Tomatoes in January?
Fitz's Farms grows year-round yumminess Lisa Mackinder
hen you enter the hydroponic greenhouses at Fitz’s Farms in Mattawan on a cloudy fall day, you feel a bit like Dorothy opening the door to the Land of Oz. You are greeted by a sea of vivid green lettuces and 10-foot-tall tomato vines with bright red tomatoes hanging down. What you don’t see among these abundant crops is soil; hydroponic farming involves growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions in water with plants’ roots often supported by perlite — a volcanic rock — or gravel. Owners Dan and Julie Fitzstephens proudly smile as they look upon their immense
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indoor gardens and for good reason — this accomplishment is hard work. “To grow inside a greenhouse is totally different than growing outside,” Dan Fitzstephens says. “I mean, it’s a totally different beast. You don’t have nutrients wrapped up in the soil.” He knows a thing or two about farming. He grew up working on his grandparents’ farm and then owned and operated nearly 700 acres of his own in the Schoolcraft area, raising corn, soybeans and green beans. He did this while employed full time as a plumber at Pfizer Inc. But soon two jobs
Above: Julie Fitzstephens wheels s bushel of justharvested hydroponic tomatoes. Opposite page: Fitz's Farms produces lettuces year-round, including this spring mix.
became too much, and he sold the acreage and purchased 15 acres in Mattawan. “I took a year or two off (from farming) just going to work, which drove me crazy,” he says. Years earlier he had built a greenhouse, so, after buying the Mattawan property, he hauled the disassembled greenhouse out of storage, raised it back up and entered the world of hydroponic farming. He attended classes on hydroponics at CropKing, a
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