PHOTOGRAPHY BY PATRICK TREGENZA – STYLING BY DIANE GSELL
Go small this spring for a dose of locally farmed nutrition
Who doesn’t love microgreens on avocado toast, in salads or sprucing up a sandwich? Microgreens, with their crunchy texture, pack a punch of nutrients and add flavor to most anything. Herbaceous cilantro, mint or basil microgreens can give that final “pop” to a dish or even fancy up a dessert. Or you can keep it simple and just graze them straight from the bag, something I have been known to do often!
People often confuse sprouts and microgreens. Sprouts are grown without soil by keeping the seed moist, stimulating it to grow. Sprouts don’t need light or nutrients to grow because they are eaten when only the cotyledons—the first embryonic leaves—come out. The cotyledons, which don’t at all resemble the true leaves of the plant, are fed by the seed, and therefore don’t need soil nutrients to grow. When you eat sprouts you are consuming the swollen seed, the stem and the cotyledons. Sprouts are mild tasting compared to microgreens because their true leaves are not present.
Microgreens, on the other hand, are grown in soil and need sun. Microgreens seeds are not eaten as they are below the soil level. They are harvested once their flavorful true leaves are grown and when they are about 2 inches tall—anything larger than 3 inches is considered a baby green. Even though they are tiny, microgreens taste similar to a full-grown vegetable. Another reason to choose microgreens—they have more nutrient value than sprouts OR baby greens. Some growers are dehydrating and offering their microgreens in a super food powder, which is a great way to mitigate potential waste if fresh micros don’t sell out.
Microgreens became hip in San Francisco in the 1980s when chefs began supercharging their menus with them. About the same time, Corralitos farm New Natives was pioneering this craze; after starting their farm in 1982, sustainable farmer activists Ken Kimes and Sandra Ward increased their microgreens and wheat grass acreage as customers learned of their wonderful health benefits and demand grew. Currently, the New Natives owners grow CCOF-certified organic micro cilantro, arugula, broccoli, buckwheat, scallions, daikon radish, kale and a micro mix in 40,000 square feet of greenhouse space, producing 2,000 pounds weekly for sale at both farmers’ markets and local grocery stores. They harvest their microgreens in the sprout stage when the plant is feeding from the seed, which is when concentrations of enzymes and vitamins are the highest. Their microgreens and wheat grass are sold year round at the Downtown Santa Cruz and Live Oak farmers’ markets, the Cabrillo College and Monterey Peninsula College markets and at the following retailers: Food Bin, Staff of Life, Deluxe Market, all New Leaf Markets and Whole Foods.
On the other side of the Monterey Bay, Cody Lake and his wife Melanie Corbett of Lake Family Forest Farms specialize in microgreens on their Carmel Valley homestead. Lake realized he had a green thumb in third grade when he grew a pea from seed. He has been propagating and planting ever since, and eventually built a greenhouse on his family’s land with the dream of raising ducks for the eggs and growing microgreens and various specialty crops like wine cap and almond mushrooms, edible flowers and perennial food crops that flourish on their 45-degree slope permaculture farm. The couple is working toward making their microgreens certified organic. To be organic, both the soil and the seed must be certified organic, which limits what varieties can be grown due to seed availability.
Since 2015 LFFF has provided pea shoots, sunflowers, daikon radish and micro arugula to local restaurants and markets, harvesting 30 pounds per week from its 250-square-foot greenhouse. Once harvested, ducks snack on the remaining stem stubble and root mass, and what is left is composted to build soil on the farm. You can find their microgreens at the Mid-Carmel Valley Farmers’ Market on Sundays year round between 10am and 2pm, and also on the menu at Stationaery in Carmel, Wild Fish in Pacific Grove and Epsilon in Monterey as well as in grocery stores, including Jerome’s in Carmel Valley, and Cornucopia and Nielsen Bros. Market in Carmel.
Microgreens have many health benefits condensed in a small package. All varieties have high antioxidant compounds and vitamins that help prevent many different diseases. My personal favorite, protein rich sunflower greens, contains a plethora of amino acids and lots of vitamins A, D, E, C and B complex. Brassica microgreens, like broccoli, kale and arugula, are high in sulforaphane that helps counteract cancer, diabetes and heart disease, and aids in digestion. Buckwheat seems to pack the most punch in the iron, calcium and micronutrient department while cleansing the lymphatic system and aiding circulation. Pea shoots are 26% protein, and high in macronutrients including folate, which protects against DNA damage.
