You’re dining at Tagine in Croton-on-Hudson and you opt for patio seating. You pull up a chair, settle in, glance at the menu, and listen passively to the soothing sound of a babbling brook…wait…
Turns out it’s not a brook, or fountain, or water feature of any kind, but a hydroponic lettuce grower, something you also might have spotted last summer at owner Craig Purdy’s Umami Café (he also owns Peter Pratt’s Inn in Yorktown Heights). The growers didn’t work out so well there—their positioning was not well suited to the arc of the sun, so he’s trying Tagine this time around, and it’s working beautifully.
Hydroponic growers require no soil. It’s pretty much a lettuce-roots-in-water scenario (or whichever plant you choose—most can grow hydroponically). In place of the soil, the grower circulates a mineral solution that nourishes the plants, and, with enough sun, they’re likely to thrive.
Purdy has three hydroponic towers, each yielding about 36 heads of lettuce. “They grow wild,” he says. Plus, “With the absence of soil, you don’t have bugs, so they never get chewed up.” It’s not enough to plate all of his salads, garnishes, etc., but at the same time it’s not unlikely that the salad you order comes from the growers. It’s doled out on a first-to-plate basis, meaning he still gets lettuce deliveries, but uses that lettuce only when he’s exhausted the supply of hydroponically grown stock.
“It demonstrates that we value fresh,” says Purdy. And people take an interest: “Everybody’s tried a little something at gardening so they’re kind of surprised at the new approach.” Also, the sound of the circulating mineral solution adds a welcome dose of ambiance.