Bigger is not better
Updated: Jun 15, 2022
While many farmers are looking to get bigger, Kyle Woolley saw the solution for his operation was to get smaller – a lot smaller.
He runs Farm on the 14th at 149 14th St. W. in Simcoe. His main product is microgreens, which are grown indoors in one of the farm houses.
He came to this product option in a roundabout way.
“The winter before COVID came along, I was getting frustrated with bagged salads from grocery stores and I started looking at options for growing lettuce indoors,” he said.
What he found through his research was microgreens were a viable product with a quick turnaround.
“We were trying to eat healthy and every winter when Canada and the northern States are importing lettuce from California there is often E-coli outbreaks,” Woolley said. “We were looking for a cleaner, healthier alternative.”
Microgreens refers to young vegetable plants that are consumed instead of salads or as condiments with other foods. In Woolley’s case, he grows speckled peas, sunflowers, three different varieties of radishes, mustard, broccoli, cabbage, dill and buckwheat. The tender plants are harvested when only two to four inches high, and before the vegetable starts forming. For instance, there are no pea pods, broccoli heads or round radishes.
“You want to get them before they develop their true sets of leaves,” he said.
Although there are no peas or radishes, for instance, the young plants still have the same taste as a mature one.
Woolley started growing micogreens in his sunroom with lights and trays.
“It’s less of a complicated system than hydroponics,” he said, explaining he still needed to play with the proper nutrients, watering, seed density and lighting.
What started as a way to feed his family grew to become a business. Growing was moved from his home to an empty home on the farm, both for more space and for safety reasons with young children around.
Growing microgreens starts with seeding in 10 x 20-inch trays in a potting soil mixture. Water is added and the plants are left to grow. Once the seeds sprout, the trays are moved onto a rack under growing lights. Seven to 10 days after the seeds were sown, the plants are ready to be harvested.
After harvesting with a knife, the microgreens are sold in compostable clear containers. These are sold as individual plants and also as blends. For instance, there is a super food blend with kale, cabbage and broccoli and a spicy blend with mustard and radish.
“Everybody’s taste buds are different,” Woolley said. “Some people want something spicy, some don’t.”
The microgreens are sold at the Port Dover farmer’s market, some area farm stands and Woolley’s farm stand. He also sells to restaurants. Growing inside, he isn’t restricted to typical growing seasons.
“That’s the awesome thing about it, is I do this year round,” he said. “It’s definitely more appreciated in the dead of winter when there’s nothing else fresh around.”
Growing microgreens is a full-time job for Woolley. This is labour he undertakes himself, although his wife Laura Downey helps with social media, creating labels and in markets when it’s busy.
He also grows Asian pears in small orchard and sells these at his roadside stand and markets. Although they aren’t certified organic, there are no pesticides used.
Woolley went to school for business at Mohawk College and then took horticulture at Ridgetown. He plans on continuing with microgreens and see where this takes him.
“It’s all starting to come together with this,” he said.
Woolley operates from his parents’ Brian and Marilyn’s farm, which has been in the family over 100 years. A former dairy farm, the land is now just rented out except for what Woolley uses for his orchard.
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