The attraction of opposites: Using both soil and soilless production to enhance diversified vegetable and fruit operations - Part 1

For horticultural crop producers, the balance between specialization and diversification on their farms must be continually managed. These days, the concept of diversification does not just apply to the types of vegetables planted in the field or varieties of trees in the orchard. Horticultural growers around the country have a wide variety of growing systems available to them to enhance the selection of crops they market and the seasons in which they are able to harvest and sell. Visiting with some of these experienced and diverse growers is really the best illustration of the potential of diversification. For me, a summer day spent traveling across central Pennsylvania certainly did reveal some intriguing paths to diversification.

As I followed the small, winding road through rolling Pennsylvania hills, there was no danger of missing Yarnick’s because all first-time visitors are guided by a road sign. As I approached the farm, greenhouses filled the valley and clearly illustrated diversification in action. Dan and Lynette Yarnick have been building and expanding the business for over 30 years, and their son Joey has also come on board to lead the farm into the next generation of diversification. The current farm market, which was certainly bustling, was built more than half a dozen years ago and is the direct-marketing portion of the Yarnick’s business. In the market, Lynette retails a variety of vegetables and fruits, along with their own Black Angus beef and many other food and gift items. In addition to supplying the farm market, Yarnick produce is marketed through SuperValu supply chains, Giant Eagles grocery stores and Eat ‘n Park restaurants.

It all started back in 1981 when Dan read a short article on hydroponic tomatoes in the Farm Journal. Although the farm was currently focused on dairy cattle and agronomic crops, Dan was intrigued by the possibilities of vegetable production that was not all tied to the season. From this first experience with tomatoes in a hydroponic greenhouse over 30 years ago, Yarnik’s farm has grown to about 300 acres in vegetable production. With this many acres under production, obviously the soil-grown portion of the crop has expanded. Yarnick’s field crops range from cabbage, leaf lettuce, candy onions, watermelon, cantaloupe, and zucchini to a large and well-known crop of sweet corn. Season extension practices, such as the use of row covers, enable Yarnick’s to expand the production season of their soil-grown vegetable crops. However, the hydroponic greenhouses have multiplied over the years as well and still play a very important role in the business. Currently, Dan is producing many varieties of hydroponic tomatoes- both modern and heirloom beefsteak and cherry varieties- along with peppers, cucumbers, eggplants, green beans, and even some giant radishes in spring.

Over the years, Dan has developed a hydroponic growing system that fits his needs as well as the palettes of his customers. He now grows in peat bags rather than the perlite or rockwool system that many hydroponic growers use because he prefers the way peat allows him to manage moisture and fruit quality. This hydroponic tomato crop is typically seeded in December to enable 10 months of production from March until November. Along with Dan’s tomatoes, Lynette also produces hydroponic lettuce and herbs in the living produce section of the market. Here, customers, who range from individuals to restaurant chefs can select and harvest their own fresh produce. A visit to Yarnick’s Farm Market demonstrates that diversity and freshness are much more than catch phrases at Yarnicks, and they look forward to continuing the fine tradition and the “Charm of Yarnick’s Farm”.

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