Thats what two Walker County couples are doing inside a 5,600-square-foot greenhouse in Chickamauga.
Bob and Joan Jones of Chickamauga and John and Cecilia Piotter of Flintstone recently opened Happy Valley Produce on Lee and Gordon Mill Road.
Click here to see a video report about Happy Valley Produce.
The secret to the high yield is hydroponics, which is growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions, without soil.
At Happy Valley the lettuce floats in trays of nutrient-fortified water. The nutrients are fed into the water from two large tanks and monitored with a computer system.
When the plants mature to a certain size, they are separated and placed individually into long trays called gullies, where they remain until they are harvested for shipment.
Happy Valley grows three types of lettuce butter bibb, romaine and spring mix, along with two types of basil.
We have offered some teachers to bring their classes here for a field trip to give an idea of the whole process, Joan Jones said.
She hopes tours of the facility will help educate students about the nutritional benefits, along with the scientific side, of how the plants are grown in the greenhouse.
What some students may not know is that theyre already eating lettuce produced at Happy Valley. The lettuce is served at Gordon Lee High School.
The lettuce has also found its way to some Walker County restaurants such as Emmas and Scarletts Tea Room in Chickamauga and Dari Dip in LaFayette. Also Shop-Rite grocery in Chickamauga sells the lettuce.
The Joneses tend to the greenhouse and plants on a daily basis, while the Piotters work the selling and marketing side of the business.
Bob Jones and his wife, on a recent Sunday, picked lettuce at 6:30 a.m. and had them up for sale by 11 a.m. at the Walker County Crafters Fair. They sold 100 heads that day. Theres not much fresher than that, Bob said.
Lettuce from California, Mexico or other areas generally averages 10-14 days before making it to grocers shelves. Also, the lettuce grown at Happy Valley doesnt have to be transported across country, which means less of a carbon footprint.
Producing pesticide-free vegetables in a controlled environment has gained interest in recent years. The hydroponic process that Happy Valley utilizes creates a more nutrient-rich product, compared to iceberg lettuce, which has nearly none.
The concept for Happy Valley Produce started with a remodeling project.
Bob Jones has been self-employed in remodeling for many years, and during a 2006 project at the Piotters house, the project grew into Happy Valley Produce.
John has studied sustainable agricultural technologies such as hydroponics for a decade. He mentioned an interest in possibly making a hydroponic system in his garage, so the two couples collaborated to form Happy Valley.
The Jones had contemplated making some spare property productive by planting berries or trees, or keeping livestock. I had always been interested in greenhouses. We liked what we saw in Europe and at the Biltmore, Bob Jones said.
Living next to the greenhouse is one of the things we enjoy most, he said.
After deciding on a concept and researching the greenhouse designs, it took only five months to complete the building process. Initially neighbors thought that a storage facility or dog kennel was being constructed, but they were relieved when the greenhouse frame took shape.
In the future we would like to continue the lettuce produce, but we also would consider going over into tomatoes, and that requires a different environment and expanding the greenhouse, Bob Jones said.