The Lettuce Lady

Video by Julia Blakely and John Perrino

 
The first time I met Mary Ellen Taylor of Endless Summer Harvest, it only felt proper to embrace with a hug. When Julia and I left, we had bags of lettuce, microgreens, and a wrapped salad each. Taylor, known as “The Lettuce Lady” to many, treats her crops with that same southern hospitality she shows her friends and customers.

What sets her crops apart? Well, for one they are grown year round in “a controlled agriculture environment.” This means while other local farmers in Loudon County, Virginia are unable to grow, the Lettuce Lady still provides her products to top Washington, DC restaurants and chefs and local customers.

Taylor told us she got the idea from a visit to Disney World’s hydroponic gardens. “I never thought I’d go into farming, but I have found it, just right now, the place to be,” the Californian raised Taylor said.

“This is smart farming.”

– Mary Ellen Taylor, AKA The Lettuce Lady

Why Munch on Hydroponic Lettuce?

With lettuce flavors ranging from Arugula, and Romaine to Butterhead and Red Oak Basil to microgreens varying from onion to broccoli and more, chefs like Jose Andres and buyers at the farmer’s market refuse anything but Mary Ellen’s hydroponic lettuce. Why?

  1. No Pesticides no problems
    Mary Ellen’s plants are grown using hydroponics, meaning pesticides that could contain harmful pathogens that would be used for those grown in soil don’t have to be used.  So it makes it a better lettuce for a better you!
  2. Healthier Lettuce = Higher Productivity
    Mary Ellen is able to match productivity rates to a 12-acre farm because of the controlled environment that her greenhouses create. Because Mary Ellen can depend on perfect conditions all year round, she can depend on perfect crop production too.
  3. Smart Farming is Sustainable Farming
    Mary Ellen’s hydroponic system recycles 90% of the water used for her crop.  

- Julia Blakely

Endless Summer Harvest grows 4,000 plants a week using just 12,000 ft.2 of greenhouse space. That is the “equivalent of 12 acres of traditional farmland,” she said.

Her hydroponic farm uses no soil and she is able to recycle 90% of the water used back through her well into the mixing tanks that produce the solution used to grow her crops.

Endless Summer Harvest’s controlled environment hydroponics system could provide a way for farmers in climates unsuitable for growing crops to provide food for a growing planet.

Visitors from around the world, especially in developing nations including Afghanistan and Botswana have visited her farm seeing it as a model for future use in their less irrigable home regions.

The Lettuce Lady hopes to double the amount of greenhouses at Endless Summer Harvest from two to four within a year.

Is this the future of farming?

John Perrino is a senior majoring in Political Communication at The George Washington University. Julia Blakely is a senior majoring in Journalism at The George Washington University.

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