Aldon's Leafy Greens
I had the opportunity to work with author and local writer Jordan Venema for Edible Sacramento. This project covered Jason Levens’ farm company called, Aldon’s Leafy Greens. The article and content never saw it’s publishing debut due to the magazine ending production earlier this year but we couldn’t hold back from sharing with you all. Without further ado, I’ll let Jordan’s article start the story:
Just because agriculture is old as dirt, doesn’t mean agriculture needs dirt. Francis Bacon wrote the first known book about growing plants without soil
(Sylva Sylvarum, 1627), but according to Jason Levens, the founder and Chief Executive Grower at Aldon’s Leafy Greens, hydroponic container farming only recently began taking root.
“Probably within the last four years there’s been a revolution in container farming, with people switching careers and doing something different from
what they’ve done before,” says Levens, who left a ten-year career in sales and moved his family from the Bay Area to Fair Oaks, where he began
studying horticulture at American River College.
“I was doing research, wrote a business plan, and helped out some other hydroponic farmers,” says Levens. “I threw myself into it hard.”
In 2016 Levens started Aldon’s Leafy Greens, a hydroponic farm that operates out of a 40 by 10-foot refrigerated shipping container located on his private residence in Fair Oaks. By using a nutrient film technique, in which Levens plants seeds directly into certified organic fibers that are exposed to a shallow stream of water through which dissolved nutrients are delivered to the roots, the container can produce the equivalent of about an acre of produce.
Levens currently grows about 30 varieties that include leafy greens such as butter lettuce, purple bok choy, and Mizuna mustard, and micro greens such as kale, radish, pea shoots, nasturtium, broccoli, and carrot. He sells directly to Sacramento restaurants like Mulvaney’s, Kru, Grange, and Localis, as well as caterers and hotels.
Since his plants grow in a controlled environment, Levens says he notices a difference in taste between hydroponic and soil-grown greens.
“The only thing I notice is that [leafy greens] tend to be tender, like a younger tasting version, whereas outside they get a little hardier and more dried out
by the sun,” he says, adding that by selling lettuces and brassicas with their roots in tact, restaurants are getting greens as fresh as possible, still living.
Levens mostly grows micro greens, which he describes as the smaller version of the larger plant, or in the first true leaf of the plant’s growth. The walls
of his container are lined with trays of different varieties that look similar to sprouts, but despite their small size and similar appearance, each variety of micro green packs intense and distinct flavors, like pepper, lemon, and spice. The greens are typically served in salads or used to complement appetizers
or even steaks.
Also, says Levens,
“micro greens in general are three to five times more nutrient rich than their mother plant.”
But more than growing big flavor in small doses, Aldon’s Leafy Green is providing produce to restaurants that is both hyper local and efficient.
Levens’ container uses LED lighting to provide plants the spectrum of light necessary for photosynthesis, while the water system uses only a fraction
that would be required to irrigate an outdoor acre.
While variables like the type of crop, runoff, and evaporation can impact the amount of water used during irrigation, an average acre weekly requires more than 20,000 gallons of water. Levens’ hydroponic system, however, uses only two 100-gallon tanks to which he adds about 20 or 30 gallons of water daily.
And since container farming can happen essentially anywhere, with an electric source and minor use permit, it’s likely that Aldon’s Leafy Greens is only
the vanguard of the hydroponic revolution. And Levens agrees: “People probably don’t realize just how much of the produce they’re getting at the store
is actually grown hydroponically.”
Jordan Venema | @jordan.venema
Update: Aldon’s Leafy Greens has been expanding business and has recently began distribution with Produce Express who is a local wholesale distributor servicing the greater Sacramento Area. I recently caught up with Jason and he said that they have tripled production since we last visited in August 2018 so basically new crop holes have been added in between all of the holes you see in the photos above! Jason and his wife also had their second child, Emory! Big ups to Jason for juggling being a dad, farmer and business owner. It can sure be hard juggling a business and being a parent but one of the coolest things about the Aldon’s Leafy Greens operation is Jason is able to work right in his backyard which allows him to be as close to home as you could get.