New York Man Rebounds from Manufacturing Layoff, Finds New Career in Hydroponic Farming
November 13, 2013 | Jenny Smiechowski
When the manufacturing company he worked for closed in 2008, John Bolton was prepared for the next stage of his career. Bolton learned the company was planning to close a few years before it happened, so he immediately began exploring alternatives. His research led him to a rapidly growing industry: hydroponic farming.
“I realized that hydroponic farming was quickly expanding in North America,” says Bolton. “So I studied agriculture and the hydroponic methodology, and put together a business plan by the time our manufacturing company closed.”
Bolton started Bolton Farms in Hilton, New York with one primary objective: providing income for his family. He also recognizes that employing sustainable growing methods makes good business sense. “I thought at the time it would be the least wasteful approach and most economical,” says Bolton.
To remain economically and environmentally sustainable, Bolton heats his greenhouses with renewable fuels and has created a customized heat distribution system to maximize efficiency. “We designed a system that efficiently delivers thermal energy to the greenhouses and minimizes heat loss through thermal blankets and shade curtains,” says Bolton.
Instead of inorganic fertilizers, Bolton Farms uses harvest clippings and livestock manures to maintain crops. The farm also utilizes an integrated pest management system that employs ladybugs and grove beehives to control pest problems.
The inherent benefits of hydroponic farming contribute to the overall sustainability of Bolton’s operation. Hydroponic farming tends to be more efficient than conventional farming, producing a faster and more abundant output, using less water.
Through this sustainable approach, Bolton aims to create both a thriving business and a superior product. Bolton Farms currently grows spicy micro greens, arugula, basil, hydroponic lettuces, watercress, herbs, green beans, rainbow Swiss chard, and heirloom tomatoes. The produce is sold to restaurants, wholesalers, and at various farmers’ markets in western New York State.
Bolton Farms also offers a custom growing program in which customers can request almost anything, with the exception of root crops like potatoes and carrots. According to the website, greens and lettuce will take approximately 30 days to deliver from time of request.
Like many start-ups, Bolton says his farm lost money in its first three years of operation. But the financial situation has since become more favorable. He recognizes that strategic planning and teamwork are required for a business to remain sustainable.
“The business is only self-sustaining if the daily business plans are executed effectively by our employees, our suppliers, and myself,” says Bolton.
According to Bolton, his initial investment was approximately $50 per square foot. He emphasizes lean manufacturing practices. His hydroponic system utilizes both nutrient film technique and floating bed technologies.
“Our module designs help us grow a variety of crops in limited space, thus increasing our chances of meeting our customers’ requirements,” says Bolton.
Bolton is optimistic about the future of Bolton Farms and foresees his farm expanding as it continues to improve and refine its operations.
For prospective hydroponic farmers, Bolton stresses the importance of extensive preparation and planning.
“Hydroponic farmers need to have a good business plan that is scrutinized by bankers and other local farming organizations,” says Bolton.
Bolton also recognizes that prospective farmers need to be incredibly committed to their work in order to be successful.
“Each day there are many challenges on the farm, as farming, by its nature, has more variables than most businesses,” says Bolton. “Farming can be quite satisfying, but one needs to plan on a seven-day work week without exception.”