When Pat Bellrose, the co-owner of Fahr Greenhouse with his wife Mary Bellrose, was in college at the University of Missouri he was exposed to a lot of different concepts about agriculture. One such experiment was Sanborn Field, which was initiated in late 1888 by Dean J. W. Sanborn. The field tracks the affects of agricultural practices on soil. People visiting the University of Missouri campus today may see Sanborn Field and wonder what it is, because it sits right in the middle of the campus. It’s an odd place for a soil trial field, and many times the university has tried to move it. However, it is now a historic national landmark and its now protected and will forever stay in the middle of the campus, but as odd of an location it is, it has an important role. It was instituted to demonstrate the value of crop rotations and manure in grain crop production. Sanborn Field remains an important contribution to agriculture and helped shape Fahr Greenhouses philosophies.
While Bellrose was at University of Missouri, he remembers how research and demonstrations in Sanborn Field showed the “new high-tech” agriculture practices, like increasing tillage and high nitrogen applications, of the 1960’s caused the soil to deteriorate. Those findings he learned always stuck with Bellrose, and to this day his philosophy as a grower is: just because something shows immediate crop improvement, it is not necessarily the best thing for the crops or for the environment, in the long run. At Fahr Greenhouse we strive to be sustainable and make decisions in our growing process to help the environment.
It sounds simple, but today, in a day and age where profit margins are small in agriculture, it’s not always easy for businesses to care about the long-term effect agriculture has on the environment. But Fahr Greenhouse has been an innovative champion of sustainable practices before the word “sustainable” was popular. Many people can claim their business are sustainable, but few truly are. Sustainable agriculture uses farming techniques to produce food, or other plant or animal products, that protect the environment, public heath, human communities and animal welfare.
One of the many ways Fahr Greenhouse is sustainable is by the soil we make. Our very own soil mix “recipe” — which is made on-site and by hand — uses rice hulls. Rice hulls (or husks) are the outer covering that protects the rice and is removed once its harvested. Rice hulls were formally a waste product, which made a nightmare for farmers to get rid of because of the large volume created after a harvest. Now, Fahr Greenhouse uses it in our soil to add aeration to the soil and to provide a sustainable soil environment. Our soil also contains beneficial microorganisms to reduce fertilizer usage or fungicide usage.
Our sustainable agriculture practices start at our soil mix and continue throughout our growing operation. The plants we grown in the Midwest need to be kept warm while growing. We use a biofuel boiler that was invented on-site and built by the owners when they converted an old coal burning boiler into a biofuel boiler that now uses wood chips.
Pest are the number one enemy of greenhouses; years ago heavy pesticides were used in greenhouses across the USA. At Fahr Greenhouse we are sustainable in our pest management. We use environmental control, like air movement and low fertilizer to reduce sugar in the plant. We use physical removal of pests which is done by hand, and scouting of pests. Scouting of pests involves using yellow sticky cards that collect the pests and also examining the plants as we look for insect and disease. We spray for pests according to a high-pest pressure on the plant, versus spraying on a timetable when plants may not need to be sprayed. Fahr Greenhouse uses a lot less fertilizer than other growers because we know how to use the optimum amount of fertilizer verses the maximum amount the soil can withstand.
Fahr Greenhouse is also sustainable with the containers we use. We reuse and recycle everything we can, for both our use and our customers use. Our greenhouse roofs are made from a heavy plastic that transmit the best sunlight but it is a very good conductor of heat when the sun is shinning.
For a small business, being sustainable takes time and Bellrose said it’s difficult to get other business to cooperate with the sustainable practices implemented on our site. But it’s worth it. In the end, the quality of our plants are not just better, but the best locally grown plants. We are proud to produce plants that not only don’t hurt the environment, but actually help the environment.
According to Bellrose, he believes we should all care about sustainability, because it is our children and our grandchildren’s future we should be concerned about. What we hope to accomplish by being a sustainable grower is to grow plants for our community that enhance their homes without harming our future or the environment.