got an automatic door on the back of it that swings open or, rides open on, a trolley of sorts, the computer controls how much that door should be open to allow how much Erin, but, you guys different cooling systems per se.
So our cooling stages. So we have cooling stages one through six. And one is, the back door is completely closed. There's a few fans on at the front. Really what we're doing is pulling a little bit of humidity out of there. Bring the temperature down a little bit, but nothing serious when you get to cooling stage six, every fan is on in the house.
The back wall is wide open and there's water pouring through that corrugated cardboard. that creates that swamp wall. So then what we're doing is we need to drop the heat now. the heat, the sun came up in the morning, it's blazing in there. And that cooling stage kicks on the number six.
I need to drop the temperature minimum 20 degrees in a few minutes. That's where you get the cooling stage six is it's imperative. that heat comes down. Just having the ability to make that temperature shift is costly. that's when I say overhead, we're talking, plastic is expensive on that guest that has to be replaced every six years, minimum, should be every four years.
You got the technology. So the computer that runs everything, the water pumps, the new chain tanks, the nutrients themselves, the Modine heaters, the propane, cement and floor heating, the list just goes on and there's just so many components to everything. just setting up this new lettuce Bay has been. I think we're already like 70,000 invested and that's one day just for lettuce.
Diego: [00:41:06] So a lot of it in there is built at once.
Darren Vollmar: [00:41:09] Exactly. Exactly. your cooling system, you set it up once and other than a few minor like maintenance pieces, that's pretty much a one-time cost as well. you're not talking about hemorrhaging, a hundred thousand dollars every two to three years, it's once it's in it's maintenance, that's the one-time cost for the most part.
Diego: [00:41:26] if we shift away from the hydro, now we go out to the field. You guys have significant acreage in vegetable crops. How have you approached managing all that acreage? When it comes time to grow veg? Because there's a couple of traps. Or strategies that you could go down or fall into, just growing too much of one thing, can't sell it or have to sell it at such a small price.
Like you could be the corn soy farmer that, you took land back from where you could grow so much variety of stuff on there that it becomes a nightmare to manage it. What have you guys found is the sweet spot for that? 18 ish acres that you're farming outside, where you can grow enough to get a good price for it and move it.
Darren Vollmar: [00:42:15] we are still in that learning curve, 16 years and we're, we're suckers for punishment. we just, we love seeing plants come out of the ground. We love. Playing with stuff and try new things. and, that's really, you and I got a chance to talk in, Tennessee ethylene farm summit.
And that's really why I went there is I just have a hard time saying no, not putting something in the ground, I want to try things. it's fun. It's, it's an addiction to grow stuff. at the end of the day, you gotta be able to run your business. you gotta find that spot where.
You're not going to over invest in one thing or the other. So we focus pretty heavily on our hydroponic system to continue to run that. Then when we get outside, that's where our real diversity comes in. over the years we've found the crafts that we really can't not do anymore because people look for us for those kinds of things.
seedless, watermelon being one of them. this was a couple of years ago. I tried to talk. Talk my dad into not grow and seedless watermelon, and we're just, there's a lot of work. they're raised bed, black, plastic mulch, drip tape. Putting the plants out. Sometimes the plants don't survive.
It really is all over the place, depending on the year. but we almost, can't not do them. We got so many people come to the farmer's market winter. Mellon's going to be ready. When are your melons going to be ready? That if we didn't grow them, we'd have a lot of disappointed people. So what we've done is started trimming off the things that don't do as well at our markets.
So I don't really do a whole lot of radishes and we do minimal plantings of broccoli, minimal plantings and green beans. We try to, we've tried over the past few years, really over the past few years to find the things that really fit our niche in that people really look for us for. And just try to do that.
The hard part is our CSA. And we really want to have all those products available for our CSA members. I don't want somebody to go away unhappy and the hell of it is you're not going to please everybody. It's just what it is. So we do what we can and we try to offer as much diversity as we can, but we've definitely been trimming things back, we used to do this, do artichoke.
we're in Wisconsin. how often do you see a Wisconsin article? And I had nice artichokes, but I had to replant them every year. I only had them for a couple of weeks and they only made like a buck a piece. So it's just, it's fun. It's cool to do. And people are like, Oh my God, you have artichokes.
But in the end, doesn't really matter. we were only reselling them for a buck a piece. So it's really just doing your math. And, that was something that I talked to Curtis about in Tennessee for, Is just trying to figure out where do you draw that line, how you make those determinations.
So that's really what we're going to be focusing on a little bit more this year is just drawing those lines, determining what's needed, turning what, what we do best and what we can. So there's definitely a sweet spot. Unfortunately, I don't know what it is yet.
