PIQUA — A brother-sister team has taken the mechanics of farming out of the field and into a freight container.
“We are growing beautiful plants without the sun; there’s no soil, and so it’s all a closed-loop water system,” Britt Decker, co-owner of Fifth Season FARM, said. “We use non-GMO seeds, completely free of herbicides and pesticides, so the product is really, really clean. In fact, we recommend people don’t even wash it, because there’s no reason to.”
Fifth Season FARM is unique in many ways; the 3-acre hydroponic farm is contained in a 320-square-foot freight container that sits along 120 S. Main St. in Piqua, with everything from varying varities of lettuce, to radishes, to kale and even flowers in a climate-controlled smart farm that allows Decker and his sister, Laura Jackson, to turn crops in a six- to eight-week cycle. The crops spend 18 hours in “daytime” every day, and the farm uses 90% less water than traditional farming.
“It’s tricky because we’re completely controlling the environment in here. It’s kind of a laboratory more than a farm,” Decker said. “I think there’s about 50 of them around the world right now. These are really international, and they’re perfect for places that are food deserts where they can’t grow food because of climate or other reasons. It gives them a way to grow food in the middle of nowhere.”
Decker and Jackson, along with their brother Bill Decker, also do traditional farming and grow corn, wheat and soybeans, but Decker said they were looking for a new venture that would help lead them to a healthier lifestyle and learn something new.
“Just with the whole local food movement becoming more and more important and food traceability, we just thought it would be a great thing to bring to our community to help everyone have a healthier lifestyle,” Decker said. “People love food that’s grown right in their hometown and the shelf-life on it, when you get it home, is remarkable. It’ll keep for two weeks.”
Currently, Decker and Jackson are growing a half-dozen variety of specialty lettuces that include arugula, butterhead and romaine, as well as specialty greens like kale and Swiss chard, and even radishes and flowers. They received their freight container at the end of July and set up their indoor farm over two weeks; while the farm has been in operation for less than six months, Decker says that they’re growing beautiful product.
They have also started growing micro-greens, said Decker. Micro-greens are immature plants which are 1 to 3 inches tall and are in a 5-inch by 5-inch container.
“People will use them as garnishments and in smoothies,” said Decker. “Since they are immature plants, they have an intense flavor.”
Decker said they are growing wheat germ, broccoli and spicy salad mixes.
They’ve also started moving forward with sales and marketing. Fifth Season FARM has partnered with the Miami County Locally Grown Virtual Market to sell their products to the community. They also take orders through their website, fifthseasonfarm.com; customers can opt to pick up their orders between 4 and 6 p.m. on Wednesdays, or Decker and Jackson will deliver products up to five miles from the farm. Decker said that Fifth Season FARM is also in discussions with three restaurants in the area about including their specialty greens on their menus.
Decker said they also plan to attend the Sidney Farmers Market when it opens for the spring/summer season.
“We’re really just getting going,” Decker said. “While we were learning to grow products, we didn’t want to overcommit to a restaurant or grocery store before we knew we could really grow beautiful product, so we’ve been donating product every week to the food pantry at the Presbyterian Church. It feels good to plant the seeds and watch them grow, and it feels good to make sure that people who aren’t getting the proper nutrition are getting some.”