Urban farm aiming for big impact with its tiny greens


In the heart of a Miami warehouse district, a tiny urban farm is producing little greens with big impact

Main dish

Turkey Tacos with Microgreens

Thi Squire prepared these tacos at Heart of a Chef, a benefit for the Miami Heart Research Institute. “People told me it was their favorite thing there,” she says.

1 tablespoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon cayenne (or more to taste)

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon onion powder

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon ground pepper

1/2 cup diced tomatoes

1/4 cup diced onion

1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil

1 pound ground turkey

8 corn or flour tortillas

1-ounce package micogreens

Heat oven to 300 degrees.

In a small bowl, combine the chili powder, cayenne, garlic powder, onion powder, red pepper flakes, oregano, paprika, cumin, salt and pepper. Mix well and set aside.

In another bowl, mix the tomatoes and onion. Set aside.

Heat oil in a large fry pan over medium heat. Cook ground turkey, stirring occasionally to break up clumps, until browned, 8 to 10 minutes.

Stir in spice mixture and 1/2 cup water. Simmer about 10 minutes, until juices thicken.

Meanwhile, wrap tortillas in foil and place in oven to warm.

To serve, divide turkey among tortillas and top with tomato, onion and microgreens. Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 280 calories (20 percent from fat), 6.4 g fat (1.3 g saturated, 1.1 g monounsaturated), 55 mg cholesterol, 30.8 g protein, 26 g carbohydrates, 5 g fiber, 723 mg sodium.

Special to The Miami Herald

Little is the new big. We’re talking really little, as in micro, as in microgreens, teensy young vegetables and herbs harvested when they’re just a week or two old.

Flavor- and nutrient-intense and eater-friendly, they’re popping up in supermarkets and growing here in an appropriately little space — the three-acre Miami Green Railway Organic Workshop, or GROW.

It may be small, but it has a big heart and a bigger mission — “Sustainability, community outreach and urban agriculture,” says Thi (pronounced Tee) Squire.

Urban is right. The farm is an organic oasis surrounded by commercial warehouses near Miami International Airport. Next-door neighbor and partner Rock Garden Herbs, which employs Squire, packages and distributes the microgreens.

“It’s such a bizarre thing to want to do,” admits Squire, GROW’s director of education. “Who wants to grow food in the middle of a city and make it commercially viable?”

It took over a year of work before the site, originally zoned for industrial use, earned organic certification and the city’s blessing.

Traditional planting would be impossible, with chemicals from surrounding warehouses compromising the soil. But GROW, which launched in 2008, thinks — and grows — out of the box. The staff of 10 raises vegetables and herbs in pots and microgreens in flats. If a crop isn’t flourishing, they shift it elsewhere on the property to give it access to different light.

The farm also grows full-sized vegetables and herbs, but right now, microgreens are having their moment, available at major retailers including Publix, not just locally but nationally.

Restaurants are also feeling the microgreen love.

“For me, the product’s taste and appearance really sets it apart,” says Yardbird chef Jeff McInnis. “We love using the celery to serve with our pimiento cheese and kale for items like our big kale salad.”

Keeping up with microgreen demand is easy — the farm has installed more greenhouses. Harder is growing microgreen awareness among consumers.

“A lot of people have seen them, eaten them, but didn’t know what they were called or know they’re actually available at a local store,” says Squire.

Do not confuse microgreens with sprouts. Both are tiny, but sprouts, the germinated seed and shoot of plants, have been linked with so many contamination issues that many stores have yanked them from their shelves.

Microgreens are only the tender new shoots of herbs and vegetables you know and love, like kale, arugula and broccoli. They don’t need cooking, add flavor to salads, fluff up sandwiches and top off tacos.

Rock Garden’s four microgreen blends are not only grown sustainably, they’re packaged that way, too.

“And we’re able to promote them as local and organic,” says Squire, “which is what everyone wants.”

That includes her. Squire grew up in Miami, moved away for school, married and came back with husband Bill in the 1990s.

“We felt like it was the ‘it’ place to be,” she says.

She also wanted a greener lifestyle.

“I have kids,” says the mother of sons Sean, 19, and Stirling, 6, and daughter Sage, 17. “I started reading more about food production and chemicals. I made a lot of changes. We ate healthy, but I did even more from scratch, paid more attention to where my food came. My children’s school friends were overweight, and I was thinking, how can I make an impact, make a change in my community?”

GROW and Rock Garden donate vegetables, herbs and microgreens for local events that focus on greener living and healthier eating. They hosted an onsite dinner for Slow Food Miami, with Squire preparing a Vietnamese meal — an event so popular, says Slow Food Miami president Renee Frigo Graeff, they’re contemplating doing it again.

GROW and Rock Garden also host GROW Your Lunch field trips for schools. Squire gives students a tour of the farm, they weed flats and harvest microgreens, and then use them to make lunch.

Over a fresh, delicious lunch, “We talk about the environment, land reclamation, carbon footprint, irrigation — they learn and get more connected, excited,” says Squire.

“The adults are just as enthusiastic and interested. Some don’t even know what broccoli looks like. They ask, ‘How do you make tomato sauce?’ They become interested, take home information and they eat better.”

It’s one of the ways Rock Garden and GROW do the community outreach that’s part of their core message. And it’s just good business.

“If the kids understand and enjoy fresh, healthy produce,” says Squire, “they’ll be more likely to ask for it.”

Ellen Kanner is the Miami Herald’s Edgy Veggie columnist. She can be reached at ellen@ellen-ink.com.

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