Posts By Suzanne Heyn
Heads of lettuce may not seem life changing, but when you grow 3 million of them each year, the result can reinvigorate an entire area.
Such is the idea behind Green City Growers Cooperative’s greenhouse in Cleveland. At three-and-a-quarter acres, the greenhouse spans the equivalent of three football fields.
“It’s one of the largest local food initiatives in the United States,” said Mary Donnell, Green City Growers’ chief executive officer. It also ranks as the nation’s largest food production greenhouse in a core urban area.
Darin and Deb Kelly were poised for high-paying traditional careers. She was a lawyer and he was completing coursework for a master’s degree — but then they abandoned the slavish pursuit of dollars for a life that brought happiness.
In 2006, the couple started selling produce from Good Life Farms, in Martinsville, Ind. Today, the farm grows using hydroponics, but the Kellys began with soil farming and they still grow a small number of crops using traditional field methods.
Throughout his life, Kelly has always grown vegetables. He developed a reputation for turning lawns into fields. “Basically, I didn’t believe in lawn,” he said.
The owners of Sun Aqua Farms began their hydroponics careers early in the field’s emergence. It was the 1990s, and Richard Bee, a mechanical engineer by trade, found the promise of growing produce with efficiency and speed intriguing. The lure of working with new technology tantalized him.
In 1993, Bee, along with his wife, Deidre, and stepson, Roger Harris, built a small greenhouse on land in Pennsylvania they acquired with savings and a small business loan. At first, they grew lettuce. “It was somewhat of a gamble and a leap of faith in the technology and practice of hydroponics,” said Sun Aqua Farms Food Safety Manager Josh Zieger.
The first winter that Adam Valdivia and his three partners spent at Sleeping Frog Farms in southern Arizona was colder than they expected. The weather station was on a ridge, and so the temperatures they were using to guide their farming were about 10 degrees warmer than the air surrounding their plants.
“We had a really big hit,” Valdivia recalled. “We had jumped into an unknown and it came back to bite us in the butt.” Their root crops didn’t die, but were too soft to sell. The fava beans were devastated.
Since then, the four, which include Valdivia and his wife, Debbie Weingarten, C.J. Marks, and Clay Smith, have learned to adjust.
When Maya Dailey started farming nine years ago, she had little more than big dreams and credit cards on which she purchased seeds. Today, Dailey runs a thriving five-acre farm on the edge of Phoenix, Ariz., and is a well-known figure in the local foodie scene.
She started by growing herbs and selling them to establishments in Santa Fe, N.M., where Dailey worked in the restaurant industry. After moving to Arizona, Dailey added flowers and eggs to the mix.
In 2006, Dailey started a full-time farm at her present location, leasing land tucked in the back corner of The Farm at South Mountain, a peaceful desert oasis featuring trees, grass, picnic tables, three restaurants, a home décor shop and a massage studio.