Microgreens have proven a mega-interesting addition to Danielle Jones’ lineup of fresh, locally-grown vegetables.
“It’s a step up from sprouts and just before your baby greens,” she explained. “It’s another little niche in the leafy green world.”
She and husband Jonathan - the ‘J’ to her ‘D’ in J.D. Microgreens - grew 50 acres of tobacco this year on their 2911 Highway 3, Simcoe property, located between Turkey Point Road and Nixon Road. Separate from that crop, Danielle has created a two to three-acre plot in which she rotates a variety of vegetables for farmgate sales in a building at the end of their driveway and also forays into local farmers’ markets.
“This is my little adventure I’ve pulled him into,” she smiled.
Microgreens are consistent with Jones’ diverse approach, offering a range of naturally-grown ‘sprayless’ vegetables and flowers to her customers.
“I can’t call it organic, but it’s as close as you can get to it,” she explained. “Just a little bit of everything,” she added, “everyone likes something different.”
The market gardening initiative came in part out of looking for something to do during COVID restrictions combined with a green thumb that typically is generous in nature.
“I always seem to grow too much.”
Given microgreens are typically grown in a controlled environment, they allowed her to continue growing through the winter.
“I found this and started playing with it.”
Hers is a double-tray approach, a dense layer of seeds bedded in a germinating mixture of peat moss and vermiculite, on top of a tray filled with water.
“It’s like a green carpet in those trays.”
Jones has experimented with greenhouse growth but found its temperature swings problematic, preferring the consistently-controllable environment of a former bunkhouse.
“Some shelving, some lights, some fans,” she summed up, noting microgreens’ sensitivity to humidity, which can cause issues if not monitored.
“You put a dense layer of seeds and in ten days it’s ready for harvest.”
Jones grows a variety of microgreens, familiar plants including broccoli, radishes and kale, along with kohlrabi, the aromatic arugula and the bright red amaranth, an ancient grain originating in India, which has become one of her most popular options.
“At this stage, it tastes like beets.”
Jones likes to experiment and continually tries new mixes, whose ultimate success is very much consumer-driven.
“If people like it, I add it in. If not, I’ll put it away and maybe try it again the next year.”
Microgreens are valued for both flavour and tenderness, along with nutritional density.
“And some people just like them that way,” said Jones. “They like the flavour but don’t like the texture of mature plants.”
She takes trays of microgreens to market with her, clipping or trimming and weighing them into 50-gram containers on the spot.
“Most people like a variety of everything, it’s mostly custom mixes.”
She also sells containers in her farmgate building and will do custom orders, when contacted. Microgreens keep about a week inside the container inside a refrigerator says Jones, recommending a shelf life of between five and seven days in order to enjoy them at their fresh, flavourful peak.
She operates within a harvest window of 10 to 21 days, at which point she feels microgreens tend to get a little tough.
“They’re still edible but they lose that tenderness.”
Customers consume them in a variety of ways including as nutritious and flavourful additions to smoothies or salads, in sandwiches, burgers or on homemade pizza, and as garnishes.
“People seem to love arugula on eggs.”
Initially, sales were predominantly to an urban health-conscious demographic, but Jones has found hers are now split roughly between those who had heard of microgreens previously, and locals who have been introduced to them through her produce either at farmers’ markets or her farmgate offerings.
“People just kind of stumbled across them because I have them and get them because they find it adds something to their salad.”
Overall, Jones considers her market gardening ‘adventure’ a success, enjoying growing the produce and meeting and interacting with people through its sale through three years of market seasons.
“We seem to be getting bigger and better.”
Initially an experiment, microgreens have become a popular addition to her offerings.
“I wouldn’t say I’d be quitting everything to do microgreens, but I’d say it’s probably ten per cent at this point.
“It’s turned out better than expected,” Jones concluded. “There was a market there, so I’ve just kept going with it.”