AMBRIDGE – When Rebecca Mees and her family were living in Hawaii, she said they were looking for greens, such as lettuce, that were not made or treated with pesticides.
However, that proved to be a challenge, as they couldn’t find any. Therefore, the family decided to begin growing and selling their own.
Upon moving to Pittsburgh, Mees said she and her husband began experimenting with lights, in regard to growing the greens, and through trial and error, they were able to get the right lighting configuration together.
Mees said when her parents moved to the area from Hawaii, they decided to buy a building together in Ambridge and officially sell their pesticide-free greens on a larger scale.
This business, Lettuce Ladies, is primarily comprised of Mees and her parents, John and Cathleen St. George.
“We specialize in growing hydroponic lettuce and microgreens,” Mees said. “It’s all family-owned.”
Business start and expansion
Mees said the business was first formed in 2017, and that in the beginning, the business was only selling its greens at local restaurants.
In the five years since then, Mees said the business has expanded to sell at different local stores, such as T-Bones Marketplace in the Wexford area and select Giant Eagle Market District stores.
These include the Market District stores in the South Hills, Bethel Park, the Waterworks and the Robinson Shopping District, while the Giant Eagle stores are the ones at Camp Horne Road in Ohio Township, Leetsdale, Seven Fields and Cranberry Township.
They have also been attending both in-person and virtual farmers’ markets, and offer curbside pickup at their Ambridge location at 801 11th St.
“We’re looking to grow more of our wholesale side of the business, that seemed to really help us during COVID,” Mees said. “We’re just continuing to grow in that direction.”
She said their greens are not purely organic because they have not gone through the organic certification.
“That being said, we’re actually better than organic because we’re not using any pesticides,” Mees said. “Organic growers can choose to use organic pesticides if they like.”
She added, “Everything that we grow is pesticide-free, so, everything that you’re eating is clean. It’s local, so you’re supporting a local business, but you’re getting greens that aren’t traveling across the country. You’re getting something that is extremely fresh, whether it’s December or June. It is a great tasting product, and you can’t beat the longevity of it because we’re growing it right here, and the flavor.”
How the greens are prepared
Mees said they don't worry about bugs or pests getting to the plants because they grow all of their greens indoors.
At their Ambridge location, the building itself is not originally a greenhouse, as it was once a social club and bar.
She said the best way they work to make sure bugs don’t come in is that they never bring back anything inside that was taken outside, including delivery boxes.
Mees said they learned that lesson years ago, when they had an aphid infestation that forced them to shut everything down and clear everything out.
“That’s how we maintain a clean environment. The only, quote on quote, pest we have is a fruit fly, which we maintain with regular fly strips, sticky traps,” Mees said.
Mees said there are bugs that some growers use that actually eat the aphids and other bugs that would harm the lettuce, but said after using them at one point, they figured it was a waste of money to buy them when they are not needed.
Expanding … to a school
Mees said the business had essentially run out of space for its greens, as the business continues to expand.
Therefore, after looking for a bigger space to grow their products, they eventually found the space they were looking for … the building of the Ridge Road School in Economy.
Mees said the business recently was formally approved to acquire the building, located at 1855 Zehnder Road, and has just started setting up.
The business just finished completing its first grow room in one of the old classrooms and started planting on Aug. 4.
Mees said the room has new tables, electric, lighting and air conditioning, as each grow room will have its own air conditioning unit.
She said the completed grow room still has its chalkboard and cubbies, which she said they will use.
“When you go in, it looks like a grow room/classroom; it’s kind of cool,” Mees said.
She said they will use around half of the school building for now, and plan on expanding to use the full building in the future.
Mees said she and her family are originally from Vermont, before moving to Hawaii, where they stayed for 10 years, before coming to the area due to her husband’s work.
She said the family really likes the area, stating they decided that is where they want to stay.
Nicholas Vercilla is a staff reporter for the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Beaver County Times: Ambridge's 'Lettuce Ladies' expands to former Economy school