High-Tech Lettuce Farm Feeds the Hungry

Thanks to a partnership between TVA, Joe Wheeler EMC and Manna House, fresh lettuce and other grocery basics are made available to those who need them in Huntsville, Alabama.

MAY 7, 2019 — Feeding the homeless and those in need has been an ongoing mission for the Manna House—a non-profit serving the Huntsville, Alabama, community since 2004. Through a partnership with TVA, the Manna House now harvests 5,250 heads of fresh lettuce each week to help provide for the basic needs of approximately 3,000-5,000 families a week on average.

“It’s expensive to buy that much lettuce, so we decided there had to be a better way to have a more consistent supply at an affordable price,” Manna House Director Fran Fluhler said.

The answer came from TVA’s EnergyRight Solutions for Business + Industry program. The program helps businesses in the Valley be more productive and competitive through advice, incentives and access to a network of trained, vetted contractors to help install smart energy technologies.

The results of the partnership directly improve lives in the Valley.

TVA’s incentive helped Manna House offset startup costs to establish their Fields of Green Hydroponic Garden—a new 15,000-square-foot indoor lettuce farm capable of producing 21,000 heads of lettuce every month. The farm has 1,300 LED electric lamps powered by Joe Wheeler EMC.

“The plants are grown in a sterile media within a controlled environment,” said Gary Jordan, a Manna House volunteer who runs the hydroponic farm. “We pull the entire plant, roots and all, immerse them in cool water and deliver them locally within 24 hours.”

Manna House donates 10 percent of their lettuce harvest to other ministries and non-profits each month. From what is left, they sell about half to local caterers and restaurants. Proceeds from the lettuce sales are used to buy shelf-stable groceries and other basic necessities, which supplement the fresh salads they provide for those in need. Because of the Fields of Green Hydroponic Garden’s lettuce sales, Manna House is able to buy and distribute about 28-30 pallets of groceries each day to families who wait in line for up to three hours to be served.

“TVA’s partnership has been such a blessing. I loved the fact that they cared enough to come back and walk through the garden,” Fluhler said. “Some of their employees even came down and volunteered at the Manna House.”

For more about Manna House, click here. 

This story is excerpted from an original story in Alabama Living magazine by Michael Cornelison. All photos by Michael Cornelison.

“Together, we are serving the community through smart energy technologies and the wise use of electricity. This is exactly what Public Power is meant to be.”

– Bonnie Latta, senior manager of EnergyRight Solutions for Business + Industry