MOSA provides our clients with much more than just certification.

Joe Pedretti

MOSA Client Services Director

Healthy Roots LLC - Organic & Hydroponic

By Joe Pedretti, Outreach Manager


Rushville is the county seat of Rush County Indiana, and at less than an hour’s drive, is one of the outer rings of towns surrounding Indianapolis. Like many small towns in the “rust belt,” the town saw its greatest prosperity and size during the 50s and 60s. The next three decades were a steady erosion of industry, jobs and population. While the town has recovered moderately over the past twenty years, mainly due to its proximity to Indianapolis, it has never recovered the lost industrial base and many of those old brick buildings still stand in the town.

Dave Jordan, owner of Jordan Manufacturing, a family-owned furniture manufacturer in nearby Monticello, bought one of these old warehouse buildings in the 90s and used it as a furniture manufacturing factory. Eventually that business was no longer profitable and the building sat empty for over a decade until Dave became interested in hydroponic food production. He became fascinated with the possibility of producing local, organic produce year-round for the local community, food banks, schools, and restaurants. “Dave saw an opportunity to produce for people in need,” noted Alyssa Sullivan, the Grow Area Manager for the operation.

The 40,000 square foot empty brick warehouse needed a lot of work to meet Dave’s vision. It was basically a big empty building. Plans were created to divide the building into eight growing zones, which can be operated independently of each other. They use a nutrient film technique (NFT) where a very shallow stream of water containing all the dissolved nutrients required for plant growth is re-circulated past the bare roots of plants in a watertight channel, in this case, 1” deep by 3” wide PVC. These channels are arranged into 8’ wide by 8’ deep by 8’ long cells. For efficiency of space, these cells are then stacked four high for maximum production within that vertical space.


Each layer uses six high efficiency LED lighting panels over each cell. Water pumps in a reservoir under the cells pump the water and nutrients up to each cell layer. The water is delivered to each plant growing in the channels by an emitter connected to the water/nutrient line. “We use coconut coir (fibers from the coconut husk) plugs as media to grow our plants. They are called ‘Elle Pots’ and are the only plug that we found that would work for organic. The liquid nutrients are OMRI listed, and are made from fermented plant materials and molasses that are designed to replicate the nutrients and bacterial profile of soil. The fertilizer levels are automatically controlled by a ‘Fertroller System’ that allows us to automatically control the nutrient and pH of the solution. The fertilizer is naturally acidic, so the system adds potassium bicarbonate as needed to buffer the pH,” said Alyssa.


Healthy Roots also has a germination chamber and plant nursery system. When the plugs are seeded, they are placed in a temperature and humidity controlled system for two days until the seeds sprout. The seedlings are then placed in a hydroponic nursery system until they are large enough to be transplanted to the main NFT system.

When the plants are ready to harvest, the entire section is removed and carted to the processing room. Here, they are cleaned, boxed and then put into coolers. They have two coolers running: one for the lettuce and the other for herbs. They do have a refrigerated truck, but most of the produce is picked up by their wholesaler, who in turn delivers to their customers.

“Our main crops are lettuce: Romaine, bibb, red leaf and green oak leaf. We sell more lettuce by weight than any other crop. Herbs are the most profitable though. We used to do oyster and shiitake mushrooms, but we stopped mushrooms when we downsized the operation in 2018,” stated Alyssa. “The farm was started in February of 2017 with all eight zones operating. By fall of 2017 we started making our first sales. By June of 2018, we drastically cut back production. We just didn’t have consistent sales and we had some production problems. It was so tough to focus on the small things, like temperature problems in an old building. Between the lighting, the hot summer, and an undersized HVAC system, we lost a lot of crops at first. We installed a new heating/cooling system and are installing a water chilling unit now. We are down to one to one and a half zones to match production with sales. Our goal now is to work for consistent sales and increase production as we can.”

“Dave wanted to be organic from the very beginning. Our customers want to know how their crops are produced, and we can do it clean- we know exactly what we are applying and we know that it is safe for our customers. They in turn know exactly what they are getting. We are dedicated to the integrity of the organic label.”

“Our future goals are to work back up to full zone production. We are working to increase sales to more colleges, hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and restaurants. Indiana recently passed legislation to boost local food production. We will be able to meet that need even in the winter. We can offer stability to our customers,” said Alyssa.

“People want production where they live. It feels good to back a business that is supporting the local community. Dave wants a sustainable business that will help bring this community back. I know that hydroponic production is controversial in organic right now, but there are a lot of benefits. We are growing the same plants, with the same nutrition, but we can grow them year round and much more efficiently,” emphasized Alyssa. “We have no erosion. Pests are easier to control. We use way less water. E. coli contamination is not an issue. We are taking the pollution aspect out of farming. Here in Indiana our soils are overworked and our water polluted. Mostly Indiana grows corn and soybeans. We are trying to change that. Other governments, especially in Europe, subsidize hydroponic because the efficiency is so much higher and it can be done year round. The potential is huge.”