Over the course of the past two months, as temperatures rose higher and higher, Tucson CSA members found a welcome sight in their shares: delicate whole lettuce with roots still attached. Those who garden know that it’s too hot to get lettuce to germinate starting in April, so where did those delectable and cool leaves come from?
Merchant’s Garden is a passion project. Chaz Shelton was motivated to found the enterprise by his experiences in health care, where he observed the crying need for healthy food. He and his father started Merchant’s Garden in 2015 and were able to attract other investors.
The model is innovative and ingenious. The fish known as tilapia grows in tanks on the property at 555 S. Tucson Boulevard, in what was once a TUSD school. The water containing their waste product is triple filtered in UV tubing and routed to a vertical aquaponic growth structure planted with many kinds of greens and an amazing variety of fresh herbs. The underlying philosophy is one that CSA members will recognize, in which the grower tries to maximize food production while still preserving the sustainability of the land. It is said that this method of producing food uses less water than growing in earth.
It didn’t take long for Tucson’s chef community to realize that Merchant’s Garden was a great resource for both tasty greens and fresh, never frozen tilapia here in the middle of the desert. Many area restaurants feature the red and green leaf lettuce, Thai basil, and zesty mustard greens from the business. Merchant’s Garden also hosts a farm stand at their property where they sell to individual consumers. (They accept SNAP and Double Up Food Bucks!) You can visit their farm stand on Thursdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. and on Saturdays from 8 a.m. – 12 p.m.