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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Talking With Lettuce Grow Founder, Zooey Deschanel

When Zooey Deschanel launched Lettuce Grow in 2019—alongside Jacob Pechenik—she was on a mission to empower people to grow 20% of their own food through the company’s technology, and to mitigate the environmental implications often brought forth by large-scale agriculture. Her vision had come to fruition just as sustainability was gaining recognition as the future of American culture. And while other companies were transitioning their long-established brands to adapt to the conscious push, Deschanel was ahead of the curve—quite literally rooting the identity of her business in environmentally focused beliefs. 

Deschanel’s investment in the company seemed in many ways like a departure from the entertainer’s acting beginnings, where she garnered success for starring in projects like 500 Days of Summer, Almost Famous, Elf, and most notably, as the whimsical, girl-next-door Jessica Day in FOX’s hit sitcom, New Girl—a role that earned her an Emmy nomination in 2012 for outstanding lead actress in a comedy series. Though, Deschanel insists that the business move wasn’t as much a transition as it was simply a chance to make a difference: “[I] just saw an opportunity to help people and wanted to help it come to fruition.”

Under her leadership as co-founder of the company, Lettuce Grow eventually debuted the startup’s first product, the Farmstand—a self-watering, self-fertilizing hydroponic vertical vegetable garden that’s as futuristic in its design as it is remarkably simple in its production. The technology—which is made from recycled ocean-bound plastic from coastal communities—is accented with studded holes, where users can insert pre-potted seedlings that make it possible to house 24 to 36 plants at a time, with only electricity and light required to yield a bountiful harvest.

The Farmstand—which starts at $348—not only uses 95% less water than traditional gardening, thanks to its automated internal irrigation system, but it’s also completely scalable. As users decide they’d like to grow more food, they can simply buy more units to stack onto the already existing components. And to ensure that the Farmstand is dependable regardless of its environment, the technology is programmed to factor in local climate, weather, and user feedback. The product’s innovative design has been credited for helping to modernize the agriculture industry, and serves as proof that food self-sufficiency is achievable. 

Deschanel’s commitment—albeit perhaps unintentional—to creating things that challenge mainstream discourse has continued to emerge as a reappearing theme throughout her career. In the same way that her New Girl character famously controverted outdated Hollywood approaches to depicting female leads—showcasing that women can, in fact, be a lot of different things at once—Deschanel has proved time and again that being entertaining and socially engaged are not mutually exclusive.

Whether she’s leaning into her gifts as a singer and songwriter, leading the charge in pioneering an environmentally conscious world through Lettuce Grow and her show Your Food’s Roots, or simply tapping into her creativity via a number of different mediums, it’s apparent that Deschanel is still very much growing into her talents—and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

We had the chance to interview Zooey about the beginnings of Lettuce Grow and how she’s bridging her passion for sustainability into Hollywood. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Photo by Sergio Necoechea.

Green Living (GL): Prior to developing the Farmstand, would you have considered yourself an avid gardener?

Zooey Deschanel (ZD): No! I am not a gardener at all. I love having fresh produce and I love cooking but I have zero affinity for gardening. That’s what makes the Farmstand great—it’s for gardeners and non-gardeners alike. It’s for everyone.


GL: When you started Lettuce Grow, who exactly were you hoping to reach with the technology?

ZD: We were hoping to reach everyone. We saw that there was so much unused space where people could be growing—on balconies, patios and in backyards. People are so often intimidated to grow food at home, and most of the produce they buy is grown far outside the city. We also thought we could help people make healthier choices by involving them in the process of growing their own food easily and effortlessly.


GL: The brand—and specifically, the Farmstand’s identity—seems to be rooted in wanting to help people feel empowered in the process of growing their own food. In what ways has the technology helped to restore that sense of food ownership within your own home—particularly with your children?

ZD: Well, like I said, I don’t enjoy gardening, but I do take pride in growing my own food and having access to fresh produce. It has really made my life so much easier not having to go to the store every time I need herbs or greens or other veggies. It also inspires creativity because I will know I have a certain something growing on my Farmstand, and it encourages me to think of all the things I can make with what I have growing. My kids are always interested in seeing what’s growing, and love tasting the stuff we grow with Lettuce Grow that they probably wouldn’t try if we bought it at the store.


GL: There used to be a time when more value was placed in local, homegrown food—why do you think there’s such a disconnect now? 

ZD: Most of us live in cities, and real estate in and around where we live is expensive! It doesn’t make sense to grow the kind of volume we need to feed the masses in the city. So, over time, people have become disconnected from food because they’re not involved in the process of growing it. What we realized is we can grow food in the city if we get creative, if we grow in smaller spaces for individual houses and use vertical space.


GL: The Farmstand is a perfect blend of functionality and design. Was that always an important element in the early development stages? And do you have any ideas of how you’d like to see the technology of the Farmstand evolve?

ZD: It’s basically like a piece of furniture, so it has to be beautiful and something people are proud to have inside their home or in their backyard. It’s a conversation piece. And it changes based on what you have growing. We just came out with grow lights, which have really opened up growing for colder climates! 


GL: What is your favorite plant to grow with the Farmstand?

ZD: I think herbs go a long way always and add so much flavor to your food. And I love kale because it’s so versatile.


GL: With the COVID-19 pandemic, there seems to be a growing interest in gardening and food self-sufficiency. Are you hopeful that this sort of interest will inspire people to examine where exactly their food comes from and turn to more technologies like the Farmstand in the future?

ZD: With people spending more time at home and having time to prepare their meals more often, I hope to inspire people to make healthier choices.


GL: With an established career as an entertainer, what has the journey been like transitioning into the role of an entrepreneur? 

ZD: I wouldn’t say I made a transition—I founded the lifestyle website Hellogiggles in 2011 and sold it to Time Inc. in 2015, and this was just something I was interested in. I wouldn’t call myself an entrepreneur really—just saw an opportunity to help people and wanted to help it come to fruition. I’m still first and foremost an entertainer though. 


GL: And do you have any interest in bridging your sustainability efforts with your work in Hollywood?

ZD: I actually have a show I do with Attn: called Your Food’s Roots. I really love making it, so that’s what I’m doing to bridge the two for now.


GL: Looking ahead, do you have any other green-focused projects that you’re excited about or that you could share with us?

ZD: I don’t have anything else right now, but I’ll let you know if I do!

For more information on Lettuce Grow, visit www.lettucegrow.com.

Keep up with all of Green Living‘s original content online and on social media. To read this story and many others from our February 2021 issue, purchase a copy here.


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