Tom Hanson sells his hydroponic vegetables at the farmers market in Sierra Vista and at his greenhouses in Sonoita. Photo by Jo Dean

Tom Hanson, owner of Hilltop Hydroponics in Sonoita, is a local farmer who provides his buyers with delicious vegetables using hydroponics, or growing plants without soil. This technique of agriculture is defined as “waterworking.” Hanson describes his hydroponic produce by enthusiastically raising his arms and proclaiming, “It is living!”

Vegetables grown with hydroponic techniques provide healthy, clean, and nutritious food without the use of herbicides or pesticides. Growing crops with hydroponics uses one-tenth the amount of the water that traditional soil growing uses. Fertilization is accomplished by dissolving mineral nutrients in water that is fed directly to the roots. The water remains clean and is recirculated through a system of pipes, aerators, and pumps.

Hanson’s hilltop greenhouses and successful operation are the result of hard work, persistence, experimentation, and continued education in the field of agriculture and hydroponics. Hanson has abundant energy and enthusiasm for growing his many varieties of vegetables. His effervescence is palpable when explaining the techniques of hydroponics and his creative variations that make his facility more efficient and diverse for a variety of plants.

There are four major stages for growing these vegetables: the seeding, germinating, early growth, and transference to the greenhouse where plants are grown to market size. His main crop is lettuce; beautiful, big, healthy lettuce in all colors and hues of green and burgundy/red. They are sold with a perfectly white and intact root system. After purchase, they can simply be placed with the roots in a glass of water on the counter, no need to refrigerate. The lettuce is a beautiful living plant that can be used as needed for up to several weeks.

A visitor entering Hanson’s greenhouse would be astonished at the beauty of these plants. Some varieties are Red Sail, Oak Leaf, Butterhead, and Salad Bowl. There are also Toscana kale, bok choy, arugula, watercress, spinach, big dana tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and some peppers. Inside a smaller building the microgreens, including Chinese parsley, rainbow radish, and wheat grass, are grown. Hanson is happy to hand out samples which turns a tour of the green houses into a salad grazing experience.

Hanson and his wife Linda moved from Phoenix to their hilltop home overlooking the Sonoita grasslands in 2007. By 2013 Hanson had self-educated himself in hydroponics and started growing red sails lettuce. His endeavors have evolved into a successful business. He states that he plants 100 heads of lettuce per week with a very high yield. He sells 100% of his produce with a demand beyond his capacity, or desire, to produce more.

Hanson sells produce at the Sierra Vista Farmer’s Market, which takes place on Thursdays from 10a.m. until 2p.m. His produce is so popular that he sells out the first hour.

Buyers who miss the Farmer’s Market can visit his Hilltop Hydroponics Farm in Sonoita on Wednesday afternoons. Hilltop Hydroponics is located at 35 Palomino Dr., Sonoita. For more information, call 602-317-4607