Microgreens growing at Living Water Farms in Strawn, Illinois
Photos courtesy of Denise Kilgus

Living Water Farms in Strawn, Illinois, built its 10,000 square-foot hydroponic greenhouse in 2008 and started shipping out leafy greens in 2009. Today, the company grows leafy greens, edible flowers and microgreens for a mix of retail and restaurant customers. It was the latter group that served as a springboard to the current growing output. 

“We were servicing upscale restaurants in Chicago and that’s the experience we went off of to do a hydroponic greenhouse so that we could go grow year-round in central Illinois,” says owner and manager Denise Kilgus. Denise owns and operates the farm along with her husband Kevin, their daughter Natalie Schneider and her husband Mark Schneider.

“When we spoke with local chefs, they said they wanted year-round fresh greens instead of having to order them from Arizona or somewhere that isn’t here,” Denise says. When the product is sent to the chefs, it is left in the growing media when bagged, allowing chefs to cut the greens themselves and give the consumer a fresher product. 

The extended Kilgus and Schneider families

For about as long as Living Water Farms has been in business, it has been working with Jiffy and using the company’s Preforma propagation plugs. When the relationship started, Denise says Jiffy went out of its way to customize Performa’s makeup for the farm’s needs. Specifically, she says Performa’s standard-binding agent wasn’t working for their nutrient-film technique system, so Jiffy switched how much of it was being used. Since then, Living Water Farms hasn’t changed its formulation — coconut hull with a peat mixture with the altered binding agent — and doesn’t see that changing any time soon.

“We order Preforma by the pallet and we go through it quickly every week,” she says. “They were more than willing to put a special recipe together for us. We’ve stuck with it because it’s worked so well.” 

For the business to succeed and continue operating and growing at its best, Denise says having the right propagation plug is essential. As the company looks towards diversifying — perhaps into vegetable transplants — they’ll turn to Jiffy products and the company’s expertise to help get a new venture started. She adds that their rep, Mike Cade, regularly lets them try out new products that might work for the business and consults Jiffy’s cache of experts for any questions Denise, Kevin or anyone else at the farm has. 

“The effort they went through, the product they sent out for us to test out and seeing what worked best for our system — that’s huge for us,” Denise says. “I don’t know what would have happened for us if we hadn’t found Preforma and started working with Jiffy. When you make those connections and the service is top-notch, you’re not looking to change.”