November 11, 2019
From a young girl with a love of science and growing food in the family garden to being the Head Grower at an indoor facility producing millions of pounds of produce a year, the path of FarmHer Denise DeRue has been a fun one!
I arrived at Bright Farms Chicagoland location with my excited hat on, ready to learn about how this young woman and the company overall grows so much fresh greens and still focuses on being local. Before I stepped foot inside, I got a quick overview of the facility from General Manager Tony Paar. It was clear from the getgo that this facility is all about process and operations - the biggest key to making sure the food they grow is reliable and safe to eat. Step one was trading in my excited hat for a hairnet, always a wonderful look BUT very important when it comes to food saftey!
Then as I stepped through the door, my feet went through a “bath” to clean any of the previous farm off my boots. Now, let the learning begin! Inside I met Densie DeRue. Following her love of science and growing things, she fell in love with Cornell and went there for plant science. There she started learning about plants, learning about plant breeding and realized there was a need for educated growers who knew how to grow plants sustainably but also knew the science behind it. She then shifted to sustainable plant production. After graduation the opportunity to be an Apprentice Grower came up at Bright Farms and she jumped on it. Once there she learned all aspects of the system, gaining experience in hydroponics and learning about food production more in depth.
Our first stop once inside the farm was the Germination room, a super humid, slightly cool room where racks and racks of tiny seeds were germinating in large styrofoam trays. Denise, the Head Grower and focus of my FarmHer camera today explained that the seeds spend a few days in this perfect environment for them to sprout.
Once they sprout they are moved out into the hydroponic ponds...the next stop on our tour! We walked further back into the large facility until the roof opened up into a football field worth of glass above us and ponds almost as far as the eye could see with varying levels of green leaves growing up out of them. We walked to the back where Denise explained that the plants start. The styrofoam trays are gently placed into the ponds and float there so the tiny plants can absorb the water beneath. As they grow and new seeds are added, the trays are moved forward. In anywhere from 10-14 days they arrive on the other end of the pond, as full grown greens, ready to be harvested and Denise is responsible for everything that happens in between!
She explained that as they are growing she is constantly monitoring the plants and water they grow in, making sure that the environment is optimal. She introduces beneficial pests as needed - these take care of the non-beneficial pests. She also tests the water, making sure that it is properly balanced to provide the best growing environment.
Denise DeRue is a pretty amazing young FarmHer. Using her love of science and growing plants she has thrown herself into her career where she also loves the idea to bring a fresh product to local markets.
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