…it’s what they can do for you that counts! Microgreens may be tiny but they pack a big flavour punch; they’re nutrient-rich, and you don’t need to be an expert to know how to use them. They’re also quite easy to come by, gracing the shelves at farmers’ markets and local grocery stores. 

But what ARE they? ‘Microgreen’ refers to an edible plant in its juvenile growth stage – which means when you’re enjoying the pop of flavour of a spicy purple radish microgreen, you’re eating the beginnings of a radish before it’s grown mature leaves and developed the red orb beneath the soil. 

You may be wondering if sprouts are the same as microgreens since they look remarkably similar, but they’re grown, harvested, and consumed differently. While microgreens are grown in soil and cut when harvested, sprouts are grown in water and generally consumed with the root and seed still attached to them.

Dawn Boileau of Sunrise Gardens was one of the first to grow microgreens, as a response to massive crop loss caused by hail damage in 2009. Alberta’s all-too-common unpredictable weather caused a shift in her farming focus to expand on climate-controlled agriculture. 

It was a struggle at first to convince people to eat these new greens, but she was devoted to education on the enormous benefit of eating vibrant, nutritious food while supporting a sustainable form of agriculture. The positive response led her to quadruple production, allowing her to support eight employees and as many retail locations, as well as supplying 30 Booster Juice locations with locally grown wheatgrass. And while you may think this is the measure of a successful entrepreneur, what mattered most to Boileau was feeling the sun on her face and her hands in the soil. To strike a more holistic balance, she halved the amount she grew, cut out retail locations, and shifted focus to the relationships with her long-time customers at the Old Strathcona Market. 

An important part of Boileau’s practice now is to educate and empower others by hosting ‘grow-your-own’ workshops, so you too can know the benefit of growing your own food. She has, with her wife Kathryn, cultivated a work-life balance and built a heart-centred life that would inspire anyone. 

Vanessa Hanel of MicroYYC is another insightful entrepreneur that allowed the seasons to be her guide. In the winter of 2014, she began growing two shelves of microgreens in the basement of her Calgary home. It became clear to her early on that this new venture had a viable growth strategy that required minimal resources and was conducive to being a one-woman show. In just three years, her microgreens outgrew their humble beginnings and warranted an upgrade to a 1,500 sq ft warehouse space to grow 20 varieties (including living wheatgrass) by six part-time staff members, and a dedicated micro-delivery van!

Microgreens are a miraculous crop requiring only around 10 days from planting to harvesting. The trick is to make it all work in synchronicity. Hanel and her staff are immensely talented at what she affectionately calls ‘brain gymnastics’ – prepping nearly 500 trays with soil, seeding and watering, and stacking them to allow the germination period. Three to four days later, sprouts pop up and the trays are shifted to grow space under the lights. 

They mindfully nurture the micro growth over the next few days, hand-watering each tray, monitoring humidity levels, and timing the micro harvest to ensure a superb product to is delivered to eight retailers, farmers’ markets, and local restaurants.

David Barchard, an eager urban farmer based in Airdrie, has also built a successful business growing microgreens in the basement of his family home. David, with the help of his wife Kirsten, offers organic micros grown in square feet (not acres) to clients in Airdrie, but also Calgary and surrounding area. 

The hyper-dedicated dynamic duo behind Micro Acres are the heart and soul behind every Micro Acres task from paperwork, prep and planting to harvest, delivery, and business growth. If that wasn’t impressive enough, they’re sharing their know-how with the community too as they offer tailored learning sessions and consulting services to those interested in learning how to grow their own micros. Whether you’re just starting out, troubleshooting, or keen to grow your business, you’ll want the Barchard’s by your side.

Over the last decade urban microgreen farmers have been sprouting up all over Alberta, so you can feel good about adding more plants to your diet while being a conscious consumer and support local growers too. Add them to salads, sandwiches, soup, smoothies, a perfectly grilled steak, a crispy-edged fried egg… if you can eat (or drink) it, you can add ‘em. Have you started filling your plate with micro, but mighty, greens yet?

 

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