Black-seeded Simpson, Cherokee, Deer Tongue — the selection of locally grown lettuces available now, during ASAP’s Get Local lettuce month, goes far beyond iceberg. But, they’re not anything new.
“There are a lot of really old varieties out there that consistently work well,” says Tuck Hunt who co-owns the year-old Swannanoa-based hydroponic operation, Heirloom Uprising, with partner Brenna Mitchell. “The name of our business is Heirloom Uprising because we’re trying to focus specifically on heirloom veggies; right now, all of the lettuces we’re growing are heirloom varieties.” Hunt’s favorites? Romaine and Deer Tongue, thanks to their “crispy goodness.”
Although the varieties they’re growing have a long history, Hunt and Mitchell’s approach doesn’t. The duo converted a 1950s-era supermarket outside of Asheville into a fully functional hydroponic growing facility. “We’ve had to reinvent the wheel to a certain degree,” shares Hunt. “People have obviously been growing indoors for a long time, but there aren’t too many commercial facilities offering lettuces this way.”
Though there are many challenges to growing lettuce hydroponically, including heat, light and humidity, there are many advantages that appealed to Hunt, who previously worked in soil erosion control and remediation in Colorado. “Having to understand how to correct damaged soils and grow grasses on them in a high altitude desert was a real challenge. I then fell in love with hydroponics, because it took out of the mix the biggest challenges of soil.”
For example, Heirloom Uprising doesn’t have the same pest issues traditional greenhouses often face. “Being completely indoors allows us to control our environment to the degree that we’re entirely pesticide- and herbicide-free,” Hunt says. And, they can meet their goal of offering local produce on a year-round basis of consistent quality and quantity.
That’s appealing to many area restaurants, including Appalachian Grown-partner restaurant clients Café Azalea and Posana Café, which feature their products.
At Posana Café, Heirloom Uprising’s lettuces are currently featured in salads on their regular menu. But, executive chef and co-owner Peter Pollay isn’t afraid to think outside of the salad box. “Some heartier lettuces we grill and sauté,” he says.
In other words, there’s no telling how local lettuces will be used on the special Appalachian Grown local menu Pollay is developing for May 10. The event is a celebration in honor of May’s Get Local featured food and a benefit for ASAP’s Growing Minds Farm to School Program — with 100 percent of proceeds benefiting the organization.
Since their opening in 2009, Posana Café has generously shared their anniversary each May with a fundraiser for Growing Minds. Last year’s special local menu included a local strawberry salad (keep reading for a similar recipe), local lamb polpettes (meatballs), and lots more.
While Pollay was still getting creative with this year’s menu at press time, he did share his favorite lettuce variety, which might make an appearance: Lolla Rossa. “I love how beautiful it is. Its structure gives a salad height, rather than just having flat lettuce. And, it has good color: a nice green and red. It looks unassuming when you bring it to the table, but it has nice, bold flavor.”
— Maggie Cramer is ASAP’s communications manager. She can be reached at 828-236-1282 ext. 113 or firstname.lastname@example.org.