SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Agriculture is Georgia’s number one industry, but there is one local farmer innovating the way growers do business in the Peach State.
Grant Anderson, owner of BetterFresh Farms, says traditional farming goes back countless generations for his family in Effingham County. But many family, friends, and neighbors near Guyton thought he was taking a huge risk when he walked away from his job in finance to start BetterFresh Farms two years ago.
“A lot of them thought I was a little crazy,” Anderson said with a chuckle, recounting their reaction to his decision to grow lettuce hydroponically.
The Agriculture Commissioner’s Office reports BetterFresh is the first commercial hydroponics farm to be established in Georgia. Anderson is investing in a new hydroponics container that’s state-of-the-art and it will double his lettuce production.
The new equipment was built in Canada by a company called Local Food Champions. Jason Carrier, President and owner, was on hand for delivery, his first to the Peach State.
“This is absolutely the future and this is bigger than all of us,” Carrier said. “So we are hoping we can get out there and feed some people. Farm to table in record time. This is farming for everybody.”
Hydroponics requires no soil, 90% less water than pivot irrigation, and eliminates the need for chemicals to control weeds and insects. Anderson only needed enough land to place two growing units — each is roughly the size of a shipping container — to bring this futuristic farming method to Effingham County.
“It doesn’t require the soil. It just requires the moisture to germinate,” he explained. “From there, we give it a nutrient recipe that supplies it enough nutrient to grow for a few weeks until it matures to a point where we can move it into our towers.”
The grow towers are the real game-changers for farming when it comes to harvest.
“It takes the seasonality out of harvesting, which is huge from a farm operation, as far as being able to cash week-in and week-out every year and not worry about the bumper crop or the drought that may impact your crop,” Anderson said. “We have consistent volume each week.”
BetterFresh Farms is moving operations to Candler County after joining a partnership with the City of Metter and Georgia Southern University, launching an Agri-Business Incubator. It’s got the backing of the Agriculture Commissioner’s Office under their “Georgia Grown” branding.
“Georgia Grown is going to be a tremendous partner, as far as the marketing of our product and helping people becomes aware of how we do what we do,” said Anderson.
City leaders in Metter say their new partnership with Anderson does more than just bring his farm to their town, it helps them lead the way in terms of one of the future paths for farming. Heidi Jeffers, the Tourism & Business Development Director for the City of Metter, says hydroponic farming can be a powerful weapon in the fight against hunger.
“It changes how we feed our people in Georgia and all over the United States. Hydroponics is a great technology that’s coming about with some great new changes and we are certainly excited to have this in Metter,” Jeffers said, adding that the city is proud to partner with a farming pioneer in Georgia.
“We’re excited to be on the cutting edge of hydroponics,” she said. “With this, it’s completely organic, uses less water, and really changes, a game-changer for this type of produce.”
Thinking of his ancestors, Anderson believes it might have taken some real convincing to bring them onboard when it comes to launching BetterFresh Farms, but he says he’s sure they are proud he’s carrying the family tradition in agriculture forward.
“It may not be the way my ancestors would have envisioned farming working out, but I feel like, with time, we’re all supposed to try and improve,” he said. “I feel like this was my opportunity to maybe pick the torch up and run with it.”
Georgia grown hydroponic crops a hit with Savannah chefs
The choice of lettuce as a crop was a no brainer for Anderson, given his proximity to Savannah and the hundreds of restaurants in business in the Hostess City.
“Virtually every restaurant needs lettuce,” Anderson said. His clients rave about his product being locally grown and organic.
Chef Andrew Wilson with the Emporium Kitchen and Wine Market is most pleased to have a produce vendor who can customize his crop to meet the needs of his recipes.
“The really cool thing is that, not only can say that we are supporting a local farm, but I can also say that they are growing what I ask them to grow specifically for this menu, which in turn means specifically for you the guest. It’s like you’re getting exclusivity,” Wilson explained.
One of Savannah’s newest pizza parlors, Squirrel’s Pizza on Bull Street, is nuts about BetterFresh lettuce.
“It flies outta here. The product that comes in, we can barely hold on to it,” said Jimmy Powell, Managing Partner with Squirrels. “We’re making phone calls the next day asking for special deliveries and requests.”
Anderson says his customer list is growing. He adds that he’s never missed a delivery in two years, and even though he’s up against giants in the industry — he likes his chances for future growth.
“Personally, I believe I have a competitive advantage, even if I am a small fish in a big pond, so to speak,” Anderson said with a grin on his face and a gleam in his eye.
Learn more about his work at betterfreshfarms.com