Hydroponic farm just keeps growing

Jerry Wyatt and his grandson Casey test strawberries inside the greenhouse. Casey marks the eighth generation of the family to work on the farm, which also grows a variety of tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber and eggplant. Photos by Catherine Riley

Lettuce begins to sprout inside a hydroponic greenhouse at KY Hydro Farm in Benton. Photos By Catherine Riley

By Toni W. Riley
Persistence, determination, diligence or just plain old grit are all words that come to mind as Jerry Wyatt, the patriarch of KY Hydro Farm in Benton, talks about their hydroponic operation. His son, Clay, proudly displays an enlargement of the farm’s original 1830 land grant from Andrew Jackson to McGilbra Wyatt. Meanwhile, other son Jeff pollinates tomatoes with air from a leaf blower and grandson Casey picks a strawberry and plops it in his mouth. Casey marks the eighth generation of the family to work on the farm.
Jerry explained how he starting taking over the family farm from his father, Wayne, in the late-70s as Jerry continued his own career as an electrician. It was when Jerry’s other son, Matt, came home from Murray with a degree in horticulture in the 80s that the farming enterprise turned to flowers.  The Wyatts put up greenhouses, and raised and sold flowers and tomatoes.
It wasn’t long until they expanded.
“Our customers told us they needed shrubs and bushes as well as landscaping, so we added that,” Jerry said.
In the winter of 2002 and 2003, a heavy snow storm collapsed the 22 greenhouses the family used for production. When the greenhouses were rebuilt in 2006, they began hydroponic production, and in 2009, KY Hydro Farm became the family farm name.
Disaster struck again Dec. 30, 2014 when the building that housed the two boilers that provided heat for the greenhouse as well as a water storage tank and a tractor was consumed by a fire, set by an arsonist. Later in 2015, an ice storm caved in another smaller set of greenhouses.
Jerry shakes his head with remorse as he stands beside the large boiler that, while not destroyed by the fire, had to be completely rewired to become operational again. Because of the fire, the greenhouses stood empty during 2015.
The boilers were rewired and, by 2016, were once again heating the greenhouse with a roaring fire fueled by sawdust from a local sawmill.
The greenhouses are currently brimming with vegetables. The tomato that Jeff is pollinating and the strawberry that Casey picked are both part of a 10-section hydroponic greenhouse that is the production area of the farm.
However, the main “crop” in the greenhouse is lettuce. The farm’s website names the Wyatts the “lettuce specialists.” They grow four varieties: Bibb, Romaine, a green and purple leaf.
One might think KY Hydro Farm has a strong customer base locally. But, while they do market to three Paducah restaurants, the main lettuce customer is Fayette County Schools. The school system purchases the four lettuce varieties along with kale for school lunches.
Each week, lettuce is harvested with roots intact. Six plants are placed in a bag and two bags are boxed together, and Jerry makes the four-hour drive to Lexington with 160 boxes. And they keep selling even after the end of school, providing lettuce for the summer lunch program.
Why harvest the lettuce with the root? “It’s just common sense,” Jerry laughed.
“It has a longer shelf life that way since the lettuce is not treated with any type of preservative.”
While looking out over the float beds, the different growing stages of the lettuce can easily be spotted in preparation for harvest — making one want to say, “Bring on the vinaigrette.”
The different varieties of tomatoes include a standard beefsteak, a couple of heirlooms as well as a cocktail tomato, which is slightly smaller than a golf ball.
English cucumbers and eggplants are also grown hydroponically and sold to restaurants and at farmers markets.
The farm is always looking for marketing opportunities, so Jerry and Casey go to the Nashville Farmers Market on Saturdays and drop off winter CSA boxes in Clarksville and Nashville. They don’t offer summer CSAs because of the abundance from other local producers.
When the weather turns warm, they move the operation outside and grow large-scale for various farmers markets. The Wyatts have a head start, by starting most of their vegetable and herb plants in the greenhouse before transplanting them outside.
This year, KY Hydro Farm will have a booth at the Bowling Green Farmers Market, which is a 12-month facility, and the Wyatts are looking at going to Paducah as well.
With the adversity that the Wyatts have had to overcome, it might have been easy to stop, but quitting is not Jerry Wyatt.
“Why quit?” he said emphatically.
“What else have I got to do? Stay home, watch TV and weigh 300 pounds,” he laughed. “We don’t quit.”

