Mike Lee, head grower for Pick’d, hates pesticides. That’s because, as an agriculture expert and veteran grower, he knows how dangerous they can be.
“A chemical is a chemical is a chemical,” Mike said. “I’ve had enough.”
Fortunately, Mike’s approach to hydroponic farming guarantees that no pesticides, GMOs or anything else unnatural finds its way into Pick’d products. It’s an approach that he’s perfected over decades of growing everything from roses to microgreens across the country.
Mike’s father was a tree surgeon, but his real passion was roses. Mike grew up surrounded by natural beauty, helping his father to tend to his flowers. He didn’t take to it immediately.
Burnt out on agriculture, Mike worked as a machinist and tree surgeon out of high school before entering the landscape architecture program at Rutgers.
His sophomore year, Mike landed an internship in New Jersey and got a taste of what the job was actually like.
“They put me in a room with no windows and asked me to design parking lots,” Mike said. “I had to get out of there.”
Mike returned to growing, earning his degree in greenhouse management and horticulture. He soon found work growing snapdragons for a family business owned by a man named Herman Scheu.
“He taught me more than I ever learned in college about how to work with plants, all the little things that make you a better grower,” Mike said. “I can only thank him all my life for what he taught me.”
After a few years, the Scheus sold their business and Mike started working as a grower for a wholesale grower out of Baltimore. For almost two decades, Mike honed his growing knowledge and business acumen by traveling the country. Eventually, though, he decided to settle down with his wife, starting a landscaping business in Rochester, NY.
Mike’s business took off and not long after, he sold it for a profit and retired early. There was just one problem: he needed to be busy.
“I sat at home for a couple of weeks and hated it,” Mike said. “I needed something else.”
A friend tipped Mike off to a job opening at the Community Action Organization of Erie County in Buffalo, NY. The CAO needed an experienced grower to head an urban farming initiative on the city’s East Side. Mike was hired on the spot.
The job was Mike’s first serious job in both urban farming and hydroponics. He soon found out that he had his work cut out for him.
“They said they had six months and some grant money,” Mike said. “Then they pulled me out of orientation and put me to work.”
Mike took to the work quickly, and within six months he’d made the program a success. His greenhouses harvested fresh crops every single day, selling half to local restaurants to cover the costs of providing the rest to low-income families in the area.
With his newly developed expertise, Mike joined the Pick’d team to help to develop a better way to grow fresh food hydroponically.
Mike’s approach borrows as much from cutting-edge knowledge as it does from ancient cultures.
“I studied Japanese and Mayan agriculture and was really impressed with both,” Mike said. “That helped spur me into hydroponics.”
The result: a state-of-the-art hydroponic system that allows Pick’d to grow clean, natural produce that can be picked at its peak for maximum freshness.
That doesn’t only mean better food. It means better methods of growing, too.
“You don’t need an enormous amount of infrastructure to grow hydroponically,” Mike said. “It’s more earth-friendly, and you get a cleaner crop. A safer crop.”
In addition, the Pick’d controlled growing environment eliminates issues stemming from disease, pollution and, thankfully, insects.
That makes Mike happy because he won’t have to deal with pesticides again.
“I haven’t sprayed a pesticide in four years,” Mike said. “If I never spray another one, I’ll be happy.”