In Dennis, growing Hydroponic lettuce takes CapeAbilities

This morning on my way home from an interview with chef Peter Hyde of Blue Moon Bistro (who grows the restaurant's herbs and raspberries in a garden out back), I passed by a glossy black and gold sign advertising CapeAbilities Farm. The burgeoning farm, which opened almost three years ago, is a branch of the CapeAbilities non-profit organization, which works to provide housing, transportation, and jobs to the area's handicapped population.

While the sign read "CLOSED, Farm stand opens May 9," I decided to pull in anyways. Armed with a writer's curiosity and a journalist's lack of propriety, I careened down the dirt driveway and into the midst of several rows of earth and glass.

A sea of friendly faces greeted me, and after a quick introduction I was welcomed onto a Willy Wonka-esque tour of the various greenhouses. Behind the glass doors lay magically plump, green tomatoes, head upon head of plush hydroponic lettuce, a rainbow of swiss chard, and overgrown pots of basil—in other words, a spring eater's dream. The plant roots sprung out from carefully sized holes in a series of shallow irrigated troughs—the hydroponic farmer's soil. A thin algal layer of nutrients and water coated the base of the newly planted Butter lettuce, and tomato stems hung tied to a skyward trellis.

I left after making the rounds with a gift bag of Boston bib and a single cherry tomato, and headed home for a lunchtime salad. I drizzled the first veggies of the season with a dash of balsamic and several drops of oil, topped them with a crank of sea salt, and sat down to enjoy the start of a fresh new season of greens.

To learn more, visit CapeAbilities Farm online or stop by their farm stand at 460 Main Street on Rt. 6A in Dennis for fresh produce. The stand opens for the season on May 9; hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 10am to 5pm.

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All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.