It began years ago with a pledge from Chef Ken Harvey to provide his guests at Loews Ventana Canyon with food made from the freshest possible ingredients, and Harvey hasn’t cut any corners in sourcing his meats, cheeses, breads and produce from sustainable purveyors.
But it was his first meeting with the founders of Merchant’s Garden, a local aquaponics farm, which put his nearly pathological commitment to the principle of sustainability on an exciting new path. This ultimately resulted in his vow to grow and harvest onsite enough lettuce to serve his tens of thousands of guests per month, year-round, with only one percent of the water that’s used in conventional farming.
Occupying a climate-controlled storage space that wasn’t being fully utilized, the new hydroponic garden is the last stop on the lettuce’s journey before it lands on a guest’s plate. That journey begins aquaponically at Merchant’s Garden, where the lettuce spends its newborn month being fed through its young root system by water enriched by nutrients from biofiltered tilapia waste. It’s then transported live to Loews Ventana Canyon, 7000 N. Resort Drive, in floating containers, with its roots still submersed in the nutrient-rich water, for a subsequent cycle of hydroponic growing prior to harvest.
Harvey is currently growing Bibb and Red Cherokee lettuces, as well as three varieties of Romaine. His garden system’s capacity is nearly 300 heads per harvest, with multiple harvests per month, which equates to a full acre of farming if the lettuce was grown in the ground. And he tells me that he’s only using 200 gallons of water per month in a recirculating system that only loses water through evaporation and transpiration.