Mike Townsend has a new business quite literally growing in his basement.
The woodworking artist who creates functional art through Twisted Twig Designs was recently inspired by videos about microgreens – edible immature vegetable greens – that he saw on YouTube. Wanting to keep busy throughout the winter and knowing a unique food product could complement his woodworking business Townsend is now launching NewTown Microgreens from his Minden-based workshop.
“I just thought it would be something that potentially could work here on obviously a smaller scale and a slightly different market” said Townsend. “Food up here can be expensive especially in the winter – trying to find greens that are healthy and not just lettuce and something reasonable. I thought maybe I’ll try this out and see what happens.”
Townsend said he didn’t know much about growing microgreens when he became intrigued by the concept of urban farming especially through Chris Thoreau a Vancouver-based microgreens expert who founded a business growing soil-grown crops in shipping containers distributing them by bike courier to markets grocers and restaurants.
“The only thing I’d ever heard of was people doing sprouts but other than that I’d never heard of microgreens” he said. “It’s essentially the green part they call it vegetable green once it gets past or at the point [of] the two true leaves the two true set of leaves that’s when you typically harvest these. So they’re past the sprout – the sprout you include the seed and everything – and you’re not including the seed in this. You’re cutting the stem basically and up for the leaf part.”
Since his interest was piqued Townsend has watched hundreds of hours of videos and enrolled in online courses led by growers to learn more.
“You can do it on your own it’s just … some of these guys say ‘you can spend hours and lots of money trying to figure it out on your own or else you can give me a little bit of money and we’ll help you through it’” said Townsend. “So either way you’re going to spend some money how do you want to spend it? Getting valuable information or trial and error? There’s still going to be some trial and error. I’ve gone through it.”
Microgreens are generally convenient to grow requiring little equipment cost or time to grow. Townsend uses standard shop LED lights and though he follows best practices in place by the provincial government noted there is little worry about growing conditions compared to outdoor farming without visits from garden-munching animals or inclement weather.
“I’m doing it in my basement” said Townsend. “So I don’t have to be outside it’s not weather dependent. It can hail all it wants it doesn’t matter. I just need power and water really and we’re good to go.”
To start Townsend has been growing pea sunflower and radish microgreens offering samples to those who haven’t tried them before and so far receiving great reviews from regular weekly and bi-weekly customers who have been spreading word of his business to friends. He’s harvesting twice a week and the microgreens can last for a couple of weeks in the fridge.
“[They’re] high in nutrients way more than the actual grown plant” he said. “[There’s] up to 10 or 15 times more nutrients in microgreens than the full grown plant. You don’t need as much. And it’s just way more flavour. If you like radish it’s a little peppery and warm they’re a nice addition to salads or sandwiches. The sunflower is kind of nutty it kind of tastes like sunflower seeds. The peas just taste like actual peas out of the pod and all you’re eating is the greens. So you can get these flavours out of something that’s really tiny and high in nutrients.”
Additionally Townsend will launch other flavours as well – and the possibilities are seemingly endless with a long list of seeds ranging from arugula to beans to sesame to mustard.
Microgreens add extra crunch and flavour to sandwiches and salads but Townsend is also working on creating a pesto that he will also be able to sell alongside the fresh product.
Though NewTown Microgreens will be available year-round from his studio Townsend will be joining the Haliburton farmers markets on Tuesdays and on select dates at the Minden farmers markets. Follow NewTown Microgreens on Facebook to see photos of crops as they are uncovered or contact Townsend at email@example.com or 226-821-4590 for more information.