Prepare your land for the Solar Eclipse

By Diane Turner
As Aug. 21 approaches, many things will be going on around town. On that day, Hopkinsville will be in the spotlight — or should I say “in the dark” — for a total of 2 minutes and 40 seconds as the Great American Total Solar Eclipse takes place.
Brooke Jung, who is the Hopkinsville eclipse coordinator, has had many inquiries about the eclipse from local landowners.
“We have two main questions when local residents call: they want to know how they can list their property as a place for people to rent during the eclipse or how to prevent people from using their property,” Jung said.
She wants this opportunity for locals to not be an inconvenience but a benefit.
“If people do not want their land to be used, I have suggested that they put up no trespassing signs, which they can get from their insurance company.”
Jung said extra law enforcement is being requested from the Kentucky State Police and the National Guard. Crowds are expecting to range from 50,000 to 60,000, in addition to the normal population.
If you want to list your property for use by campers or RVs, be sure to contact Jung at 270-887-4290 or log on to the events website, www.eclipseville.com. Listing your property on the website costs $15, and you can set your own price per night. Jung is currently working with HWEA on securing a dump site for RV waste at Cherokee Park.
“This way people do not have to worry about creating a waste site on their own property,” she said. “I have also suggested to people that they rent portable restrooms.”

Food vending
Sanitation and food safety is a concern since thousands of visitors will be flocking to the area. The Christian County Health Department is requesting that anyone who plans to sell food on their property contact the health department to get a temporary food permit. A 1-to-3 day permit is $50. A food permit for 4 to 7 days is $75, and 8 to 14 days is $100.
Chad Burch, environmental program manager at CCHD, said, “With every permit we will give out a set of Temporary Food Service Set-Up Guidelines. These guidelines explain how to set up a wash, rinse and sanitizing stations using a container system.”
According to the guidelines issued by the state, food vendors need the following items: a food permit, three buckets, a cooler with a spigot, a bucket for sanitizer, waste tank, metal stem thermometer, bleach or quaternary ammonia, test strips, soap and disposable hand towels, thermometer, hair restraint and gloves or a utensil to use as a barrier with ready-to-eat food.

The point of greatest eclipse is where the axis of the moon’s shadow passes closest to the earth, meaning that people who view the event from our area will have the best view of the moon’s coverage of the sun and its ring of light for the longest duration of time. This exact point is at the property of Mark Cansler, known as Orchard Dale Farm.
Jung said temporary cell phone towers will be put up around Cansler’s property to improve signal in the area. A VIP and media area will be set up, playing host to TIME magazine and other official media outlets covering the event.
Jung said she is in search of landowners who live near Pennyrile Parkway exits.
“We are discouraging people from just pulling over on the side of the road. There are many dangers associated with this practice. We are looking for landowners who live near the parkway, so that officials can route them to these properties for safe viewing sites.”

There will be nearly 15 events occurring during the weekend before the Eclipse. SolQuest, an evangelical event, is one of the larger happenings with over 6,000 people expected to attend. The Summer Salute Festival in downtown Hopkinsville expects to attract thousands as well. There will be 50 to 100 food vendors set up.
Other events are planned for Pennyrile State Park, Christian Way Farm, Copper Canyon Ranch, Casey Jones Distillery, Jefferson Davis Monument, James E. Bruce Convention Center, Stadium of Champions and MB Roland Distillery. The Kelly community will host the Kelly Little Green Men Festival, and Oak Grove has scheduled the Oak Grove Experience for the weekend.

The big question is “what happens if the weather is not favorable for viewing on the 21st?”
According to www.eclipse2017.org, “If it’s cloudy, you won’t see what you will see if it’s clear — simple as that. If the Sun is behind a cloud during totality, you will still experience the temperature drop, and the sunset glow on the horizon.”
Landowners or vendors can purchase event insurance from their local insurance company, in the event of rain or inclement weather. And it’s not a bad idea to have campers sign a waiver or to increase liability coverage if people will be staying on your property, Jung suggested. Also, do not forget to have eclipse-viewing glasses available. These can be purchased directly from the Parks and Recreation Department at the Thomas Street Center for $1 per pair.

Woman uses floral skill to cultivate greenhouses

Stacy Hight and Cheryl Boren work on succulent baskets that are a new addition to the plants available at C and G Greenhouse. Photos by Toni W. Riley

By Toni W. Riley
As she works through her greenhouse, gardener Cheryl Boren tends her plants, pruning and checking for insects and disease. The C and G Greenhouse is 100 feet long and 30 feet wide and filled with plants for sale at Exit 23 on Breathitt Parkway, or the Crofton exit.
Cheryl is one of the lucky people who have turned their love for something into a career. She always loved gardening, beginning when she was a child caring for flowers and a garden at the side of her grandmother, Ann Pyle.
As an adult, she worked at West and Witherspoon Florist and was an aide at Indian Hills Elementary School while her husband farmed in LaFayette. However, it was always her dream to have her own greenhouse business, and when Larry stopped farming in 1998, it was their goal to find some acreage to help her build a greenhouse and her career.
The couple found 25 acres right at the Crofton exit of Breathitt Parkway with a little farmhouse. She started with an 8-by-12-feet hobby greenhouse, and she and Larry steadily worked on evolving into a full-scale greenhouse.
In 1999, they built a 45-by-28-feet greenhouse and, in the next two years, two 100-by-30-feet greenhouses were constructed, along with a fern shed to comprise her C and G Greenhouse business.
Cheryl credits Larry for his help and support in developing the business, especially as the greenhouses are readied for planting each January.
“I couldn’t do it without him,” she said. “His concrete work slows down in the winter and he can help me bring in all the potting soil and supplies.
Cheryl purchases all of her bedding and perennial plants from “Proven Winners,” a company said to offer the best in new plants and production materials, according to its website.

