Tech-enable farming specializing in greens, microgreens and herbs.
Small but Mighty
Packed with flavor and nutrients, microgreens can power up your diet.
You’ve probably noticed microgreens at farmers markets or natural food stores. But do you know what these nutrient-dense flavor bombs can do for your diet? While they emerged on the culinary landscape back in the 1980s, it’s only in recent years that microgreens have turned up in mainstream groceries across the state. Today, while many shoppers are still wondering what to do with them, nutritionists and trainers are counseling clients to embrace the mighty microgreen.
WHAT EXACTLY ARE MICROGREENS?
The first tiny seed leaves (known as cotyledons) are picked early in a plant’s growth cycle—at 10-14 days—microgreens are cultivated in soil or grown using hydroponic methods.
Unlike sprouts (which are typically grown in water and eaten roots and all), microgreens are cut with scissors above the soil line when they’re just an inch or two in height. The most popular versions are grown from plants we all recognize:
Cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, watercress, radish, and arugula all come from the Brassicaceae family.
Lettuce, endive, chicory, and radicchio come from the Asteraceae family.
Dill, carrot, fennel, and celery come from the Apiaceae family.
Garlic, onion, and leeks are in the Amaryllidaceae family.
Amaranth, quinoa, swiss chard, beets, and spinach are from the Amaranthaceae family.
Melon, cucumber, and squash are from the Cucurbitaceae family.
WHY ARE THEY GOOD FOR US?
Researchers with the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (AGNR) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) compared nutrient levels in microgreens with the full-grown version of the same plant and found that the microgreens contained from four to 40 times more nutrients.
Sharon Palmer, author of The Plant Powered Diet, found that: “Since microgreens are harvested when the plants are not yet mature, they are rich in the nutrients and antioxidants needed to grow into full-blown plants.”
HOW TO USE THEM
Best eaten raw to preserve the flavor and nutrients, microgreens offer big rewards in a small package and can be used in a variety of ways—sprinkled on soups or added to sandwiches—to boost meals with flavor and nutrients.
“I tell clients that by adding microgreens into simple foods such as sandwiches, salads, and smoothies, they’ll boost the amounts of beneficial vitamins and antioxidants consumed by up to 40 times more,” says Jim White, a registered dietician and exercise physiologist certified by the American College of Sports Medicine. White owns the Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios in Norfolk and Virginia Beach, which offer medical nutrition therapy, workplace wellness, and other fitness services.
“People are surprised to learn about these tiny greens, and they’re thrilled to make this subtle adjustment to benefit from the rich nutrients in microgreens that they wouldn’t get from lettuce,” he notes.
WHERE CAN YOU FIND THEM?
Troesser, Carmen StockFood
A Poached Pear with Bulls Blood Microgreens
Look for microgreens on menus, in farmers markets, and in natural food grocers. A few of our favorite Virginia producers include:
CABBAGE HILL FARM
Chris Vaughan has been farming microgreens for 15 years. His popular Cabbage Hill Farm micro-mix contains 12 greens, including mustard, cabbage, kale, broccoli, arugula, and radish tops. He also sells some micro specialty greens like cilantro, dill, fennel, parsley, leeks, and basil.
Inspired by his mom’s Zesto Pesto business in Rochester, New York, Chris began making his own pesto combinations using microgreens, including a pea shoot and pistachio pesto, a cilantro and macadamia nut pesto, and a radish-cashew pesto. The intense flavor concentration in the microgreens and his creative use of different nuts create delicious and unique flavor profiles.
Cabbage Hill Farm sells produce and pesto to over 30 restaurants in Central Virginia. In Richmond, Cabbage Hill can be found at Belmot Butchery and Outpost, as well as at Byrd House Market and Big Market at Bryan Park.
A quest for nutrient-dense foods led Trent Jackson to microgreens. As a competitive high school soccer player, he found his answer in wheatgrass. He began selling it at his Colonial Heights high school before adding microgreens to the mix and selling to farmers’ markets and restaurants—all before moving to Richmond, enrolling in VCU’s DaVinci Center for Innovation.
