Ten years ago David Chelf, founder of Wicked Wilds,
was a hydroponic grower. With a Masters in physics and a long standing
passion for growing flavorful and nutritious fruits and vegetables,
hydroponics seemed the appropriate method. Hydroponics allowed him
to grow in a compact area and have total control of the plants’ environment.
He had developed a small, elaborate greenhouse system which housed
an assortment of baby lettuces and berries offered through his company,
Baby greens were becoming more common in the market and
his search for items that were challenging to grow and offered a high
margin led him to a little known green called mâche. Mâche
had the potential he was looking for, and he was confident that he
could create a more desirable version than that grown by his competitor
controlling the application of nutrients to optimize growth.
An intricate system of cubes and conveyors was erected.
Several months into production, Mr. Chelf noticed a beautiful, dark
green rosette in the dirt near his feet, beneath the conveyor used
the mâche plantings. One little seed had fallen from the belt and
happened to land in the dirt next to a small leak in the hydroponics
system. There it had grown, undetected until that moment. Despite the
scientific focus and costly applications given to the hydroponic mâche,
each planting grew small headed and leggy while this little renegade
had grown wild and flourished, exhibiting completely different physical
characteristics. He immediately recognized the potential of this unique
specimen and went about trying to recreate its environment.
He soon discovered that mâche was no ordinary green.
Like strawberries, the development of a strong root system was integral
to the success of the plant. Extremely sensitive to their environment,
even the slightest adjustment in the amount of water they received
caused substantially different plants to emerge. Growing them hydroponically
was virtually worthless. Rich soil was what these babies needed,
Farms began the process of converting their farming operation.
In 1999 David was approached by Todd Koons, innovator
of packaged organic salads and founder of TKO, Todd Koons Organics.
David’s passion and ability, and together they set out to share
this unique green with a larger audience.
During his years with Koons’ company, Epic Roots, David turned a deaf
ear to the constant drone of conventional growers in the Salinas Valley who
believed that the way to control insect pressure was to spray the hell out
of the field; the way to prevent weak plants was to use tougher seed. No matter
what you lose in the way of health benefits or flavor- you’ll make it
up on the bottom line. People don’t care that much about what they
eat, as long as it looks good.
Determined not to be distracted by this type of “conventional” wisdom
and believing that people do care, he pressed on with the varieties of
mâche he had identified at Aquarian Farms, varieties that offered
the best taste, highest nutritional content and most distinct physical
characteristics. Adjusting the nutrients for the soil of the Salinas
Valley and further developing the farming techniques to cater to the
needs of each.
David made several trips to Europe, during which he observed the growing
practices of French, Italian and German farmers who have been growing
for centuries. Visits with them provided an invaluable source of information.
Ultimately, Epic Roots caved in to the demands of the commercial
produce industry and opted to use conventional farming methods and seed
geared toward large scale commercial production.
Remembering that one rogue seed that had grown so beautifully
without any chemical manipulation or human intervention, David knew
there was a better way. By devoting careful attention to satisfying
of the plants and utilizing his well developed farming skills, he
could do what he had been told could not be done. Rather than settle
than his vision, he set out to create the ultimate line of produce…something
beyond organic, something wild.