Herbs from Rolling Hills Greenhouse, West Union, Iowa

But first we tour an herb farm in Decorah. As the temperatures drop and the winter winds sweep across Iowa.


But first we tour an herb farm in Decorah. As the temperatures drop and the winter winds sweep across Iowa trying to find fresh, local ingredients becomes very challenging. In West Union, Rolling Hills Greenhouse is using a soil free farming practice called hydroponics. They’re also crunching scientific data to supply herbs and greens to eastern Iowa all year long, even when the state is in a deep freeze. The impressive Rolling Hills Greenhouse is owned and operated by the Unruh family. This deeply religious family requested not to be interviewed on camera but were very generous in encouraging us to tour their facility and get a glimpse of their gorgeous produce. Fern Unruh: For ten years we have been touring hydroponic greenhouses because we, it just appealed to us, the growing, the technology, it’s just an intense farming operation is what it is. We put seeds into rockwool rocks. They’re heated up and spun and it is a nice soil for it to germinate in there. The misters going on and off to keep it moist. Jason Unruh: It goes from the mister sprouts on there for half a week and it goes to our flood tables. Fern Unruh: These tubes are feeding nutrition into the flood tables and they’re sitting in a perfect solution. Jason Unruh: When you grow in soil you don’t think about it very much, you just add water and maybe a little bit of nitrogen or something like that. Basically it just has — it is pH adjusted water with fertilizer added as needed and we’re splashing it into the tank to get some oxygen in the water so that our roots still get oxygen even though they’re not in soil where here we just start with water and we put everything we need in the water to make the plants grow correctly. It’s kind of going at it backwards in a way but it seems to work. Outside you just grow on crop for one season. Here we’re always turning over — every half week we plant seeds, every half week we harvest therefore we have a continuous rotation. It is a challenge to grow crops year round. The greenhouse building’s design is key to creating this perpetual growing season. Jason Unruh: The building is situated north to south. A flower greenhouse is situated east to west. They say you can get more sunlight in the building if it is situated east to west in the springtime. But when you’re running year round you want an even amount of sunlight no matter what time of the year it is. It is also on a one degree slope from the north to the south. Therefore, we’re catching a little more sunlight when the sun is on an angle and every little bit of sunlight counts. We have a main controller computer. We just do all our settings, which is quite a challenge to set up all those, get all your temperatures right. Otherwise the whole system is automated. Fern Unruh: We document — every seed that gets planted has a date on it so that when we harvest it we also know how long it is taking to come through. Jason Unruh: We’re constantly making experiments on different kinds of herbs, different kinds of lettuce, different numbers of seed per unit, things like that. And it’s interesting doing all that. Fern Unruh: Our Tropicana, Greenleaf and our red oak and our lettuce, our red lettuce combos, we’re doing multi. Even our romaine is a multi seed because we’ll get more per pod in poundage. We’re not wanting a head. We want more lettuce out of each one so that’s what we did. The first few months we were making sure we could grow a good product. We never wanted to introduce something that we would regret. And then we started to give it away as samples, put it on their desk and say, if you have any other lettuce put this in beside it, I challenge you to just use it for a week. Basil is by far our biggest seller. People love pesto sauce made out of basil. Jason Unruh: We also grow some mint, cilantro, dill, parsley, we do our arugula for our arugula mix in the lettuce, three different varieties of leaf lettuce which would be the green leaf, the red leaf and the romaine leaf lettuce. Their diligence is being rewarded. Rolling Hills Greenhouse is now delivering over 14,000 salads and nearly 200 pounds of bulk lettuce and herbs weekly to eastern Iowa. Jason Unruh: Our main customers are Hy-Vee stores. We also have some co-ops that we deliver to. Fern Unruh: Our West Union town here, the hospital, the rest homes and then we also have Cedar Rapids Mercy Hospital. We like to think of it as a

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