The Mighty Microgreen
The first time I tasted microgreens was at a restaurant on the West Coast. I ordered deviled eggs and neatly and beautifully garnished on top were these tiny plants. I remember how beautiful the deep purple stems looked and the intense spicy kick that followed the first bite. I had no idea what they were but I sure liked them. I also remember panicking a bit because being on a restricted diet usually means they aren't good for me to eat or might make me sick. I was happy to learn from the waiter that they were radish microgreens and indeed were safe. This experience opened up a whole new food obsession which would later become a core part of our farm.
As many people with food allergies and sensitives know, when you find foods you can eat, you make them a staple and try to use them in as many ways as possible to keep them from becoming boring or overused. Microgreens are ideal as there are so many to choose from; they are versatile and are able to be used as both a garnish or ingredient. For some of the larger and denser varieties you can actually make a meal out of them. For example, if you haven't had a sunflower microgreen salad, you really are missing out. Radishes make a crunchy snack pack.
Nutrition is a core value for our farm and for our family. I was shocked to learn Microgreens have been scientifically tested by the University of Maryland with incredibly powerful results.
"Their research ultimately discovered that the microgreens contained four to 40 times more nutrients than their mature counterparts".
That's one heck of a nutritional punch and for someone suffering with autoimmune and gut issues, it's critical since we already have absorption issues and need as many nutrients as we get.
Also microgreens aren't just for humans. As we started experimenting with farming microgreens, we researched that most microgreens are beneficial for cats, dogs, rabbits, chickens, goats and more. For dogs most can make up to 10% of their diets and cats up to 5%. A great article giving more direct information about pet food microgreens can be found here.
Unfortunately the microgreen trend isn't equal across the USA. The West Coast has certainly caught the micro fever and are very popular, found pretty much everywhere. Bigger cities as you head East are also beginning to catch up but there is still room to improve and education is key. One thing about Microgreens that should be considered is they are highly perishable and lose their nutritional value quickly. Getting to know your microgreens farmers local to your area is really important as most you'll see in a store may be grown hundreds, if not thousand miles away in indoor warehouse style facilities using chemical fertilizers, and in some places you may not be able to find them at all outside upscale restaurants as a garnish.
For us, using high quality, organic soil (although "dirtier" and a bit more complex for some crops) was the "no brainier". First and foremost, it aligns with our farming core principles to choose soil and sun over artificial environments whenever feasible and we also in our experiments have found soil and natural light to make the flavor profile of the microgreens we cultivate so much better.
There is no question Florida is a hard state to grow greens, so we recognize we have to use indoor systems at certain times of year and for certain varieties to ensure food safety (too hot and too much humidity using soil can lead to fungal disease and mold). But we do what we can with our climate and also try to focus on crops that are compatible to our area.
We also support our local area which for us means we can harvest and deliver same day. We find the best flavor and texture within the first 48 hours for most microgreens even if they can be kept refrigerated and usable still within one to two weeks depending on variety. We also used to wash all of our greens prior to delivery but found that this can cause a faster spoilage. Instead we clearly label our products so customers know they are unwashed. We recommend a light washing (drowning and water logging microgreens will make them taste bad and soggy) right before consuming. Our farm is committed to good agricultural practices at all times so we feel confident from soaking, sowing to harvest we are minimizing as much risk for pathogens as possible.
One final note about food safety and sanitation around microgreens and most produce in general; one of the secrets of the commercial produce farming industry is the recommendation and common use of bleaching for sanitation ON YOUR FOOD. I am very vocal about being against this as the benchmark.
I am open minded and will listen to the argument that it has to be there for the big agricultural companies that process and package large volumes of raw produce from lands that have high risk all in a single facility but I feel this once again goes to show that are agriculture system is broken when we have to bleach our food to be safe.
As a small regenerative farmer I feel strongly that we need to support and protect our microbiome and using bleach is not something that supports our health. Since we do NOT use bleach, we instead use food grade 3% hydro peroxide diluted appropriately and only sanitize very early on in our soaking and seeding process. We do not reuse our soil, and we work very hard to ensure clean growing systems, and we only buy from trusted seed companies who have good practices and testing in place around pathogens. We know exactly who handles our food and how it is handled from the time it is taken out of the bag at the seed stage, to when it is filled in our eco-friendly packaging. The entire process is controlled by us and we take personal accountability to ensure it is not only safe but also healthy.
In conclusion, I love being a Microgreens Farmer and a daily consumer of "vegetable confetti" as it was once branded. At Drunken Cabbage Farm we think everyone can benefit from the Microgreen trend no matter how its grown. We look forward to supporting the Tampa Bay area in Winter 2019-2020.
Jessica Kesler, MBA, PMP, CSM, PMC-II is one of the owners of Drunken Cabbage Farm and is passionate about growing organic, non-GMO produce and chicken farming and supporting the regenerative agriculture movement.
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