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The Skinny on Microgreens Part 1

The year 2022 has just begun and what could be better than losing 10 pounds and getting in shape for gardening season?  Mastering the art of a wildly nutritious plant, of course!  Growing microgreens is on-trend these days and an important crop at a time when food prices are rising, the availability of fresh foods can be tricky, and perhaps more now than at any other time in our lifetimes, more people are gardening.  What do we need to know as gardeners?

Two growers in Allen County share their expertise alongside some important data points to know as we dig into this relatively new field of (usually) indoor growing.  Part 1 will cover definitions, trends, benefits, and where to obtain them locally.  Part 2 will highlight how to grow your own microgreens, training resources, and the supplies needed for success.

Part 1

What is a microgreen?

Microgreens are “young seedlings of vegetables and herbs, having two fully developed cotyledons with the first pair of true leaves emerging or partially expanded.” Ramsey County Master Gardeners at the University of Minnesota give more details in the table below.  Beth Ritzman of Something Better with Beth in Fort Wayne, IN adds that MG seeds are densely planted as “an incredibly space and time-efficient way to grow nutritious greens.” 

What should Extension Master Gardeners keep in mind about MGs?

Justin Miller and Amber Broxon of Broxonberry, their farm in Markle, IN emphasize that MGs are fresher, last longer, and can taste better than traditionally grown produce.  “The longer after its cut, the more the nutrients get lost.”  Miller adds that particularly in the wintertime, “it’s hard to find quality produce so it’s an easy way to supplement your diet with nutrient-dense food.”  MGs are grown without pesticides and herbicides, often organically.  EMGs can look for the Certified Naturally Grown label that follows the same practices of USDA Organic, according to Miller.  The consumer can use MGs as a side on sandwiches and salads, a garnish on various types of cuisine, tossed into stir-fry’s, used along with herbs, for example in herb butter, and in many different recipes.  “Get creative” encourages Broxon.  “Experiment with it.  Have fun with it!”

What are the trends in the MG industry over the past decade?

Both local growers note that the trend to grow and consume microgreens is increasing both locally and nationally.  Broxon shared that they saw a big shift during the covid lockdowns last spring.  “People turned around and looked inward and looked locally.”  She and Miller note that people in general are turning to better food choices to feel better and heal their bodies with good food.  Ritzman found that, “more and more, people are realizing the health benefits of these greens harvested at a stage where their nutrients are particularly concentrated.”  She adds that MGs are visually appealing, have superior flavor and freshness, and are often more convenient than having to tear or chop larger greens.  Overall, convenience is always on-trend.

What are the benefits of adding MGs to your diet?

Both growers and the author agree that MGs are an easy way to increase one’s daily nutrition.  “Micros contain many phytochemicals and compounds in high concentrations, which may fight or prevent various diseases, especially as we get older,” states Ritzman.  This benefit is important to clarify for Extension Master Gardeners in our role as educators.  While the research has shown that the nutritional value of MGs is overall the same as the mature plant albeit more concentrated in a smaller package, many other constituents in the industry tend to overstate this with claims that all MGs are 4 to 40, or even as high as 70 times more nutritious than mature plants.  In reality, the research is just beginning on this topic.

In one study, lettuce and cabbage MGs grown on a vermicompost medium generally had more nutritional content than those grown either 1) hydroponically or than their 2) respective mature plants.  Researchers showed in 2017 that that broccoli microgreens had more minerals than the vegetable, required less water to produce, and could easily be produced by individuals, even in urban settings, providing better access to adequate nutrition. GreenSpace has provided a summary of related research findings in a table of comparison HERE.  These numbers show evidence for the statement of increased NUTRITIONAL DENSITY of nutrients per gram of microgreens as compared to the leaves of its mature plant. 

A further consideration is the risk for contamination in commercially grown produce and other nutrient-dense crops such as sprouts.  An industry symposium in Asia concluded that, “in contrast to sprouts, microgreens are grown in soil or soil substitutes such as peat moss or other fibrous materials (cellulose pulp), and under light—and thus are less susceptible to contamination.” This has huge implications for the entire produce industry and provides another data point to support the value of our role as Extension Master Gardeners to potentially help others grow microgreens. 

Thanks go out to the owners of Something Better with Beth and Broxonberry for sharing their expertise.

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