Diego: [00:45:16] How do you draw the line between, we have 18 acres and we have to plant out all 18 acres?
Darren Vollmar: [00:45:25] That's becoming easier over time to draw that line. just based on, employees and employment, it's been harder and harder to find people that are capable. People that have a desire enough or who care enough to even try. I think a lot of people are in actually the same position that we are as trying to find good employees.
that's really what determines how much land we do. we make our plants beginning of the year. We talked to past employees. We, figure out if we're going to have any new employees coming on and try to do some on-farm workdays to see if we can work well together. and just determine how the season's going to go based on, the feelings of employment.
but yeah. We set the amount of each crop that we're going to do. we do, we do about 400, yeah, we'll see this watermelon. We do about a thousand red seedless, watermelon do 1500 super potato plants. a lot of those numbers are pretty similar every year and those are the larger finding, Long season crops.
We do a lot of winter squash and just set the amount of rows of each that we're going to do. and those, some of those things don't change depending on employment. they're longer season. We got it set to a point where we don't really have to, do a lot. ms. Garlic is another name.
Main product for us. That's great. Cause you plant it in the fall, cover it up with straw and pretty much don't touch it and toss and pull it out of the ground or post scapes, a harvest scapes and sell those. But now it's a really try to focus a little bit more in perennial type, crops and Ansoff crops, to move our business forward and in the things that are more labor intensive.
No, we watched the market and try to do them only during the times that we can make money on them. like green beans. I said, we only do a couple plantings and green beans. I only want them at farmer's market when I can make three 50 to $4 a pound. If I can't make three 50 to four bucks a pound, I don't need them at the farmer's market because it's just cluttering up a table and I don't need to do that extra work for a smaller amount of money.
Diego: [00:47:34] is that one strategy that you guys approach that maybe differentiates you from say other farmers in the area? Are you trying to have stuff earlier than others? So you're not competing on price?
Darren Vollmar: [00:47:45] Yeah, I would definitely say that, especially with hydroponics being that we're producing such a long season on a vine-ripened proof product that really sets us apart, but we also.
We also really push, bell peppers and we have, so before, or, bell peppers who policies. So we have two, 30 by 96 hoop policies that are just for bell peppers and we're starting to pull, Red yellow and orange fruit, red and yellow, mostly at the beginning of orange comes a little bit later, but, we can bring red and yellow bell peppers, to market in, at the end of June, usually.
beginning early July starts rolling around and we're full on selling. Big beautiful blocky colored bell peppers. So I think being the first at the market, that's, everybody's goal really. that doesn't really set us apart other than we've been able to be fairly successful at that on some crops.
but that focus of trying to be the first at market with somethings is. Beneficial. And sometimes it's not because the focus ironically, focus on our, our, hope house is trying to get bell peppers early. And some other things tend to fall by the wayside. Sometimes
Diego: [00:49:01] Circling back to watermelon, with a crop like that, how do you make it work financially? Is it, you flex a little bit in terms of what it does make because there's demand for it and because customers want it, you're more forgiving on what it's going to yield?
Darren Vollmar: [00:49:19] Kind of. our watermelons really produced very well. we are one of the only people at the farmer's market was seedless watermelon. And large seedless, watermelon get really big. and I don't think we really do anything different than anybody else could. we do focus on those a little bit when we got the, those are one of the first beds, outdoor beds that we build is the watermelons. We get the proper spacing on it.
we plant them in peat, pots. so we're not disturbing the roots. They do get, a little bit of a nutrient feed. So we'll, we collect the runoff from a hydroponic system. So when I'm watering my watermelons, I'm giving them that runoff feed from the hydroponic system. So there's a little bit of nutrient in there, but other than that, we're not really doing anything super special that nobody else can do.
but they make a good amount of money. No, we're able to sell. I think this year, man, we might only walk about a thousand melons out in the field this year. They just got overripe or they'll be lost in the bugs or something. a deer stepped on him or something, is just some kind of problem happened.
And we lost maybe about a thousand melon, but other than that, we went out and pick almost every male in that produce. And very rarely do we have any issues? With our watermelon,
Diego: [00:50:33] What are you selling a red seedless for?
Darren Vollmar: [00:50:35] It depends on size. We usually just eyeball it and we don't get very many arguments, like at the farmer's market, but, we'll sell $6 watermelons and those might be like a, somewhere around like a 18 pound watermelon would go for six bucks.
and then, just go down from area $6, $5, $4, $3 watermelons. But our cheapest one is three. And those are the $3 watermelons they're like personal size watermelon. So they're still making three bucks on a, a medium sized watermelon or a small watermelon. So we do make decent money on,
Diego: [00:51:12] And those are sales at the farmer's market. You're saying that's your number two way to move sales. CSAs being one. What is the key you think to running a successful CSA and by successful, as many subscriptions as you need, it makes money and it's manageable and executable from a farmer level?
