By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Greenhouses have been used since the time of the Roman Empire. A couple of Virginia Beach entrepreneurs are planning to use this old technology to harness the sun’s energy in a big way.

Their company, Sunny Farms, plans to invest $60 million to build hydroponic greenhouses on more than 30 acres, about 25 football fields, over three years. It would be one of the largest greenhouse facilities on the East Coast. The goal is to produce fresh vegetables for the big box chain stores in Hampton Roads, as well as for military commissaries. In its first year of operation, the company projects it will grow 10 million plants.

Just as importantly, the operation will create 155 new jobs, with an average annual salary of $51,500. Employees will include horticultural scientists and production specialists.

My Soapbox. Even hydroponic farming is not new.  The Department of Corrections started using hydroponic greenhouses many years ago to grow vegetables for use in inmate dining halls. Now, every prison has at least one such greenhouse, and some have several. Typically, they grow lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes. I am a lover of fresh tomatoes grown outdoors in dirt and, therefore, was skeptical of the hydroponic tomatoes. I was pleasantly surprised that they were pretty good. The cucumbers are those specially bred for hydroponics. The vines grow up heavy twine that has been erected on frames and the cucumbers themselves are thin and over a foot long.

This operation is obviously not on the scale of Amazon or even Amazon distribution centers, but small businesses are vital for a healthy economy. And, 155 new, good-paying jobs is good news anywhere.

One of the founders of the company is from Pungo, the traditionally agricultural section of Virginia Beach. Each year, on my annual vacation to Sandbridge, I see additional subdivisions where fields used to be. At least, this new project will be continuing the agricultural tradition of that area, just in a different format.


Share this article



ADVERTISEMENT

(comments below)



ADVERTISEMENT

(comments below)


Comments

16 responses to “An Old Use of Solar Power”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar
    LarrytheG

    Now that’s an EXCELLENT blog post! More and more research is going into growing plants in greenhouse environments – where there is more control over things like rain and what kind and how much fertilizer and how to control insects and critters that eat the veggies – much better control and much less use of harmful pesticides that get into the environment when used in open fields.

    We’ll probably never grow commodities like wheat and corn or soybeans but a lot of other veggies are possible.

    Here’s an evil corporate commercial :

    https://ispot.tv/a/tvNo

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      Well, gee, one thing where I agree with the Climate Catastrophe Crowd is that the whole Earth is a greenhouse, Larry! 🙂 Otherwise we’d not even be around…No GHG and no you and me!

  2. LarrytheG Avatar
    LarrytheG

    Here’s the mother of all greenhouses, now 30 years old:

    https://rt-homepage.roadtrippers.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/shutterstock_177804941.jpg

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      Where is this thing?

    2. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      The biggest is supposedly in England, where they are growing a rain forest.

  3. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
    Baconator with extra cheese

    One issue with large scale greenhouse is increased impermeable surfaces, especially in the Bay watershed where we are spending 100s of millions on restoration each year. There are also industrial-scale groundwater use issues in the eastern half of VA….
    There could also be an issue with increased albedo rates, which surprisingly seldom comes up in the climate change discussion. Plus birds and insects are fooled by the surfaces to think they are water… no good for these critters.
    But putting these greenhouse on brownfields or other contaminated land could be a beneficial engineering control that essentially serves as a cap.

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      You make valid points. If the choice between the use of the land was between greenhouses and traditional farming, then, yes, there would be a decrease in permeable surfaces. But, I suspect that, if the greenhouses were not constructed, the land likely could have been used for an apartment or townhouse development or a shopping center, all of which would mean even less permeable surface.

      Water in hydroponic greenhouses can be recycled.

      I had not thought about birds, but should have. In doing a little internet research, it seems there are products or methods that can be used to make the glass less attractive to birds, while not decreasing the sunlight.

      1. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
        Baconator with extra cheese

        Art Evans (the bug guy from NPR & UR professor) wrote an incredible public comment recently on the Solar PBR reg action (9VAC 15-60) where he goes nto depth of the issues with solar panels and insects. It’s an amazing point regarding “green” infrastructure. It is worth a read if you like nerdy stuff!
        Approximately 60,000 acres of solar are under development… not a small issue.

    2. Eric the half a troll Avatar
      Eric the half a troll

      Hydroponics relies heavily on water soluble fertilizer. Most (if not all) water soluble fertilizer is manufactured from natural gas feedstock. Far from carbon neutral.

      1. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
        Baconator with extra cheese

        Agreed… one aspect of the “evil” fracked natural gas no one seems to discuss. Without fertilizers it’s hard to feed a growing population.

  4. WayneS Avatar

    Getting ready to grow legal marijuana.

    1. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
      Baconator with extra cheese

      Bingo!

    2. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
      Baconator with extra cheese

      Which is a huge carbon plus industry! But equity knows no bounds!

  5. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    You can lead a horticulture, but ya can’t make her think.

    Extremely large greenhouses in Mexico provide a lot of fruits and vegetables year round to US tables.

    If I remember correctly, this place was a venture investment from the Carlyle Group. Right goes left.

    https://vineyardgazette.com/news/2014/02/04/room-grow-together-island-grown-farms-hydroponic-greenhouse-progresses

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      Neither party owns the sun. 🙂 It is ALL solar power, just stored in some cases, even uranium. And as I recall Carlyle also played a role when NNS spun off from Northrop Grumman. I know Blackrock did but I’m also remembering Carlyle. Could be wrong.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Probably did. The ” problem” with labeling, or assuming, the position of investment companies based on PAC money, ads, etc., is that they invest. Cash is King, all else is venture, including politics.

Leave a Reply