“They’re like my children, I give them love and affection every day”:

Meet the former teacher growing hi-tech strawberries

Until two years ago, Nilgün Öz Ünsel worked as a schoolteacher in the Aegean city of Aydın. Now, she’s pursuing her lifelong dream as a strawberry farmer – and is using some of the latest technology to do it.

“They’re like my children; I give them love and affection every day,” Öz Ünsel says of her strawberries, which she grows with hydroponics, using nutrient-rich water instead of soil to raise her crop.

A significant Turkish agricultural product, strawberries grow in the northwestern Marmara and western Aegean regions and along the southern Mediterranean coast. The country produces an average of 546,525 tonnes of strawberries per year, according to 2020 data from the Turkish Statistical Institute.

“Strawberries are a wonderful plant, it gives you back exactly what you put in,” Öz Ünsel said, adding that she substitutes coconut shell shavings, known as coco peat, for soil in her farming. The coco peat, which comes in a hard-packed form, expands when water is added.

Hydroponic farming has become increasingly popular in recent years. It can help farmers increase their yields and is important at a time when agricultural land and fertile soil are becoming scarcer due to environmental pressures.

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