The fifth-generation farmers, Kurk, 30, and Nicholas, 27, joined forces in 2014 to build a greenhouse and an aquaponics facility where they could grow tilapia and their specialty: all kinds of leafy greens year-round. They also do traditional farming on 2 acres of land growing root crops (carrots, potatoes, beets), okra, cabbage, melons, peppers, tomatoes, all kinds of herbs, squashes and flowers.
“When we first started…a lot of the farmers around here were like, ‘What are you guys doing? You guys are crazy,’ ” says Kurk.
Originally, they grew 150 things but have since refined that to 40 or 50 products their customers really want. “But, you know, we’re still here after two years. Our income is increasing, and we’re seeing more interest from restaurants,” he says. “We sell to the Oberlin Food Hub, a farmers market in Columbus, and we’re hoping to get in to a couple in the Akron and Cleveland area.”
Lettuce Heads uses deep-water culture aquaponics, which combines two agricultural methods: aquaculture, which is the growing of fish; and hydroponics, which is the growing of mostly leafy greens in an all-water system.
“The idea is to conserve water, and it uses less energy, less water than traditional growing,” says Kurk. “Water conservation may not be something that’s on the minds of everyone in our Great Lakes region, but it’s of significant importance around the world.”
For retail sales, the Zieglers have embraced a community supported agricultural model they’ve dubbed Veggie Crate, which is a weekly subscription program that people can sign up for on a monthly, quarterly or semi-annual plan. Lettuce Heads posts on its website the week prior to delivery what will be in the crate, usually a combination of greens, herbs, seasonal produce and a bouquet of farm-grown flowers in the summertime.
“We are hoping to expand on our Veggie Crate program and get 50 to 75 people signed up this year,” Kurk says. “We offer delivery to Oberlin and Amherst, and we’re always looking to get into new markets and to add delivery points if we can get enough people from one area.”
Kurk, who handles most of the marketing and social media, appraises agricultural real estate full time, while Nicholas, who is the manager of the aquaponics facility, runs the farm full time.
“We have a very open-door policy at our farm,” says Kurk, adding that Lettuce Heads hopes to do educational outreach to local schools and sell its food to the farm-to-school program. “We invite anyone to come visit to see how we do things; to see how we grow; and to get to know us personally so that they can trust where their food comes from and hopefully we can build a relationship that’s lasting.”