Local Foodways | “Little Wondrous Microgreens”: A Community Collaboration
Winter in Wisconsin often means foregoing fresh, local greens. This Winter, Clipper City Co-op Owners Amber Daugs, CEO and Founder of Grow It Forward Inc. (Co-op Owner #7), and Claire Olson, owner of Roorbach Flowers (Co-op Owner #160), decided to fill this gap by growing fresh, nutrient-dense microgreens in the heated nursery at Roorbach Flowers.
Daugs was first introduced to microgreens and indoor gardening by a mentor, farmer Tony Farrell, through her fellowship with the Victory Garden Initiative in Milwaukee, in 2014. Daugs learned the importance of soil, humidity, light, and water in creating optimal growing conditions, and experimented in her Manitowoc home.
Olson first discovered microgreens while traveling in California. She was impressed by farmers market displays of trays of microgreens—the early shoots of plants like pea, radish, and a variety of herbs. As she watched the farmers snip off sections of greens and bag them for the consumer, she thought about how to offer these products at home in Manitowoc.
Microgreens, which are harvested when the plants have grown for approximately two weeks and before their first true leaves develop, offer a potent dose of nutrients. Researchers from the United States Department of Agriculture and University of Maryland-College Park studied “four groups of vitamins and other phytochemicals – including vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta carotene — in 25 varieties of microgreens. They found that leaves from almost all of the microgreens had four to six times more nutrients than the mature leaves of the same plant. But there was variation among them – red cabbage was highest in vitamin C, for instance, while the green daikon radish microgreens had the most vitamin E.” Nutrient-rich, fresh, local, and available during the seemingly barren winter? They truly are what Daugs labels “little wondrous microgreens.”
Daugs needed more space and better growing conditions for her microgreens crop, and Olson had a temperate greenhouse, complete with heated growing tables, that was mostly empty during the Winter months. They decided to collaborate, building on both of their visions for local food production in Manitowoc.
“I see gardens everywhere in Manitowoc,” Daugs says, “Utopia is the garden.” Her vision of increased food production matches Olson’s realization that approaches to gardening are changing. On the one hand, many more stores sell greenhouse plants, and on the other, there is a decline in interest in non-edible gardening. Daugs and Olson are working together to re-imagine traditional greenhouse spaces to benefit the local food system.
They have worked together with Roorbach Flowers’ staff to test soils for best flavor and to develop a viable indoor, urban garden. They traveled together to Growing Power in Milwaukee, an internationally acclaimed innovator in urban gardening, for inspiration and education. Daugs is working with other local farmers and producers to develop better compost, which will allow her to close the loop in the garden system to improve the quality of the food, and increase profitability.
Their partnership continues, as they consider a range of possibilities beyond growing microgreens, such as growing crops like lettuce, tomatoes, and nasturtiums using aquaponics.
For now, their bustling microgreens business is a success. They seed new crops every week to meet demand, and sell the microgreens at Roorbach’s for $2.50 each or 2 for $4.00. They offer three varieties: the mildly peppery radish, the subtle pea, and the nutty black-oil sunflower. They plan to continue growing throughout the year, selling the greens at the Manitowoc farmers market.
~by Jessica Lyn Van Slooten, Clipper City Co-op Owner #47