With microgreens, a little goes a long way; people could grow microgreens in a small apartment with little space and reap the benefits, especially if fresh produce is hard to come by or cost prohibitive. All that is needed is a sunny window or some full-spectrum grow lights. Three trays of micros planted 10 days apart would provide a consecutive supply. There is even talk of growing microgreens on space shuttles to keep astronauts healthy!
Anything edible can be grown as a microgreen, but some grow more slowly than others so consider that when planting. It is important to use untreated seed, and organic seed is best if you can find it, from companies like High Mowing Organic Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds or Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds. My personal trick for purchasing cheap black oil sunflower seed is to buy it in bulk as bird seed. The seeds have always sprouted well and are untreated because they are meant for birds to eat.
Find a tray that is at least a few inches deep. Put 1–2 inches of soil in the tray, and sprinkle seeds heavily so they cover the tray but don’t overlap. Sprinkle soil over the seeds, just enough to cover them. Place in a sunny location and keep moist until seeds come up; even misting the soil regularly can be enough if not grown in hot and direct sun. Typical microgreen varieties are harvested within 14 days.
Harvest with a knife at the base of the soil and wash well to remove any soil residue. Compost spent soil and reuse if possible.
HOW TO USE
Most microgreens are best used cool, crisp and raw, with the exception of pea shoots which are lovely wilted. To keep your microgreens from cooking, add them last to your warm dishes and pile high to avoid contact and cooking.
Beet microgreens have a nice salty flavor that is a great addition to salads or a base for fish. Mustards provide spice to any dish and are ideal for soups, especially pumpkin. Sunflower greens are my favorite for everyday use, as they are nutty and mild with crunchy stems. Micro basil is lovely on top of a Caprese salad.
Add microgreens to a bowl of quinoa, put them on tacos, on top of pizzas (arugula would be my favorite for this purpose), in sandwiches or burgers, use them as an ingredient in rice wraps and nori rolls, put on top of egg salad or toss in a smoothie. Sweeter varieties, like pea shoots, can even be added atop desserts. How about a breakfast salad? Soft poached eggs on a bed of sunflower sprouts with microgreens and bacon pieces? Yes, please!
As you can see, microgreens are an important part of a health repertoire whether you grow them yourself or source them from a local farmer. Do your body a favor and include microgreens in your daily meals.
Spring Tuna and Microgreens Salad
RECIPE: Jamie Collins
PHOTOGRAPHY: Patrick Tregenza
Microgreens are an important part of a health repertoire whether you grow them yourself or source them from a local farmer. Do your body a favor and include microgreens in your daily meals.
LOCAL FOODS IN SEASON
MARCH, APRIL AND MAY
Apricots* • Avocados • Blackberries* • Cactus Pears* • Grapefruit** • Kumquats** • Lemons • Limes** • Mandarins** • Oranges • Pomelos** • Rhubarb** • Strawberries
Artichokes • Arugula • Asparagus • Beets • Bok Choy • Broccoli • Broccoli Raab • Brussels Sprouts • Burdock • Cabbage • Cardoons • Carrots • Cauliflower • Celeriac* • Celery* • Chard • Chicory • Collards • Cress • Dandelion • Endive • Fava Beans and Greens • Fennel • Garlic • Horseradish • Kale • Kohlrabi • Leeks • Mushrooms • Mustard Greens • Nettles • Onions • Orach • Parsnips • Peas** • Pea Shoots • Potatoes • Radishes • Rutabagas** • Shallots • Spinach • Sprouts • Squash • Sunchokes • Turnips
Abalone • Crab, Dungeness • Grenadier, Pacific • Halibut, California* • Lingcod, Pacific • Rock Cod, aka Snapper or Rockfish • Sablefish, aka Black Cod • Salmon, King • Sanddabs, Pacific • Seabass, White • Sole (Dover and Petrale) • Spot Prawns • Squid
- May only ** March and April only ***April and May only All sh listed are rated “Best Choice” or “Good Alternative” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program and are found in abundance in local waters. See seafoodwatch.org for more information