Soil-free food: Upstate South Carolina’s growing hydroponic food supply

Greenville County farmer Jesse Adkins has no problem teaching people about hydroponics — up to a point, that is. “I can tell you everything you need to know, but I won’t tell you everything I know,” he said, laughing. “I don’t want to educate the public so much they become my competition.”
Adkins has been running Hurricane Creek Farms in Pelzer for more than 15 years. Since then, his agricultural products have become a hidden gem, sought out by local chefs and restauranteurs on their never-ending quest for the best quality ingredients. 
Restaurants like The Anchorage, Husk, Oak Hill Cafe, Kitchen Sync, Grits and Groceries, Swamp Rabbit Cafe and others have featured Hurricane Creek Farms on their menus.
While he’s well known for his freshly-milled cornmeal, grits, Black Angus cattle and house-made ice cream, Adkins’ specialty is hydroponics, which, simply put, is produce grown without the use of soil. 
The produce grown inside the 1,800-square-foot greenhouse at Hurricane Creek is planted in what’s called “perlite,” an amorphous, volcanic rock that has been super-heated into a glass-like substance. The volcanic rock gives the roots of the plants something to hold onto and spread while all the sustenance comes from water in which nutrients have been dissolved. 
“This gives us total control over what the plant gets,” Adkins said, as he strolled through the greenhouse. “That’s what’s called CEA — controlled environmental agriculture.”
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