Photos by Austin Keating
OPERATORS: Joy Lane Produce in West Salem, Ill., is owned and operated by Andrew and Heather Spray.
CHANGE OF DIRECTION: Andrew is a full-time farmer while wife Heather works full time as a compliance manager at AgReliant Genetics. In response to COVID-19, the couple changed direction for their greenhouse, where they grow lettuce and other mixed greens in a hydroponic system.
RISING INPUTS: Andrew says inputs such as plastic packaging are going up in price. Despite not raising prices over the past four years since building their greenhouse, the Sprays may soon have to.
HEIGHT OF SUMMER: Andrew says in the height of summer, it takes an average of five to six weeks for a crop to reach a mature enough size to harvest in the greenhouse.
SHINING DOWN: Without artificial lighting, Andrew relies on sunlight to grow his crops. To control light, he puts a shade cloth over the greenhouse by mid-June, removing it by about mid-August.
MAINTENANCE: Algae can build up around the lines that send fertilized water through the hydroponic system, so Andrew pushes air through to clean them out.
CONSISTENCY: While romaine lettuce demand was notably consistent from restaurants pre-COVID-19, Andrew says consumers still go for the product, just with “spottier” demand.
PLANTING: Andrew and Heather stagger planting dates to have a more manageable harvest.
STARTERS: Heather says Joy Lane Produce starts all its crops from seed, watering them at first before eventually submerging their root systems in water.
HONOR SYSTEM: Heather says the produce shed they have outside their house on Route 130 operates on an honor system that has worked out well so far.
DROP IN: Customers drop money in this box after taking lettuce from the produce stand. Sometimes the produce stand carries tomatoes from other farmers they work with.