For Darin Kelly, Good Life Farms is a dream realized from years of having his hands in the dirt.
From the time he was five years old, Darin has always loved growing things. One of his earliest memories of gardening is planting maple keys and growing trees in a plot that his parents set aside for him. As an adult, Darin says everywhere he has lived he has turned every bit of soil into garden space. However, the leap from hobbyist to farmer took some time. It was almost by chance that he and his wife Deb fell into farming.
“About seven years ago we set up our first little roadside stand because we had some excess vegetables… We ended up selling $100 of vegetables in an afternoon on a Sunday,” says Darin. After the surprise success of their roadside stand, he says they began to recognize that they could potentially turn this idea into something bigger, and, nearly a decade later, they have.
“We all of the sudden figured out maybe we could make money doing our favorite hobby,” he says. Darin started renting plots for vegetables all over southern Indiana, pieces here and there from whoever had space. After operating this way for a year and a half Darin decided to look into hydroponic growing, a system that is soilless and uses long rows of tubing to house plants, providing nutrients by constantly running mineral-rich water over the tips of each plant’s roots.
After doing some research, Darin and Deb purchased 100 used channels from Amhydro Commercial Hydroponics and set up their first greenhouse in Eminence, Indiana.
The system is incredibly sustainable. While at first it may seem that constantly running water to irrigate plants would dramatically increase water use, Darin says that hydroponic systems save water.
“It actually uses about 1/5 or 1/6 of the water that you use in the field,” Darin says. This is in part due to the fact that the channels themselves are mostly closed, preventing evaporation. He says there is also the added benefit of preserving the soil around them.
“We don’t turn over one bit of soil. We don’t have any runoff of any kind. There’s nothing being leeched into the creeks around us,” he explains.
On top of all of this, the yields are also great. In 3,000 square feet of greenhouse and 325 channels, Good Life Farms produces an average of 67,600 heads of lettuce annually.
It’s a lot of hard work. Like most farmers, Darin and Deb don’t get days off or take long trips. They are tied to their greenhouse, but they don’t seem to mind.
“It’s a social event for us. The customers we deal with every week? That’s our social outing,” Darin says. Deb agrees: “It makes you feel good when you are doing stuff like this and then you go out and see your customers and they are so thankful for it.”