It was quite a while back, actually, that my dear friend Ken retired from Grand Targhee Resort’s ski patrol and moved to Salt Lake City. It was then that he told me it would be a good idea for me to become acquainted with his fellow patroller, Dave Ridill. Ridill had started a new business, Clawson Greens, growing greens inside shipping containers in Tetonia, Idaho. Now just how unlikely is that scenario?
Ridill and I spoke on the phone a few times before I met him, with me repeatedly promising it would be soon that I would come check out his scene. Around Christmas time of 2017 we met while he was delivering his beautiful produce to Hand Fire Pizza as I was interviewing the chef and manager for a column. Hand Fire serves one simple and delicious salad. It is made of Clawson Greens.
Ridill grew up in Needham, Massachusetts outside Boston. Both his mom and his aunt were passionate gardeners. His fascination began early with the plant world. He graduated from the University of Maine after a course of study that included communications and forest recreation management.
One college spring break Ridill accompanied his brother and some friends to Jackson Hole to ski. While in the neighborhood he applied for a summer job at Grand Targhee on the wilderness crew of the U.S. Forest Service in the Jedediah Smith Forest. That continued until 2018, when Clawson Greens began consuming more of his time.
That winter of 2007 Ridill started a winter job of as ski patroller at Grand Targhee that he still enjoys. He was later a bike patrolman for six years but, after breaking his back in four places, he decided that job was not for him. He also worked as part of Teton County, Idaho’s fire department.
In 2016 he was about to attend paramedic school in Boston when his neighbors approached him with an outlandish proposal. They had discovered a company that used shipping containers to grow food in a controlled environment. They loved the idea and yet believed it more appropriate for someone much younger than they were to embark on such project of that scope. Thus they shared the idea with their favorite neighbor.
Ridill became more intrigued and educated about the possibilities. There are countless shipping containers all over the planet. Many are abandoned or fallen into disuse. Why not repurpose, up-cycle these already existing units in a productive manner?
Ridill connected with Freight Farms. As fate would have it, the founder of the company grew up a couple miles from Ridill’s family home. They went to the same high school although five years apart. It was as if it was meant to be.
After he returned from training with Freight Farms the first shipping container grow room arrived at its final home in Tetonia, Idaho. In the winter of 2017 Ridill had his first restaurant customer.
It’s simple to check out Freight Farms’ website online. It is amazing to look at the possibilities of the future of farming and food, though it’s much more impressive in person.
The system uses a fraction of the water used in most agriculture. The drip irrigation waters the vertical tube, and it all recycles. The environment is temperature and humidity controlled for a growing season of 52 weeks a year. Beautiful organic produce is available mud- and insect-free using no pesticides.
It is an eight-week process from planting the seeds in tiny plugs to harvesting the heads of greens with their root ball attached. The variety of plants ranges from red-veined sorrel and wasabi arugula to rainbow chards and many lettuce varieties. All are vibrantly alive and remain in excellent condition for use for a couple weeks. As chefs plan their seasonal menus, Ridill provides specialty greens in a timely fashion.
There are now three grow room containers that supply 10 local restaurants. Last winter the customers at Phoenix and Dragon were impressed enough that they requested greens for home use. Eric and Zarina Sakai, who own Phoenix and Dragon, put together a little CSA. Ridill brought greens and everyone was happy. I hope they do it again next winter. It is true that the salads at the restaurant are particularly tasty. The small plate of summer rolls and their KFC, or Korean Fried Chicken, sent me into a dreamy state the other evening. Their summer schedule serves lunch Monday through Friday and dinner Tuesday through Saturday.
Ridill has not become a paramedic and yet he is caring for our health in a different way. It’s pretty exciting. ￼
This story and related photos were updated to correct the spelling of Dave Ridill's name. — Eds.