Darren Vollmar: [00:51:35] I feel like we got that figured out. And then honestly, we've only been doing CSA as most people know what CSA is for three years. so I might sound a little off by saying that we got to figure it out, but I think in our area everybody's looking for something customizable. And I have said from day one, I'm not going to, I'm not going to put in the extra time to customize every box for every person.
That's how I started doing kind of CFA's is I offered them to businesses, offices and things like that, where we would go and drop off customized boxes. at somebody's workplace. and it just, I got so tired of that. So fast, was dealing with all the changes in the complaints and, they can make their own box and they're still complaining.
And it just, I got tired of it. So when we started CSA, we were creating our own box and I thought that was the answer. Just say, this is what you're getting to going. you don't like it. And you can join somebody else's CSA or learn. we're taking out of your comfort zone on purpose, learn, deal with it.
try to find a way to use that product because it's only going to make you better in the kitchen, most of the pragmatic, and I know that, people could tell me a bark at the moon for that. So we ended up going with the route of a market style. last year we trialed it and 90% of our.
CSA members, remarket market style picking up on farm. So this year we're doing, we're S we're figuring it as a hundred percent markets out, but I'm still offering, business shares. So if the box that we create, but I will drop it off at somebodies office, or at, an office that as long as there's 10 members at that business, I can drop off 10 shares at one place.
And that's just. That business, the shares, then it's not, other people from outside that business that can go there and pick it up. It's just for them. So last year, the Wisconsin DLT office was members of ours and we had 15 chairs from there and that worked out pretty well. and everything I heard from them is positive so far, but that being said, none of them signed back up yet.
And maybe that's a good way to go about it. Maybe it's not, I'm still learning that, but so far I have almost yet to have any complaints about the markets I'll share. So when people come out to the farm, they walked through a CSA room, they get to pick out in the design or share, with whatever they want.
So the way that works is it's based on the point system. If you're a half share points, if you're a full share of 16 points, You come in on Thursday and we're open Thursday 11 to six. so it's almost all day, that 11 o'clock time just gives us a few hours in the morning to really get things set up and harvest anything last minute that needs to be harvested.
and then we assigned points to everything and they can walk through and as long as they can add, they can create their own box, however they want it. And that really seems to be resonating with people. they like in a, and. this is the first year since you've been doing it that I've had people sign up for next year before their last year. So I think it's working. I think this is where we're going to stick with for a while. Do you have to do
Diego: [00:54:47] any management of those people? Is it just an honor system? The product's all over there. Go do it. Or do you actually have to have somebody there essentially to check them out?
Darren Vollmar: [00:54:58] I have workshare people. We got some excellent, excellent workshare members this year. I should knock on wood again cause, I hope they continue to come back. They were just great people, easy to work with, but I just take one of those people every week and put them in that room and, they're more or less there too.
To take money if anybody wants to buy extra. but they're not tasked with following a person around and helping them pack their share to make sure that they don't take anything extra. I've always been, we've always trusted people. I've always been a very trusting person as far as dealing with other people.
And my assumption is if you need a bad enough to steal it, you need it worse than I do. So I trust people and let them do their own thing. for six years, we set up, on your honor, pumpkin stand and I'd have people that send me checks two months later. Oh my God. I forgot to pay for my pumpkin's that day.
I didn't have enough money here. It is. So I trust people and maybe that's to a detriment at some point, but yeah, it's still fired. It has yet to really burn me. So I'm going to keep it up.
Diego: [00:56:03] No, I liked the approach. I liked the idea that. One other thing that comes along with CSA is that I find or hear that a lot of growers tend to struggle with is just managing the variety of crops you have to grow to feed into that CSA. Now land isn't a constraint in your case, how do you decide on how much variety you want to offer your CSA members, because the more variety offer, the more different types of crops do you have to grow. Yeah.
Darren Vollmar: [00:56:37] And that kind of goes hand in hand with a question we talked about earlier is what do you grow and how do you make those determinations?
And, like I said, we're still trying to figure that out, for the most part, but, And it really, what it is not getting into the seed catalog. that's all farmers, major drawback is the seed catalog coming to your mind, goes wild on how fantastic this year is going to be.
