FIELD TO FORK: Strawberry farm blossoming in Fruitdale

FRUITDALE — Construction on two greenhouses that will house 22,000 strawberry plants in northern Brown County will begin this week.

The new hydroponic farm near Fruitdale will use water instead of soil to carry nutrients to plants.

About seven years ago, Hydro Harvest LLC owner Neil Perry and his brother became “obsessed” with growing their food.

“Then it turned into, ‘Is it possible to do this for a living commercially?’” Perry said.

After six years of researching with his backyard greenhouse, Perry raised the money to get the farm going. He and his wife Valerie, who live in Bargersville, created the LLC for the farm.

Perry said this would be the first commercial strawberry farm in the state. He said they have a contract in the works with Naturipe, the second-largest berry grower in the country, to sell their strawberries in local grocery stores.

The farm’s main crop will be strawberries. They’ll be grown naturally, using no herbicides or pesticides.

“It’s truly as natural as you can possibly get — no chemicals whatsoever,” Perry said.

“I have kids. I have always been a huge advocate of fresh food, natural food. I like food that won’t make our kids glow in the dark.”

“It’s a lifestyle that we lead. If we don’t know the source of our food, we try not to eat it.”

The owners bought 4.75 acres at 6092 State Road 135 North, which currently contains a dilapidated home and a garage. Perry said they might put an office in the house, but for now, they are focused on getting ready for the growing season.

Perry said he also intends to sell to larger distributors, including one that serves Indianapolis Public Schools. He is talking with Center Grove School Corp. as well.

“(Center Grove Schools) go through about 600 pounds a week, which is about the amount we’ll be producing out of those two greenhouses. I’m not sure we’ll ever outgrow the demand.”

Perry estimates that 80 percent of his customers will be commercial.

“But we also like to have a little fun, so we’ll do some farmers markets and we’ll have a roadside stand,” he said.

Perry said the farm also wants to work with local volunteer fire departments to do strawberry festivals as their fundraisers.

The first crop of strawberries is expected to be ready at the end of July or early August — “right in time for school,” Perry said.

Field trips to the farm will also be available for local schools, he said.

“We’re going to have an education piece to the farm so people can come and see how they are grown, learn about hydroponics in general, but see how these berries are grown locally,” Perry said.

The community, including local government entities, have supported the new farm, Perry said.

“I had zero kickbacks from anyone. I’ve had several people stop by while I was at the property just to talk about what we’re doing. Community support is definitely there, that’s for sure,” he said.

Perry said he’ll eventually add another greenhouse and develop processes for tomatoes, peppers and “other stable produce we don’t have access to locally.”

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Suzannah Couch grew up in Brown County, reading the Brown County Democrat. A 2013 Franklin College graduate, she covers business, cops/courts, education and arts/entertainment.