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Florida Food Innovators: Chester Bullock
Every day is Earth Day at the Hydro Taste farm in Myakka City, which is most evident after seeing and tasting hydroponically grown strawberries – 60,000 strawberry plants on one-half acre.
Chester Bullock has owned the hydroponic farm for eight years, and he, also, invented the hydro-stacker system for people to try out at home and they are. “We do Earth Day, every day,” he said. “We save a lot of water by conserving water. It’s a major concern no matter where you go - water.” After developing hydroponic farms in over 31 countries,
Bullock said everyone wants to conserve water, and it’s a big factor for people all over the world when they are moving into hydroponic farming for their sustenance in environments with limited water. “We grow plants in vermiculite and pearlite in a vertical growing unit and we use no soil,” he said. “We are soil-less growers. We grow more because of the way we do it.” Instead the farm uses a micro-feed system that drips into each plant the exact amount needed three times a day, and, thus, water is not wasted. The farm uses only 5 percent of the conventional water usage.
When you step into the farm, thousands of plants grow upwards in layered containers, which allow pickers to cut off strawberries with scissors or other vegetables and fruits. “We are a no bending, no kneeling and every unit rotates 360 degrees, kind of farm,” Bullock added.
“He comes from a 150 year old farming family and you better believe that he has no interest in returning to “back breaking” traditional farming that he did with 10 other brothers growing up in Missouri. But is Bullock making money on the farm, living off the land? With 2,000 to 3,000 pickers a week, 14 employees, and a hydro-stacking system to sell; yes, Bullock is making money and expanding. “I am betting that by next year tomatoes are going to be priced at $5 each,” he said.
“People are going back to growing in their backyard. When I was growing up people had ‘Victory Gardens’ in their backyards, and now more and more people are doing that because of their hard hit budget.” For $139, people can have their own hydroponic garden that can grow 20 plants in 14 square inches of space. “Our hydro-stacking sales have increased 160 percent,” Bullock said, checking row after row of strawberry plants at his farm. “You can grow anything in there. The buzz words for people these days are ‘pure and natural.’”
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