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With new Austin-based hydroponics company, Zooey Deschanel and husband Jacob Pechenik want to deliver plants to your door

Addie Broyles
TV host and chef Andrew Zimmern takes a selfie with Zooey Deschanel at the South Congress Hotel on Sunday as part of the launch of Lettuce Grow. [Contributed by Laura Hajar]

The future of better food starts with your backyard.

Or at least that's the idea behind Lettuce Grow, a new hydroponic growing system and plant subscription service that will hit the market in about a month. It's the latest venture from Zooey Deschanel and her husband, Jacob Pechenik, who split their time between Austin and L.A.

A few years ago they launched The Farm Project and Your Food Roots, a video series that "empowers initiatives that reconnect people with food," and have been working in the food industry since. They bought Agua Dulce Farm, an aquaponics farm in Southeast Austin, which is now where the transplants for the Lettuce Grow hydroponic pods are grown, and bought Farmhouse Delivery, the food delivery company started by Austinite Stephanie Scherzer, who remains on staff.

On Sunday afternoon at the South Congress Hotel, Deschanel and Pechenik showed off half a dozen of these vertical hydroponic farms that each contained a mix of edible flowers, herbs, leafy greens and vegetables, including tomatoes, peppers and watermelons. The idea is that the pods can grow 20 percent of what you eat, using 95 percent less water than conventional methods.

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Every few weeks, the company sends you a batch of transplants that have already been started so that you put them in the pod and can start growing (and eating) the Astro Arugula, Bambi Romaine or Green Oakleaf Lettuce immediately. It's a cool concept that starts with $300 on the pod and then continues at $49 a month for the shipments of plants and an app with a scanner so you can learn more about the plants and find recipes for how to use them.

"We work with farmers to know what grows well when and then we grow the plant for the first two or three weeks so it's easier for them," Pechenik said. "When you grow in the ground, you germinate in paper towels and then you wait 8 weeks and if you're successful, you get a bunch all at once, but we've set it up where every day, you'll have a plant to eat. It's built around a lifestyle of eating healthy food."

They'll ship the first pods, which are made from milk jugs from Haiti that can't be recycled there, in three to four weeks. "I see these like solar panels 30 years ago. Power was just power, it was whatever you got. Now, you can pay extra for solar or wind. We want to decommodify food and make it more transparent," said Pechenik, a San Antonio native who lived in Austin before meeting and marrying Deschanel three years ago. "When no one asks about where food comes from, nothing will change."

Instead of growing one head of lettuce in a square foot over several months, he could grow 75 transplants during that time, which the consumers then finish growing at their own homes, and growing fresh food that lasts a long time in the fridge and doesn't require much maintenance is one way to make it appealing to adults and kids, he said. As part of the sign-up process, you can select which kinds of foods you like to eat and where you live, and the company sends you a customized set of plants that work in different growing zones and for different palates. Right now, they have 26 varieties of plants seeded and growing in the greenhouses.

Deschanel, who won an Emmy for her role in "New Girl" and performs in the band She and Him, says they wanted to make it easier and more affordable for people to eat well and healthy.

"It changed our lives being more involved with our food, I grew up cooking, but when I was pregnant with our first baby, we started looking into what foods we were eating and what was best for the baby. It's been a mission we've been on since then," she said.  "This is for people who might not have a green thumb, they might not have the time, they might only have a balcony."

Having lived here for a few years, she and her husband are now running a hydroponic farm and a subscription model e-commerce business and raising two children under 5. It's a busy time where having a semi-automated garden might come in handy. "Austin is such a great community for food, and it's where we can cater to people who love food and people who are just discovering a love of food."

Although the initial pods won't ship for a few weeks, they are taking pre-orders now through the website,