A Visit to Greenleaf Farm, by Market Manager, Lisa Beasley
Cullman, Alabama, Cullman County
25 acres of farmland with 5 greenhouses
Greenleaf Farm is a “GAP-certified” farm located in Cullman County, Alabama. Dion Carroll grows tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers hydroponically. He specializes in growing a variety of unique, heirloom tomatoes.
Growing hydroponically means that instead of soil, Dion use a nutrient rich water based solution. For the last ten years, Greenleaf has increased his farming to now include 5 greenhouses. Set on 25 acres of farmland in Cullman County, the operation is now expanding to include over 3 acres of peaches. His trees won’t bear fruit for a few more years, but with ten varieties, he is hopeful he’ll have plenty to share with customers soon.
Checking his tomato plants
Dion is committed to growing the best tomatoes he can. He uses the vertical method of growing indoors, which allows him to grow more plants in his greenhouses, and makes picking easier.
Three years ago, Greenleaf Farm added lettuce to it’s offerings at the Market. Dion says he now grows about 2,500 heads of lettuce during the summer season. His growing method in his lettuce greenhouse is also hydroponic, which he enjoys because he says, “it’s nice and clean!”
Baby lettuces beginning to grow
Cleanliness is a priority of his, and it shows. His greenhouses are spic and span – not a thing out of place. Being GAP-certified means he must maintain an organized, well cleaned environment in which to grow. GAP certification is required of farmers who sell to large distributors and supermarket chains. Like other farmers who are certified organic, GAP-certification requires detailed records and paperwork, which is inspected by officials each year.
Dion inspects his farm site
Dion’s focus is centered on tomatoes. He has over 50 heirloom varieties alone. He says, “I have ten cherry alone,” meaning he grows ten varieties of just cherry tomatoes which many of us may not even realize. Growing different varieties helps Dion discover which type grows best in the environment he provides, helps him figure out which variety matures for Market sales earliest, and some of his varieties are chosen because they just taste better to him.
In April, Dion will begin seeding trays of tomato seedlings which will be transplanted outdoors when it gets warmer, while still hydroponically grown, these outdoor varieties will mature and be ready to sell in late July or early August. These outdoor tomatoes will still be fed nutrition via tubing through his hydroponic set-up, but they will have a slightly different flavor and texture just by being grown outdoors. These tomatoes will be the last group he grows for the year.
A worker adjusts vines so they can grow taller
During the fall months, Dion and his workers spend their time repairing equipment, cleaning the greenhouses and sanitizing them; purchasing needed seed and equipment and making sure everything is ready for the next growing season. Dion get just a few weeks of rest before he returns fulltime to daily work in his greenhouses.
Outdoor hydroponic area on the farm
Tomatoes from Greenleaf Farm will be some of the first shoppers will see at the Market at Pepper Place. He begins bringing them, along with fresh lettuces, in late March. Dion will continue to harvest tomatoes and lettuces, along with cucumbers and other vegetables, until early August. Shoppers will find him at the Market every Saturday, offering samples of his juicy, ripe tomatoes – fresh off the vine!
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