Rows of hand planted petunias line the greenhouse tables.

Along with her assistant, Stacy Hight, the duo is certified Proven Winners design specialists, meaning that she and Stacy go through training courses with the company every year to learn new products and current trends.
Each plant she purchases comes as a “thimble size” plug of potting media with a tiny growing plant. Each plug is planted by hand into either a 4.5-inch pot or a six-plant compartment tray.
When asked how many plants they plant, Cheryl exclaimed, “Oh WOW, probably around 10,000.”  They plant continually to ensure a greenhouse full of plants continually through their sale season.
While Cheryl said the greenhouses have the typical bedding and perennial plants seen at any greenhouse, she takes a tremendous amount of pride in designing hanging baskets and container gardens.
“I don’t do typical,” she said. She falls back on her days at West and Witherspoon to help her with the floral design of each container or basket.
Cheryl scours garden and home magazines to see what is trendy and then creates that look for her customers. As she and Stacy plant the containers, she keeps a notebook of what plants are in each container. This enables her to know what combinations work best and what the best-sellers are.
A new section of plants for this season are succulents. She and Stacy have designed an array of containers with themes that hold the easy care plants. Themes included a desert, a beach and even some head sculptures that contain plants that will resemble hair as they grow.
A peak into one greenhouse will show hanging containers at various shapes and sizes, brightly colored watering cans that are container gardens, and even a basket imbedded in a tiny wrought iron bicycle. During the season, she and Stacy will plant 1,000 baskets.
Cheryl is very happy to work with customers who bring in a photo from a magazine and say “I want this.” She also helps customers select plants to design their own gardens inside containers they might bring with them or for containers at home. She works hard to educate her customers on how to keep their plants looking great all summer and not just when the plants leave the greenhouse.
As soon as her sales season is over she and Stacy attend a large garden show in Ohio and start planning for next year. She wants to be sure that when a customer sees something in a magazine she can say “Yes, we have it and we can help you with it.”
Over the 17 years she has been in business, Cheryl has seen steady growth, not only with local customers but with customers from as far away as Evansville and Nashville, she feels, because of the wide selection, quality and price of her plants as well her willingness to help her customers.
Cheryl summed up her growing career by saying it allows her to enjoy her two passions, gardening and trail-riding. When she closes up the greenhouse, she hits the trail and rides.
She really enjoys the people that come in. She enjoys meeting them and is excited to see new faces. It’s like a reunion when customers return.
“When you do something you love, you never work,” she said and smiled broadly.

New general manager says elevator continues to grow, improve

By Rhonda Werner

Eston Glover III, general manager for Hopkinsville Elevator

Hopkinsville Elevator has been a staple of the Christian County agriculture industry and surrounding areas for just shy of 50 years, and its new general manager, Eston Glover III, said business continues to grow.
Glover assumed the role of general manager for Hopkinsville Elevator’s Grain and Crop Insurance business Jan. 1, but Glover is not new to Hopkinsville Elevator. His career has spanned almost 20 years with Hopkinsville Elevator and throughout that time he’s worked his way up at several of the elevator’s locations and been involved in many facets of the
“I’ve worked at Hopkinsville Elevator since graduating from Murray State University in 1997,” he said. “I’ve worked at the South Union location, the Clarksville River Terminal and back here at the Hopkinsville office in grain merchandising over the course of my tenure.”
In speaking with Glover about his new role and responsibilities, he is excited about what the future holds for the organization. He mentioned that their focus is on their patrons and that number has continued to grow to roughly 3,500 stakeholders currently.
“The farmers are what keeps us in business and we want to make sure we take care of them to the best of our ability.”
Some of the improvements they have made over the past couple of years, and that they hope to continue to implement over the next few years, will focus on how to keep things running as smoothly and quickly as possible for their farmers.
“When you’ve had the growth that we’ve had combined with an overall increase in yields, it does bring to light some growing pains.” But, Glover knows that they are hard at work to ensure they can keep up with growing demands.
When Hopkinsville Elevator was founded in 1968, 180 investors proceeded to buy an existing grain facility which had the capacity to handle 634,000 bushels. Currently, Hopkinsville Elevator handles roughly 75 million bushels of corn, wheat and soybeans every year. They have six locations, Hopkinsville, South Union, Russellville, Guthrie, Clarksville and their Casky branch. Within these combined locations they have rail, truck and barge availability.
Some of the draw for farmers to Hopkinsville Elevator is their patronage payback to their stockholders, which is on a five-year schedule, as well as the Ethanol Tax Credit that their patrons receive currently. Because of recent additions to Hopkinsville Elevator, they also offer crop insurance, Ag retail and an ethanol plant, so as a whole, they can offer their patrons full service for many of their agricultural needs.
With Glover at the helm of grain and crop insurance for Hopkinsville Elevator, there is no doubt the customers will continue to be their primary focus, and customers should continue to see improvements going forward at their locations.
Eston lives in Todd County with his wife of 15 years Misty, and their two children, Eston IV and Cole who are in seventh and fourth grade respectively.

