A farm with no soil gives food to program for disadvantaged

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VERONA, Va. (WDBJ7) From the outside, it doesn’t really look like a farm, despite the decorative scarecrow by the door.

But inside -- well, it doesn’t look much like your average farm either. Stacks of plant filled shelves reach toward the ceiling of a huge room.

“We started out as an LED business, then we went on to horticulture lighting," Alia Clements, Autocrop Program Manager, explained. "Once we started with the horticulture lighting, people starting asking us if we could provide the full system for vertical, hydroponic farming.”

Crops, like lettuce, grown indoors in water rather than soil, stacked in racks as small or tall as you want.

“It can go all the way up to thousands of heads of lettuce being harvested every day," she said. "Or it can be one that’s just right in your kitchen when you can pull off a head of lettuce whenever you need it.”

But when you have a rig as big as this, a demonstrator – they say at a smallish scale – of the sort of thing you can do, you have a problem.

“Every week have to harvest, because we are growing these sample plants for buyers to come in and see," Clements said. "And so we didn’t want to just throw them away or sell them. We wanted to use them in the community.”

“I come every week or every other week and pick up anywhere from ten to twenty pounds of some of the produce,” Robert Moore said.

Moore is here from Washington and Lee’s Campus Kitchen, which provides balanced meals for those in need in Rockbridge County, and getting fresh produce like this is a real treat.

“Here in rural Virginia, there’s a lot of, it’s a massive food desert," he explained. "A lot of people just don’t have access to it at all.”

So Robert helps them harvest -- “They said that this time for the first time we have some bak choi,” he said with delight -- and they get more room to demonstrate vertical farming.

“More and better food for everyone,” Moore said.