And you talk yourself into growing way too much. But, the way we run a businesses is I got so many different outlets to sell my product through that. I just structured it. So my CSA comes first. when I go out and we go out and harvest product and we wash it and we bring it in the first people that are going to get a crack at it are my CSA customers.
unless they have standing orders for anything, but for the most part, my CSA is going to get first chance at all those products. After that, they're going to be distributed between restaurants and farmer's markets. So I grow the things that grow well here that. I have, and I won't say perfected. but the things that we've been able to do very well over the past few years, and things that we're confident in growing and we grow them almost the same way every year.
And we get almost the same production out of them every year. there's just we just have a list that pretty much doesn't change every year. This is what we're going to do and the quantity we're going to do it. And. It usually suffices that meets all my customer demands and I rarely have a ton of something left over unless I just have I'll bump for a year on something. And that doesn't come real often either. Usually when we're producing something, I can get rid of it.
Diego: [00:58:20] What's your strategy for getting rid of it? Is it just having those layers of customer base or is there something else you're doing to push the extra yield harder?
Darren Vollmar: [00:58:30] It's more of the layers of customer base. If I have an abundance on some things I might, send a second email to my, major restaurants and be like, Hey, I got a ton of this stuff. It looks excellent. I'll send them a picture. I'll offer in bulk pricing, and I'll say I can do better on the price than usual. If you can use a larger quantity of it, that works to a point.
It doesn't always work. But for the most part, I'm able to sell it. I've just been surprised over the span of doing what we do that it seems to just come hand in hand. if I got a phone around something I farmer's market seems to all, some want a whole bunch of it and able to sell a lot of it there and we dropped the price at touch, but we're not talking.
No a devastating amount by any means. I think it is just those layers of customers. I got my CFA gets the first shot at it and that's sold. So this year I had a ton of leaks that really turned out. They were just beautiful. And last year at my farmer's market, I sold a ton of leads, so many that I was like, I gotta do more leaks this year.
So this past season, we did a bunch of leaks and I ended up turning a bunch of them in because my farmer's market didn't want as many of them. But when I had whole bunch of them come all at one time and they were beautiful and we went, pulled them all and cleaned them down. And I was able to put them in my walk-in and hold onto them for a couple of weeks.
I focused on weeks as a prop for my CSA and every week they got, a recipe in their box to use the leaks. So we Battle a little bit. That way. If I got a over overabundance of something, I have to do just a little bit of extra work to sell that, but I usually end up selling it.
Diego: [01:00:16] Where do you feel like you're at, in terms of the farm's evolution, your dad's been doing this 16 years, plus you've been around. Do you feel like you guys are still trying to grow and expand. Do you think you're trying to get more profitable? Is it just refining things to make it more profitable and to make it easier? There's this curve that all farms are all businesses have where in the beginning, it's let's get something that works, figure out who we are, who our customers are and what works. And then you try and gradually, improve that and make it better over time. Where do you think you guys?
Darren Vollmar: [01:00:54] Yeah, we definitely went through that, grow a little bit every year and every year you think you got to get bigger and bigger and that's going to solve your problems.
And all that does is create more. and like I said before, that's really one of the. No. The main reasons that, I went to the lean farm summit is figure out where I'm wasting and try to eliminate it. I think right now we're at a point of actually starting to drop back a bit, at peak production, I think we were probably producing somewhere around 22 acres of vegetables.
Some people that seems like way too much. And some people that's like whatever, but we don't have that many people to do the work. we got one to two people to focus hydroponically, and we might have four or five that are able to do the outdoor production. And that includes myself. And to expect an employee to care as much and work as hard as me is a pipe dream.
So I was putting in unbelievable amounts of hours and, I have a four year old now and, one and two months old. So it's, I really want to focus more on my family and have more time to spend with them and just be there. So watch them grow up. So I'm making this huge push to lean up the farm, to pull back a bit, get my family involved a little bit more and put myself back at home to be with them.
So we're, we're pulling away from those crafts that just end up being busy work, the radishes and, Green beans. And, we used to do how many Briar, how many rows of tomatoes, even field grown tomatoes, we are doing bulk for salsa production and just tired of that.
So we're just going to pull back a little bit, reduce our variety of touch, reduce the quantity of each crop that we're doing a little bit. it's as long as we can cover our CSA. our farmer's markets and our restaurants, I'm going to feel really good and I don't have to be everything for everybody anymore.
I used to want that they just to want to be that person, that everybody would go to get whatever they needed, but I don't want to be that anymore. I just want to do what I'm doing, do it right. and be there with my family. So that's where we're at right now. Dad's at the age and the body fatigue stage that he's getting ready to retire, or at least go part-time, spend some more time doing some trips with my mom and do more family stuff on his end too. So we're both in the same boat. He's tired and wants to pull back. I am tired of not being with a family and I want to pull back.
