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Fresh idea fills local salad plates

Every Thursday, fresh lettuce is sold to community members at Upper Missouri Ministries (UMM), a summer Bible camp near Williston.

On school days, the same fresh lettuce can be found in salad bars at local schools, even in the middle of winter.
By next summer, campers will be dining on the lettuce they help grow in UMM’s 40x80-foot hydroponic garden.

UMM has been growing the leafy vegetables for about eight months, thanks in part to a grant from the Bush Foundation, which worked with Strengthen ND.

“The organization sent out a request seeking innovative ideas for grants,” said UMM Interim Executive Director Hannah Johnson. “That allowed us to buy the container farm.”

The idea behind the green thumb initiative is to help the camp connect with the community, while giving the summer campers an educational opportunity.

“Kids love gardens, but harvesting is in mid-August. That’s when kids are gone, so they don’t get to taste what they’ve worked on,” Johnson said. “This grant allowed us to be more connected to the idea of having a garden.”

The fully insulated hydroponic garden runs 24/7 on its own software and operates year-round, with staffers keeping it going during the winter, as does Mountrail-Williams Electric Cooperative’s reliable power. “We would be in trouble without it,” Johnson said.

Lettuce was a natural choice for planting. “We use a ton at the camp in the summer, and it’s the easiest to grow,” Johnson said. “We get 500 to 550 units a week, which are not heads like iceberg lettuce, but more like mini-heads.”

Twelve varieties of bib and leafy lettuce are grown. A camp mix of three to four different types of lettuce are sold for school salad bars.

Johnson plans to expand sales with more community partners within a 30-mile range and as far as 45 to 60 minutes away.

“You can go on the website,, to get on our list for more information or inquire about sales,” Johnson said.

She said the freshness of locally grown lettuce can’t be beat. “Our lettuce lasts three to four weeks, because there’s no transport time,” she said.