• Photo by Alexandra Cannon, Groesbeck Journal
    When tomatoes reach the desired ripeness, crates are filled to be sold later.
  • Photo by Alexandra Cannon, Groesbeck Journal
    A view of RainWater Farms from the outside.
  • Photo by Alexandra Cannon, Groesbeck Journal
    Kenda Eckols points out the slope of the grey tubes used to distribute rain water to the tomato plants.
  • Photo by Alexandra Cannon, Groesbeck Journal
    A hive of bumblebees is positioned in the center of the greenhouse, allowing easy access to plants for pollination.
  • Photo by Alexandra Cannon, Groesbeck Journal
    The plants tend to lean and sag under the weight of the tomatoes, so cables are used to keep the plants upright.

Tomato, Tomato: Kosse Family Farms Hydroponic Tomatoes

By Alexandra Cannon, Staff Writer

Kenda Eckols and her family built a greenhouse in Kosse in January with one goal in mind - growing tomatoes that taste great naturally and are grown hydroponically.

“Personally, I never liked tomatoes or cucumbers, because I had never tasted a real one, I’d always had the ones that had no taste, and I never really liked em,” Eckols admitted. “But we started doing this and I thought oh my gosh, people don’t know if they’ve never tasted a real one.”

Rainwater Farms is on a mission to produce healthy tomatoes with taste. While many commercial growers pump produce full of ethylene, a natural gas that ripens the outside but does nothing for the flavor, Eckols and her team opt for a more organic method.

“We use all natural, no herbicides or pesticides. Calcium, potassium, magnesium, all the natural vitamins you would take in a vitamin pill drip through feeder tubes to our tomatoes,” Eckols said. “We use rainwater to kind of run through and that keeps our PH at a good level, and I think that's why a lot of people say our tomatoes taste better than your normal greenhouse tomatoes that are in soil, because of the rainwater and how we do it.”

All of the produce that comes out of RainWater Farms is grown hydroponically, which means plants aren’t rooted in soil, but instead are planted in perlite, an amorphous volcanic glass with high water content. This is no small undertaking, and the whole operation is run by four people- Kenda Eckols, her husband, Mitch, her son, Janzen, and her daughter in law, Kiera. With nearly 3,000 tomato plants, the Eckols stay busy, putting in long hours to maintain the plants, with help from some of nature’s finest.

“We have bees stationed in the middle that pollinate, even though tomato plants are self-pollinating plants, we use the bumble bees to help with it,” Eckols said. “I just delivered a whole thing of ladybugs in here the other day because they help eat the bad bugs. We had a little bit of an army worm problem, and within two days it was cured because of the lady bugs, they eat the nymphs.”

The Eckols continue learning tricks of the trade as they spend more and more time in the greenhouse.

“We’ve had a real problem with humidity this year, because we’ve never had this much rain. You know, humidity affects our tomatoes in the greenhouse. My husband is in charge of all the mechanical parts, plus his own house, but if he sees the weather the humidity is going to be high with rain, he’ll cut out a feeding program to cut down on the water we give ‘em, so they don’t get over watered in high humidity because then they can’t soak up their calcium the best way. When they can’t do it a good way with the calcium, then they start getting that bottom end too ripe.”

The learning process really began three years ago, when Kenda Eckols quit her job and built a small greenhouse behind her home to see how it would work and if there was a market for it. The tomatoes did well at farmer’s markets in Waco, and Eckols felt confident about stepping up production. As it turns out, the dream of owning and operating a large-scale greenhouse has been long in the making for the Eckols.

“We’ve actually been thinking about it for 20 years. We lived in Houston for a long time and our first greenhouse was my husband set up one in our backyard in a subdivision,” Eckols remembers. “It was a real small one, and we had people from our subdivision coming to buy our tomatoes. We thought well one day, we will do this. And that one day never came. We both had jobs, they were good jobs, we were raising our kids, you know, you don’t really want to take a leap of faith or chance when you’re raising babies. So finally we got to the point where I had quit my job and our kids are adults now, taking care of themselves, so we decided, you know, we either need to do it big or not do it at all. We were going to do it or forget about it. So we decided, we prayed about it, and God just opened doors and we took a leap of faith.”

To read more of this story, pick up a copy of Thursday's edition of The Groesbeck Journal! You can also subscribe online or call 254-729-5103.

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