Matt Spitzer and Chase Werner, both 27, are the farm entrepreneurs behind Endless Sun Farms. In a 3,500-square-foot production space on the site of Raleigh City Farm in downtown Raleigh, they’re growing all sorts of lettuces, microgreens, and herbs — without using soil. Here’s the deal on how that’s possible.
Photo by John West
Matt and Chase have been friends since they met in Boy Scouts. They were members of a rather boisterous troop that was ultimately disbanded, but the two kept in touch over the years. Chase had been working with hydroponics systems since high school and Matt was an avid home gardener, so in 2013 they decided to launch their own endeavor. Endless Sun Farms has been growing commercially since then.
Endless Sun grows lettuces using mineral nutrient-enriched water instead of soil, which is not as complicated as it seems. “We grow utilizing both Hydroponics and Aquaponics,” they explain. “Both systems use a closed-loop recirculating nutrient solution.” They collect rainwater from the shopping center next-door — look for the rain barrels next to Endless Sun’s greenhouse — which is then recirculated into the closed-loop system. “This ‘closed loop’ results in virtually zero fertilizer runoff, one of the biggest environmental problems with industrial field agriculture.” It saves water, too: “We use about 90 percent less water than traditional agriculture.”
For the occasional pesky threat in the greenhouses, Matt and Chase “release beneficial insects and grow pest-resistant varieties.” Both are part of a comprehensive integrated pest management strategy.
It’s hard to beat the smell of fresh basil. “It’s our favorite plant to grow because it smells and tastes so wonderful.” Think beyond pesto and add basil to your omelets, whip it into butter with garlic and lemon, or muddle it in warm-weather cocktails. Or, look for it on the menu of a nearby restaurant. “When someone tells us that they enjoyed our lettuce or basil at a local restaurant, that really makes us feel good about being a part of all the exciting things happening in Raleigh.”
Matt and Chase appreciate the hybrid nature of what they’re growing. “Hydroponics is a great blend of farming, technology, and natural resource conservation.” The perfect combination of challenging and satisfying, “it’s easy to be passionate about it.”They don’t plan to slow down any time soon. “Working with our hands and growing produce from seed to harvest, fulfills us with a sense of purpose we hope to continue to have for many years to come.”