Hydro Greens

Located only an hour’s drive from Las Vegas in Pahrump, Nevada, Hydro Greens is a world-class producer of fresh from the farm to the table, hydroponicially produced, micro greens inlcuding multiple varieties of basel, chive, and arugula. Contact Wil Villasuso at 702-445-8665

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PART ONE (1) OF A TWO (2) PART INTERVIEW

Eruca Vesicaria

It’s being sold openly — Promoted by Italian Americans – Right here in Vegas

By:  John V. Donovan

Word is out, and each Thursday they come from all around the valley, from every walk of life, some even bring their kids. They park their car or truck, then enter a unit of a non-descript tilt up concrete industrial building on Dean Martin Drive, and in a few minutes scurry out with a plastic bag packed with the much sought after eruca vesicaria tucked under their arm.

There are reports that due to a supply and demand problem some local residents arrive early, stake out the supplier’s truck, and then follow them into the building to their table to be assured of scoring their weekly supply.

Our story begins with its Italian roots, no pun intended. Cherished and used by Italians for centuries, eruca vesicaria thrives in the moderate Italian Mediterranean climate, and is better known as arugula or rocket.  It’s a wonderful, spicy and peppery green herb. A cupful has less than four calories and is rich in Vitamins A and C. It can stand on its own, and with a dash of great olive oil and few grains of sea salt, a squeeze of lemon and a little parmigiano reggiano, it makes for a mouthwatering salad. Or, combine it with other greens even put it on a pizza, it contributes a uniquely delicious complexity of flavor.   There’s nothing like it.

This wonderful green delight is one of the many fresh-from-the-field products now available to chefs and local residents and sold at the Mario Batali and Lidia and Joe Bastianich ‘Bet on The Farm’ farmers market.

So, if we have a source of locally produced world class arugula, fresh-from-the-field, then how in the world did the producer, Hydro Greens, manage to recreate a Mediterranean climate right here in one of the most arid deserts and inhospitable climates in the world?

Being the curious type, I wanted to find the answer to that question and accepted an offer to visit and interview the producer for our Las Vegas radio show, Dice Tomatoes.

On a beautiful late cool fall day in December I packed up our portable broadcast gear, and headed ‘over the hump’ to Pahrump.

If you’re a frequent flyer to Vegas from the Bay Area, the normal approach coming in from San Francisco takes you right over Parhump.  For years I would look out the right window of the airplane as it began its descent toward the Spring Moutains into McCarren and wonder what in the world was down there in that small populated area, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, and miles from Vegas.  Since moving here close to five years ago, I’m finding there’s a lot down there and it’s really amazing.

Pahrump is about an hour’s drive from Vegas and the road climbs over a mountain pass reaching 5,400 feet before descending into the valley.  The name is a derivation of a Shoshone Indian word for the water that shoots from the ground, artesian wells.

I located Hydro Greens at the end of a quarter mile gravel road and the seven large green-house like structures confirmed I had arrived at my destination.  After setting up a three microphone recording system in an area used for preparing product for shipment, Wil Villasuso and his associate Ethan Frommholz, took me for a tour of this amazing facility. 

I have always had a passion for great food, but know little if anything about farming and food production.  I’m sure the startled look on my face as we entered the greenhouse did not go unnoticed.  As mentioned, there are seven buildings, and I had incorrectly assumed, seeing them from a distance, that they were seven separate structures.  Not so, and one step through the door I found myself standing in a huge, thirty thousand square foot area filled from end to end, side to side, with green plants, all the products, in every stage of development, that I see and purchase each week at Bet On The Farm.

That simple act of opening that door and taking that one step transported me from the desert climate of Pahrump, Nevada, to the ideal Italian Mediterranean climate for growing arugula, basil, dark opal, lemon and sweet Thai varieties, and an abundance of chive, with its unique selenium component. 

If it’s 26 degrees as it was last week, or 122 degrees, and yes it reached that mark in summer,  here inside this huge area, all these wonderful plants think they’re vacationing on the Mediterranean in summer.

Ken and Kalian Kesick purchased this property and all the buildings and rebuilt the operation from scratch.  Listening to Wil and Ethan, their passion for this business is obvious, and they are now delivering world-class product, on demand, to the great chefs and hotels in Las Vegas, with  names like CarneVino, Delmonico, Spago, Batista’s, Aria and Mandalay Bay.

It’s not unusual at all for an order to be delivered only a few hours from being received.  That means the product is cut, cooled and placed in their van and delivered to the client in hours.  It just doesn’t get any better than that.

From what I saw and heard, this place is a giant lab, and the Hydro Greens team is constantly learning and improving and experimenting. Their work will never end.  New systems are created and then continuously improved, growing policies, ebb flow, nutrients, controlling the micro climate, the growing conditions, media, there are more variables here than we can imagine.

With ten acres of land there is plenty of room for potential expansion here, and given the demand for their product it would be no surprise to see new buildings in operation during my next visit.

If you’re interested in contacting Hydro-Greens their website is www.hydrogreens.com.  You can reach Wil Villasuso at 702-445-8665. 

You can also meet their representatives each Thursday at Bet On The Farm farmers market (www.betonthefarm.com).

To listen to our complete radio interview with Will and Ethan visit Dice Tomatoes at www.dicetomatoes.com