Little is the new big. Were talking really little, as in micro, as in microgreens, teensy young vegetables and herbs harvested when theyre just a week or two old.
Flavor- and nutrient-intense and eater-friendly, theyre 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.
Its such a bizarre thing to want to do, admits Squire, GROWs 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 citys 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 isnt 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 products 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 didnt know what they were called or know theyre 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 dont need cooking, add flavor to salads, fluff up sandwiches and top off tacos.
Rock Gardens four microgreen blends are not only grown sustainably, theyre packaged that way, too.
And were 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 childrens 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, theyre 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 dont even know what broccoli looks like. They ask, How do you make tomato sauce? They become interested, take home information and they eat better.
Its one of the ways Rock Garden and GROW do the community outreach thats part of their core message. And its just good business.
If the kids understand and enjoy fresh, healthy produce, says Squire, theyll be more likely to ask for it.
Ellen Kanner is the Miami Heralds Edgy Veggie columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com.