Valley Bounty: Lettuce

While most farmers throughout the Valley are still laying the groundwork for the coming season, some local businesses have found creative ways to grow warm weather crops throughout the cold months. I recently spoke with Fred Rose, Co-Director of the Wellspring Cooperative, a Springfield organization with a mission to create a network of worker-owned companies throughout the city. One of those businesses, Wellspring Harvest, manages a sophisticated hydroponic greenhouse which enables them to grow lettuce year-round. Rose explained that in their hydroponic system, the roots of their lettuce plants are submerged in water. This allows the growers to mix customized nutrient blends for each crop and run them through the channels containing the roots. This careful feeding, combined with modern lighting and heating systems, enables the staff to closely manage the growing conditions throughout the year.

Wellspring Harvest is in their first year of production, which has been a steady learning process. Rose has been struck by how much conditions can change throughout the year, despite the shelter of the greenhouse. “Even though you’re in a controlled environment, the four seasons still matter. The low light in the winter is really significant,” he explained. The short days in the winter can substantially slow down growth if the Wellspring team doesn’t properly calibrate their grow lights. “On the other hand, the heat of the summer is tough on lettuce because when it’s too hot, it tends to bolt [to seed] faster.”

Early spring is the sweet spot for Wellspring Harvest. Their lettuce is soaking in a full 12-13 hours of natural light each day while enjoying the relatively mild temperatures. Meanwhile, Rose has been making plenty of early spring salads. He likes to mix together red and green butterhead lettuce for a lovely aesthetic, then top it off with a crisp variety of lettuce for a crunchy texture. He throws on some carrot slices and grated cheddar then tops it with his ‘house dressing,’ olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and pressed garlic.

Noah Baustin is the communications coordinator of CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture)