Microgreens are on the rise and organic growers are taking note. These tiny verdant greens are gaining market share, thanks to their unparalleled freshness, the broad array of flavors available, and the increasing demand for local produce among consumers. Chefs love them for their versatility and elegance on the plate, and many prefer to purchase them from growers as “living trays” that can be harvested as needed. Microgreens can also be a great crop for the farmer because of the shorter turnaround time from seed to harvest (less than a month) compared to traditional row crops.
Expanding Micro Options. Since the Canadian Organic Standards now officially reference microgreens crops [see details in box below], growers interested in starting or expanding their operations may be looking for additional organic options. High Mowing Organic Seeds has invested heavily in expanding both the types of micro varieties offered and the quantity of seed available to organic growers. Of particular note are two new micro varieties for 2016, both of which are very popular among microgreens producers. Purple Sango Radish is sought after for its rich, spicy flavor, quick growth rate and stunning deep purple leaves and stems, while Red Acre Cabbage offers mild brassica flavor, bright purple stems and emerald leaves that contrast nicely with the stems. All High Mowing microgreens are both Certified Organic and Non GMO Project Verified.
Canadian organic regulations for Microgreens
Terms and definitions, CAN/CGSB-32.310Clause 3: microgreens: edible young plants that are harvested later than sprouts, generally when cotyledons are fully formed or when two or four true leaves are present.
Microgreens production requirements (32.310 7.4.1 and 7.4.2)*
- Organic seed shall be used.
- Water sources (for example, potable water, distilled or processed by osmosis) must meet or exceed drinking water guidelines for quality, including microbial and chemical contaminant levels.
- A water quality monitoring program shall be in place and water shall be analyzed at least twice a year (once every six months).
- Fertilizers are prohibited at all stages of growing and harvesting.
- Substances used for cleaning or sanitation of seed or harvested product shall be limited to substances listed in Table 4.3 of CAN/CGSB-32.311 (Permitted Substances lists).
*Note: Microgreens producers must also comply with additional requirements provided in CAN/CGSB-32.310 subclause 7.5 (greenhouse production).
Grow Like a Pro. Microgreen seed must meet stringent high quality standards; at High Mowing Organic Seeds, we work extensively with several microgreens producers who provide invaluable feedback as we develop our program. Ashley Driscoll and John Irving, owners of 2 Friends Farm in Attleboro, Massachusetts are two of these producers. They have identified some of the benefits and challenges of microgreens production gleaned from three years of commercial production:
The Indoor Advantage. According to Ashley and John, “We began growing indoors because we could control the environment and re-purpose mill space. Another benefit was to be able to offer a consistent product year round.” In addition, they discovered that growing indoors eliminates many of the pest and disease problems of outdoor production – “we realized that there are no “rain days”, and other than the occasional fruit fly, there are no bugs!”
That being said, they advise growers interested in producing microgreens not to assume that it’s a “qet rich quick” crop. “You need deep pockets and a 7-day-a-week commitment for years to actually succeed. Indoor growing is even more expensive than greenhouse growing because of the electricity needed for lighting,” Ashley says.
Varieties. 2 Friends Farm sells nearly all of their 20+ varieties as harvested greens packaged in plastic clamshells. They find that “the demand for them is fairly equal”, but “if we had to pick the most popular, we’d say our Rainbow Mix or Sunnies [aka sunflower shoots].”
Because of the challenges of transportation and shelf life, the only variety they offer as a “living tray” is wheatgrass, used for juicing. According to Ashley, they use High Mowing seeds because “we can trust their quality. One might think all seeds are the same, but we have learned that is not true…We can always trust that the seeds we buy from them will be fresh and of top quality,” important considerations for any microgreens grower.
Other key elements for successful microgreens production. At 2 Friends Farm, Ashley and John have found that “Good soil, good seed and the right amount of water makes all the difference.” They say that their “techniques are constantly being improved.” One new improvement has them particularly excited: 2 Friends Farm recently received a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources to install a new ebb-and-flow automatic watering system, which will make a huge difference, as Ashley notes, “for the past three years we have hand watered every tray.”
2 Friends Farm “will continue to expand as long as there is demand for [their] products” and will be looking to open a second facility when they outgrow their current location. But no matter what happens, they say, “we will always grow our microgreens to ensure top nutritional quality, shelf life and taste.”