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Driving hydroponic growing in Frederick with lettuce

You may think all lettuce is the same. Sure, there are different classifications and varieties—but when it comes to the growing process, it's all the same right? The team at District Farms will tell you differently. Tucked in between the Catoctin Mountains in Frederick County sits a farming facility that is paving the way for hydroponic farming in Maryland.

Ali Sharifzadeh and his team of agricultural advocates have created a hydroponic system of farming that recycles up to 95 percent of nutrient water resources. Its main crop is lettuce, growing several varieties including green butterhead, green oak leaf, traditional red and green leaf, or batavia lettuce varieties. The idea to start growing lettuce happened by chance. Yearning for a professional change as an attorney, and a way to make a large scale difference, Ali took a leap of faith and decided to take a dip into hydroponics.

"My brother and business partner Ibraham and I were looking to start a business unrelated to our legal backgrounds as attorneys," said Ali. "We wanted to make a forward thinking change. Since my brother and I were both raised with agricultural roots, we made the most of a chance encounter with a top tier Dutch grower by acquiring as much growing and operational knowledge in this industry."

Along with their childhood friend, Jason Stern, the brothers began to dig up research on leading trends in hydroponic growing and greenhouse farming. Once the growers perfected their method, they planted the first seeds for the business, establishing its physical greenhouse location in 2019.

Since then, District Farms has set the stage for an efficient and innovative take on the agricultural industry. From seedling, to sprout, to lettuce head, the agricultural specialists have refined every step of the growing process, using a high-tech approach through the use of a temperature controlled indoor greenhouse. The greenhouse facility is used year-round to help guarantee the healthiest, cleanest and best looking greens, while minimizing environmental impact and decreasing travel time from farm-to-table. Unlike most available market greens, all District Farms lettuce is locally transported to help maintain its integrity and color and is usually available for purchase as soon as it passes through rigorous food safety procedures.

"Here at District Farms, we're lucky enough to be hands-on throughout the entire growing process. Something that is also not typical of usual farming facilities," said Ali. "We've tested and perfected each step of our process, from the high-tech round the clock nature of our greenhouse system, to hands-on transportation. We ensure the quality of our lettuce every step of the way."

The hydroponic farming system uses cutting-edge design to ensure top level of quality produce, while also minimizing environmental impacts. Unlike traditional farming methods, which are largely dependent on climate and weather patterns, District Farm's high-tech indoor facility maintains a stable climate through the use of sensors that constantly monitor nutrient/water levels and indoor climate. The indoor facility also grows its produce without the use of harmful pesticides or herbicides, with the greenhouse acting as an extra protective layer between the lettuce crops and any pesky outdoor predators.

Ali and his team of growers stand by the sustainable benefits of hydroponic indoor growing. The team touts that its greenhouse system uses 90 percent less water and requires 10 percent of the land that a conventional farm requires for the same production. Since the facility operates on less space, it also gives the team more room to dive into even more alternative power sources, like solar generation.

District Farms has big dreams for growth, with its most recent expansion giving the facility a total of five acres and doubling its employee count to 30 workers. Further into the future, Ali hopes that District Farms will be able to expand its hydroponic growing operations to other vegetables and produce, but for now, the team's focus will continue to remain on growing the perfect head of lettuce.

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