At Lil’ Spouts, Jackson now grows five varieties of microgreens (sunflower, pea, radish, broccoli, and salad mix) indoors with organic soil and artificial light, supplying retailers like Ellwood Thompson’s, Good Foods Grocery, Libbie Market in Richmond, and Foods of All Nations in Charlottesville. He’s determined to dispel the myth that microgreens are expensive and inaccessible. “With microgreens, less is more,” says Jackson. “They’re more efficient—they’re essentially the caviar of greens.”
When his daughter was five, Trevor Ferguson searched for the perfect strawberries to satisfy her, and when he came up empty, Nouveau Farms was born. Originally from The Bahamas, Ferguson came to the U.S. to study engineering 20 years ago. That knowledge has helped him craft a technically-precise hydroponic growing system that is USDA GAP-certified (Good Agricultural Practices).
Ferguson sells nine varieties, plus herbs through Ellwood Thompson’s, Good Foods Grocery, and Libbie Market and statewide through the Seasonal Roots and 4P community supported agriculture (CSA) programs. To come are online sales with farm pickup.
by John Haddad "Virginia Living Magazine"
This article originally appeared in the February 2022 issue.
Biz Journal Article
Nouveau Farms started with one little girl's strawberry obsession.
Richmonder Trevor Ferguson, a mechanical engineer with years of experience and two degrees, was struggling to find strawberries that were consistent in quality and price to feed his daughters’ insatiable taste for the sweet summer fruit. This sparked his interest in horticulture, and in 2016, he discovered just how much the globalization of the world has changed local farming.
“I learned that most of our produce is being engineered to travel long distances,” Ferguson told Inno. “Most produce travels at least 1,500 miles to get to you; that’s already three-to-five days if you're lucky. Greens and herbs lose 30 to 40 percent of their nutrient value within just three-to-four days.”
So Ferguson set out to find a better way. The result was Nouveau Farms.
The startup operation began in his basement as an experiment into hydroponics and has since grown into a dual-location working farm. The flagship location features an indoor hydroponic system that grows herbs, greens and microgreens, while focusing on sustainability with the use of renewable energy and plant-based compostable materials. Most of the greens are sold directly to customers.
As Nouveau Farms grew from a basement hobby to a commercial operation, Ferguson began dreaming of an outdoor farm of his own. He purchased seven acres in Varina and plans to turn it into an outdoor farm that features hydroponic influences. He envisions the farm eventually including a vineyard to grow wine and an event space that could be used as a wedding venue
Ferguson said the hydroponics system allows for efficient farming that lets the farmer tailor the nutrients and growing conditions specifically to that plant’s need, including temperature, light and humidity. This allows him to adjust the growth and flavor profile for the deal product.
“One of the biggest differentiators between us and other local farmers is our cost,” Ferguson said. “Organic farming is traditionally very expensive. Our focus here is to use technology and operations that drive down the cost to be comparable to that of imported goods.”
For now, Ferguson said he is working toward making the outdoor farm a place where customers can come in and pick their own strawberries or buy other Nouveau Farms crops. He hopes to have that side of the business operational by 2021.
“Our goal is to eventually have a farm where the family could make a whole day out of coming to pick strawberries, buy freshly pruned greens that were cut right there in front of them, mix and mingle with the community, all while enjoying a glass of wine,” he said.
As the original hydroponics-based location continues to grow its base products, Nouveau Farms plans to begin offering a delivery service that will deliver freshly harvested produce to customers’ front door within 24 hours of picking. Ferguson expects this service to begin this fall. Additionally, he is pursuing certification with the USDA that would allow him to sell his hydroponic-grown greens in local grocery stores.
“I think people need to become a little more aware of what goes into the food that's being produced,” Ferguson said. “When they support local farmers, it allows all of us to scale and grow our operations such that we can continue driving the costs down low."
"I really believe that if local farmers were given the opportunity, with support from the local community, we could get to the point where we're giving you a considerably better product at the same price as the imports coming in," he added.
Author: Megan Corsano
Biz Journal Link: https://www.bizjournals.com/richmond/inno/stories/profiles/2020/08/13/nouveau-farms-uses-hydroponics-to-grow-produce.html