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Cumming man grows herbicide- and pesticide-free lettuce
Circle A Farms uses hydroponic process to produce clean leafy green
0930lettuce7
Bibb lettuce grows at Circle A Farms in Cumming. The farm uses hydroponics to grow the leafy green.

Circle A Farms

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to noon Saturday

Address: Circle A Farms, 2955 Dishroom Road, Cumming

Prices: $4 to $5 per six ounces or head, some variations on pricing

More info: 770-652-3304, sales/delivery questions: 678-778-3114 or circlealettuce1@comcast.net

Jeff Adams always dreamed of becoming a farmer, but he didn’t have the land needed to make it a reality. So, he discovered a different way to harvest crops without soil.

“(I found out) how to do it without having a lot of land,” Adams said.

The 43-year-old saw a story in an agricultural magazine about hydroponics, which grows lettuce without soil and eliminates the need for herbicides or pesticides. Next, he attended a course on the subject.

The information in the class wasn’t completely new to him since he worked on his father’s farm for many years. But the specific knowledge he sought was the process of farming without soil.

“We took the plunge,” Adams said, explaining his wife and five children live on the farm.

Now the Forsyth County man owns and operates Circle A Farms in Cumming, which has sold hydroponic lettuce for the past five years.

“It’s the way lettuce is supposed to be,” sales coordinator Cheryl Howlin said, pointing out the leafy green is organic.

To grow lettuce without soil, a seedling cube is placed in a hole on a trough. For 24 hours a day, seven days a week, water runs through the trough. The sponge-like cube is made of fibers, which holds the roots together and acts as a host for the plant to receive the water it needs. Nutrients are added to the water through a machine, which Adams can control.

A seedling takes about 45 days or five weeks to reach maturity. Then one of the eight employees at Circle A will harvest it.

Some varieties take longer, but all can last up to three weeks in a refrigerator.

The troughs are sheltered from the elements in greenhouses, providing extra protection to the plants.

“If you take away weather problems and pests, what a perfect plant lettuce is,” Adams said.

Another benefit of hydroponic lettuce versus regular lettuce is it doesn’t need washing.

“You wash out most of the nutrients when you wash lettuce,” Adams said.

Therefore, employees wear gloves when harvesting the lettuce. It ensures the product is ready to be served once a customer buys it at Circle A Farms.

“It’s really as fresh as you can get it here,” Adams said.

Establishing such a unique farm business model has not always been easy. When Adams first started in March 2012, he hit a few hiccups — particularly with the nutrient machine.

“The nutrients got off balance,” Adams said.

The imbalance caused the lettuce to go bad after four days. Normally, lettuce lasts more than 10 days after harvesting.

Adams threw out the crop growing in the 14,000-square-foot greenhouse.

Circle A Farms hit another speed bump when Cumming was hit with an ice storm. It knocked out the greenhouse’s power, destroying the crop.

“It was an expensive mistake,” Adams said. “But they were all learning curves along the way.”

Five years into the business, Adams and his crew are succeeding by selling the hydroponic lettuce at a store on the farm at 2955 Dishroom Road in Cumming. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays year-round. The farm is closed to customers Fridays and Sundays. 

Of the lettuce varieties available for purchase at the store, customers can choose from a selection of spring mix, bibb, baby romaine, arugula, tropicana, baby kale, basil and microgreens. Most types are sold for $4 to $5 for a 6-ounce container.

Circle A’s goods can also be bought at Green’s Grocery in Gainesville. The store receives shipments on Fridays.

Hydroponic lettuce also is featured in meals at Re-cess, YellowFin and Inman Perk restaurants in downtown Gainesville.

“They spend a significant amount of money they wouldn’t have to spend to get the best,” Howlin said.

But soon the vegetables may wind up on consumers’ doorsteps, literally. Circle A Farms plans to offer farm-to-porch delivery services by December, Howlin said.

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