By BECKY GILLETTELeigh Bailey and her husband, Jamie Redmond, decided two years ago that they were ready for a change from working in real estate. So they looked around for a second career.
“We have always enjoyed gardening,” Bailey said. “We saw a need for locally grown produce in the Jackson area and after a lot of study and market research, we took the plunge.”
Since their first seeds were sown April 1, 2014, Salad Days Produce (saladdaysproduce.com) has been making a lot of “green.” People who buy their products are not just getting the healthiest type of foods, but also those that are raised locally. That makes them fresher and reduces the amount of energy needed to transport the produce.
People are getting fresher food than if it was shipped in from Mexico or California.
“So much fresher!” Bailey said. “We like to say our produce does not earn frequent flier miles. Our lettuce is often on a salad plate in a local restaurant within 24 hours of being harvested.”
The couple grow hydroponically, meaning without soil. While growers can’t get USDA organic certification for hydroponic operations, Salad Days Produce assures that its chemical free and non-GMO cultivation techniques produce clean, healthy food.
“Salad Days likes to think of our produce as “Better Than Organic” and by this we mean that by not using animal waste fertilizers, we have a reduced risk of contamination by food borne diseases like E. coli and salmonella,” Bailey said.
“Our greenhouses keep animals and birds from entering the production area. Our clean controlled environment means peace of mind for our consumers.”
Salad Days grows in a six-bay greenhouse covering about 18,000 square feet. One of the advantages of the greenhouse is being able to grow and harvest the year around.
“Growing indoors protects our produce from bad weather and temperature swings that can cause blemished vegetables, short supply and wild price fluctuations,” Bailey said.
“We harvest lettuce and herbs year around. Our tomatoes only run approximately nine months. We take them out in early summer and restart plants for the fall. No need to fight the heat in the greenhouse when there’s an abundance of field-grown tomatoes in summer.”
Salad Days Produce regularly grows six to eight varieties of lettuce (Bibb, oak leaf, lollo, romaine, etc.), plus a few herbs like basil, arugula, sorrel, chervil. They also experiment with new varieties often like Asian greens and kale. They produce spicy micro greens periodically. Those are popular with the chefs.
They grow heirloom tomatoes, Artisan cherry tomatoes and beefsteak tomatoes. Right now they are growing some edible flowers and experimenting with pea tendrils, haricot vert beans and sugar snaps.
The “localvore” movement that promotes buying food from local sources has gotten big in the U.S. In addition to fresher produce, it helps keep money circulating in the local economy. And some customers really love getting to know the farmer who is producing the food.
“People really seem to care about where their food is coming from and want to support local farmers,” Bailey said.
“People tell us often that they are spoiled by our lettuce and can’t go back to the box salad that’s been traveling for 3,000 miles.”
Redmond said Salad Days uses far less water than traditional field-grown agriculture. Their water is recycled and used multiple times, reducing the amount necessary by as much as 80 percent over crops grown outdoors.
“Salad Days doesn’t use soil in the greenhouses, which eliminates the problems of soil erosion and depletion,” Redmond said. “Also, it requires 70 percent less land to hydroponically grow equal amounts of produce as field-grown.”
Another benefit is that greenhouse-grown produce is much less susceptible to pests and disease. “But when the need arises, Salad Days uses beneficial insects, like ladybugs & lacewings, to combat the harmful ones instead of using harmful chemical pesticides,” Redmond said. “Our tomatoes are pollinated by our resident bumble bees.”