Living microgreens are a trending alternative to other salad greens and are particularly popular among chefs in the local Seattle market. Homeowners and retailers are also adopting them when made available through local delivery.
Seasonal varieties for restaurant industry
Chefs prefer certain flavors for certain seasons, but dealing direct with a smaller grower can enable them to choose from a wide range of these tiny greens. Girly Girl Greens grows up to 40 varieties at a time. Basil and red shiso tend to be their most requested items, according to Bronte Austin. “We like to have a personal relationship with our customers.” Deliveries are made weekly and the sizing depends on the customer. Chefs can order a full 10x20 tray or a 6.5x5 block. 6 blocks equals one flat and which can be customized with up to six different varieties. They also run a small CSA program with a half flat (10x10 tray) of four individual 5x5 inch blocks, which Austin says is perfect for most households and that chefs often request true leaf varieties, which take longer to grow and are more labor intensive.
Trial and error in learning best growing practices
Austin says they’ve learned an immense amount about cultivating the unique crops. The company – comprised of a mom and her eight daughters – has been open for a little over a year. “It took a long time to perfect the commodities,” she says. “Every specialty variety was a new challenge and learning the different environmental factors for any given microgreen was time consuming. Possibly the hardest of all was perfecting the soil.” Even after getting the inputs correct, achieving the proper ratios was a challenge, which took additional time. “It wasn’t until just a few months ago we really came up with what we like to think of as the perfect mix,” she says. Austin believes growing entirely in soil and selling items live in the soil they’re grown in makes the microgreens last longer and taste better. “Plants were designed to grow in the soil. That’s where they’ve always been. The soil is the foundation of the entire plant, no matter what you’re growing,” she explains. “If you don’t start out with high quality soil, no amount of care put into it later will make up for that. That’s really the focus of the organic program, rebuilding and replenishing the soil with each harvest to create a better environment for the future.”
Bull's blood beet
Spicy varieties are popular sellers
Spicy microgreens are some of their best sellers, which include arugula, triton radish, red radish, mixed mustard and the top-seller in the category, the ‘spicy mix’. Mild microgreens grown include longevity mix (blend of brassica varieties dotted with splashes of bright pink amaranth), flax, and red mizuna. Some of the specialty greens, which require more care because Austin says they take more time to reach maturity and some also require supplemental nutrients as they grow, including basil, bull’s blood beet, red Malabar spinach, red shiso, and bronze fennel. “I think people are getting more used to the idea of microgreens. What’s popular now is the vibrant varieties and those with true leaves; they have a little bit of extra style and color.”
Red Malibar spinach
Overcoming challenges when new to farming
Venturing into farming comes with challenges, especially if there isn’t any generational knowledge to pass down. “I think the hardest thing is learning what each plant’s individual likes and dislikes are; it’s not all one size fits all,” says Austin. “We have to take into consideration if it’s a warm or cool weather crop, how much light it prefers, how much water it needs, and if it can tolerate much fluctuation in its particular environment.” A lot of research went into each individual type. With the farm 1,200 ft. above sea level, a lot of what works for other growers but didn’t for them. “Most farms are located in valleys, and it’s amazing how elevation and the type of air you’re exposing the crops to can make such a difference.” A bonus was their well water, which is sourced from a deep mountain aquifer. “It was found to be very pure and clean when we tested it but is extremely alkaline. Most plants won’t tolerate higher pH, so we have to use an organic pH down to lower it to the slightly acidic range, which is ideal for most things. It explained a lot of why certain microgreens just weren’t thriving until we changed that.” She notes that the cleaner, less polluted mountain air, well oxygenated by the vast amount of trees also helps. “Little things like that can make a huge difference.”
Educating about local
Income aside, Austin says the main goal is to educate people about what they’ve learned. “Profit is not our main goal. We're about community, which is one reason why we only sell to the local area. You can’t ship live microgreens and expect them to arrive at their destination in great condition. Seattle is perfectly situated that you can get a wide variety of foods from local farms.” She believes many farmers prefer to stay within a certain area because they’re contributing better food to the people around them. Our own health has improved tremendously over the last several years from what we’ve learned and we want other people to experience the same benefits.”
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