Cansler family says ‘grandparents would have wanted it this way’

By Sam Morgen
If Hopkinsville can be said to have won the solar lottery, then Mark Cansler and his family have won every game in the galactic casino and left the house bankrupt.
The Canslers own a field at the GPS coordinates 36.9664 north, 87.6709 west. Those coordinates will be the exact location where the moon will be closest to the earth during the 2017 solar eclipse.
Dubbed the point of greatest eclipse, the Canslers’ property has been singled out as the spot where the eclipse’s effects will be the greatest, and eclipse chasers from across the world will travel to Hopkinsville to visit the point of greatest eclipse. Not all those travelers will view the event from the Canslers’ property, but eclipse chasers intent for the purest experience available will find no better spot in the world.
That wasn’t what the Canslers expected or necessarily wanted.
Mark Cansler serves as a magistrate on the Christian Fiscal Court. His family owns property in Christian and Trigg counties. The field that will contain the point of greatest eclipse belongs to a farm started in 1919 by his grandparents, Otho and Tessie Shepherd.
The Canslers spent a long family meeting discussing whether to allow people onto their property for the 2017 eclipse.
“It was kind of a hard decision to make really, as to what’s the right thing to do,” said Lisa Bell, Mark’s sister. “There hasn’t been a lot to base the decision on.”
The Canslers worried about attracting too much attention to themselves and they worried about dealing with a crowd of people on Aug. 21, the day of the eclipse.
When the 2017 solar eclipse travels across the United States this August, nearly all of North America will experience at least a partial eclipse. To almost everybody, there will be little difference in viewing the eclipse at the point of greatest eclipse, or at some point a few miles away.
Property owners around the Canslers’ field have decided to open their property up for eclipse viewers as well. The Canslers worried about eclipsing their neighbors with the attention the area will receive from media companies and potential visitors.
Cansler said he wanted to ensure his neighbors received some recognition for being near the point of greatest eclipse.
But, some people’s desires to be at the actual spot where the eclipse’s effects will be the greatest cannot be satisfied with locations nearby. After much discussion, the Canslers decided to open their property to the public because they decided their grandparents would have wanted it that way.
“Our grandparents were very hospitable people and they believed very strongly in education. And in their time, they participated in community things, in things they thought were a benefit or a help to themselves, the longevity of their farm and to their small community,” Bell said.
“We kind of just felt like they probably would have wanted to be hospitable,” she added.
The farm itself has remained operational as a testament to Otho and Tessie. Bell said the family has farmed the land for three generations to keep the tradition alive.
“My mother and my aunt made very conscious decisions to keep the farm going whether it was a little or whether it was a lot.”
This year, the farm plot at the point of greatest eclipse was left fallow in preparation of the eclipse. The two-lane road that leads to the destination may become crowded with visitors on the day of the eclipse.
Two scientists from the University of California Berkeley recently visited Hopkinsville and described a total solar eclipse as an event that looks like the sun turns into a black hole and the blue sky turns into a star-filled night sky, except around the horizon, where a dusky glow rings the earth.
“Once you’ve seen a total solar eclipse you have to see another one,” said Dr. Laura Peticolas, one of the Berkeley scientists. “And people will spend their retirements to go see another one. I don’t recommend that at all, but I have heard it’s life-changing and a religious experience.”
For Bell, the eclipse is more than just a visual experience.
“This is a big opportunity for Hopkinsville and Christian County to show the state and the nation that is interested in the eclipse, that we are hospitable people and that we are welcoming people and that we want others to get a glimpse of maybe what life here is like,” she said.
With the eclipse more than five months away, Bell said she was already pleased with how the community had responded to the event.
“I’m proud for our whole area and our whole city, our whole country,” she said. “This is a historical event.”