Diego: [01:03:32] Right on. I love the idea that Darren, for people that have heard this episode and, the hydro thing has their interests piqued, where would be a couple of good sources you'd send people to to try and learn more?
Darren Vollmar: [01:03:45] You can learn a lot online, but you can also, you can fall down some deep rabbit hole. honestly, there's a lot to even be learned from the cannabis growers. I do follow some of those pages on Instagram, Facebook.
Those are great places to go to some great groups on Facebook. you just go into the search column and start typing in a hydroponic and just read through them. There's some that. You can tell they're focused on cannabis and you can tell it's just going to be all cannabis growers, and you might learn a lot about the system, but you might not learn a lot about the crops that you want to grow, but there are a lot of just on garden, people that are trying some different types of hydroponic stuff.
They're experimenting with new, new systems and experimenting with homemade systems. And it's just in full pictures, really good information, some great people to talk to. And I come to notice that. Especially in the hydroponics. Groups that kind of, because a lot of people are viewed as outcasts to, the actual, like the soil farmers that they tend to be way more open to answering questions and brainstorming and just talking, not that they're not those kinds of best it's dumb idea and beat you down or anything like that.
They're very open people, nice people to talk to. So I was just checking out the Facebook groups, we do some consulting. We offer consulting through our farm, on hydroponic systems. we offer walkthroughs, you can come onto the farm and walk through and, it's just a consulting basis by the hour.
So if you want to come out here and take eight hours of my day and. Get every question about hydroponics answered that you have feel free, we'll, I'll give you my time for your money. that's fine. we'll walk through and then talk about everything. another place to check out is Crop King.
we've been working with crop King for 16 years. We bought our system from them. and when you buy assistance from them, it's free consulting for life. they come out and check on you. when somebody is in the area, It might not be every year. It might not be every three years, but if somebody is in the area, they'll come and check on, you see how things are going.
but they answer every call and they do an excellent job. So that would be another place I suggest. Otherwise FarmTek, they're getting a lot into, the hydroponic products and offerings, different things. And what is it, or solutions. For you, what that magazine is called? It's a, I think an offshoot of a foreign tech for their, a company in some way I believe.
but we get some products through them and they seem to be very helpful as well. but now try it, see how it goes. If you're going to go commercially, it's a big investment, then you want to have your ducks in a row. But if you're just looking to play around and do some stuff at home, it's fun. It's fun to play with the plumbing and the electrical and, building a system, then you can do Evan full beds. And, again, you can run down a rabbit hole with that too, but it's still fun to play with.
Diego: [01:06:40] It�s cool hearing about it, it's a different topic than I think people have ever heard on this show at least before. So thanks for taking the time to come on and talk about it today, Darren, for people that want to follow along with what you're doing, where can they go?
Darren Vollmar: [01:06:57] Actually it's been my pleasure to be here and talking with you. It's been fun. people that want to find out a little bit more about us and definitely check out our website. That's Ledgeview gardens.com. We're also on Facebook and Instagram. Facebook is at ledger gardens and Instagram is Ledgeview underscore gardens. you can check us out there. I've been in the summer. I usually do, a minimum, a tried a picture a day. I'm on Instagram and I use Instagram a lot because it's, do one and if it's all three, try to hit that.
And. And get everything shifted on, each, area that we're on in one shot. that would be where I'd go to check this out. And then, anybody local that wants to join our CSA, the webpages is where the best information is that
Diego: [01:07:45] There you have it, Darren Volmer of Ledgeview gardens. When it comes to hydroponics, what do you think is this topic of interest? Is this something you want to hear more about? Do you want to hear about aquaponics or those types of operations? I don't want to get too fringe here, but I want to be able to present all the examples of what's taking place out there because at the end of the day, what Darren's doing hydroponically.
Is small scale, 8,000 square feet. And those 8,000 square feet are producing a lot of produce. And the best thing about that model is it's universally transferrable. You can do it in Wisconsin, or you can do it in downtown San Francisco. And that is a huge benefit. I think, to a lot of places like us out here in California, where water is getting more expensive.
So if you want to hear more about hydroponics or some of these other types of operations, let me know. Be sure to check Darren out and follow everything that he's doing. It led you gardens. There's a link to his Instagram and Facebook below. Thanks for listening to this one. I hope you got a lot out of it next week.
I'll be back with another small scale farmer making a go of it between now and then keep hustling and crushing it and stay tuned for another episode where it's all about farming, small in farming. Smart.
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