OREGON – The butter lettuce growing in Polly McGann and Victor Zaderej’s basement is so silky-smooth and flavorful, you’d have a hard time believing it’s not, well, butter.
The leaves boast mouthwatering oils possible only in a growing space devoid of pests or the risk of the plant bolting – going to seed too quickly. Under state-of-the-art Happy Leaf LEDs that effectively mimic the sun, these plants grow faster than they would outdoors. Lettuce is ready to harvest within
“It’s the simplest, cleanest and least expensive way,” said Zaderej, 57, a former MIT professor who works for Molex, a solar panel connector company.
Happy Leaf was incorporated in December 2014, but it’s been in the works about 2 years. It’s McGann’s baby, really – she quit working in market research to focus on her enterprise.
“I was trying to carry water on both shoulders, but I had to focus on this,” said McGann, 54. “This is real, and we want it to happen.”
Manufacturing and assembly take place in Chicagoland and Wisconsin, but testing is done in Polly and Victor’s basement, and in the homes of others who try out the LEDs.
The LEDs create light with wavelengths similar to sunshine, and each 18-inch unit uses just 28 watts.
They’ve sold about 350 units, at energy fairs, master gardener events, or similar showcases. Most often, the buyer comes back for about a dozen more, they said.
“Master gardeners flip about this; they’re amazed,” McGann said.
“We’ve yet to hear from anyone who said they didn’t like the product, or that it didn’t do what they wanted it to,” Zaderej added.
The brainy Oregon couple need look no further than their bevy of lettuces, herbs, and even their blossoming pineapple – “That’s just for fun, but someday, we’ll probably eat it,” Zaderej said – to know their product works.
It’s what those LEDs mean to long-term sustainability, though, that’s something else altogether.
“We think to help people be able to grow things indoors year-round is going to be important to society,” Zaderej said.
Their focus is direct-to-consumer sales. “We want to develop a community and help people understand what they can do,” McGann said.
With mason jars, clay pellets, hydroponic fertilizer, seeds, and the $129 investment in an 18-inch LED unit under which a dozen pants can thrive, a grower is set – 365 days a year.
“You turn the light on for 16 to 17 hours a day, and you can walk away for 3 weeks, come back and you’re eating lettuce, herbs and microgreens without watering it,” Zaderej said.
“Suddenly, it becomes really accessible,” McGann said.
They also sell pots, stands, rails and more, “but that’s not what we care about. We care about the lighting and educating people,” she said.
To learn more, or if you’re just in the mood for a laugh, go to happyleafleds.com where McGann’s brother, Geoff, a high-end marketing video producer, has created a number of videos to spread Happy Leaf’s message.
“Our mission is to help people come up with the easiest, simplest, lowest-cost method of growing indoors year-round,” Zaderej said. “It just happens that the missing link is lighting.
Rather learn hands-on? Call Happy Leaf LED owner Polly McGann at 815-414-2209 to schedule a tour.