AUTRYVILLE — Wendy Woolard’s family had been farmers for a century, but a change in the economy left several turkey houses sitting abandoned. They were, however, the perfect location for a business venture.
A couple years ago, Wendy and her husband, Jeff, began growing lettuce. The opportunity began in the greenhouse, but the couple soon developed an interest in expanding and growing the greens inside.
According to Wendy, lettuce is a winter crop, and the hot and humid temperatures of North Carolina summers aren’t conducive to good lettuce growing. That’s when the Woolards started thinking hydroponic.
Thus Autryville’s Buzz was born.
Hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil, using mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent. Immediately, the Woolards could only think of the many benefits of using this growing method.
“North Carolina summers are hot,” Wendy explained. “We wanted to be able to grow our lettuce year-round. Using the hydroponic method allows us to do that, and grow our produce pesticide free.”
The water source — a 350 gallon tank reserve that completely regulates the pH and allows for 90 percent of the water used to be recycled back through the tank.
“This method is more sustainable than growing it in the ground,” Wendy pointed out.
The idea to grow lettuce, Jeff said, came from a bad experience in a grocery store buying the vegetable. Despite the date on the packaging being days away, Jeff explained that the lettuce looked and smelled funny.
“Our product is pulled fresh, taken straight to the grocery store, market or restaurants,” he shared. “We don’t spray our greens with any type of preservative, and if you look at it, you can surely tell the difference in the products that are shipped to the store.”
The Woolards’ lettuce business includes Romaine, Butter Crunch Bibb, herbs and microgreens. Their produce grows on a 30-40 day cycle, where as the typical, in ground growing method, takes approximately 55 days.
At one time, there are approximately 300 heads of the Butter Crunch Bibb lettuce and 100 heads of the Romaine growing. Wendy, who handles the day-to-day operations of the business, keeps the product checked, and harvests on a daily schedule.
“This is truly a labor of love,” Jeff said. “It has definitely been a learning adventure for us. We love working to make sure our customers come back.”
Autryville’s Buzz can be found in the Carlie C’s IGA in Stedman, the Farmer’s Market in downtown Fayetteville and Wilmington, and Circa 1800 restaurant in Fayetteville. The Woolards are hoping to expand.
“Our goal is to grow what we have and share our passion with more people,” Wendy attested.
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.