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How do you feel about microgreens?  RSS feed

 
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Newbie here. I've been lurking on the forums for a little while and I really appreciate how you guys get into nitty gritty details.

How have microgreens worked out for people here? Is it profitable? Unprofitable? Too much work? I thought I might try growing some for side income, but I'm totally in the feeling things out stage.

I also want to know if such an operation is even legal where I live. Where would I go to find that out? The municipal government? State government?
 
gardener
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For legal matters, it is best to start with the state level and work your way to the municipality level. The next step would be to find out if there is a real market for the produce and if so, how large is the demand. From there you can work the numbers to see if it is what you want to get involved in above the 'for my own use" level.
 
Margaret Taylor
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Thank you so much! It looks like I should go check out the "market gardens" forum, too. Didn't notice it the last time I posted.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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The few people I know that are selling micro greens are using Light tables and trays, they use pretty large greenhouse trays and artificial lights in rack systems.
They use high tunnels for green houses to do this in and all of them sell to specific restaurants or specialty grocery stores (like fresh market).
These folks did a lot of cold calling to get their businesses off the ground and most have told me they produce 200 pounds of each type of green they sell or more per week.
One friend of mine that is doing this had 5 200 foot long by 8 foot wide high tunnels and uses both top lights and side lights to get the greens growing last year.
He plants 100 trays every day and harvests that many trays every day. last time I saw him at a farmer's market he mentioned he was adding 4 more high tunnels to his operation.
He supplies three chefs and along with what he sells at the weekly farmer's markets he goes to. He says he is making "a fair profit, not getting rich but I can support the farm."
This guy also has regular crops like corn, beets, beans, melons, squashes that they sell at the farmer's markets. I do not know if he has a CSA going but he once talked about doing that.
I do know that his farm is the sole family financial support and they don't seem to be struggling any longer.

Hope this information is of use to you.

Our place, Buzzard's Roost is just getting started but we are focused on a sustainable life style homestead farm.
Our profit (if you could call it that) will come from the sale of baby animals, (Guinea Hogs and Milk Goat Kids).
Buzzard's Roost is more about staying young when I retire (about 5 years from now).
 
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I have seen two microgreen businesses fold and one keep going. The overhead is high (so many seeds!) and the product is perishable. The key to the successful one (nobody is getting rich but they're still in business) seems to be volume, marketing and diversification.
 
Margaret Taylor
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This all sounds very encouraging. Bryant RedHawk, what your friend does sounds like what my partner and I had in mind. So we're not delusional.

I finally figured out the right place to look for legality. It's legal, but you need a permit. The application process looks pretty doable.
 
pollinator
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I hear all these ideas about economics and producing microgreens, but not much about the permaculture/ sustainable side of the operation.

It is one thing to buy a bunch of stuff, put it together and then sell a bunch of stuff and say I have this much profit, or can pay off this much of my debt, or buy this much of my food, etc, but the permaculture side has to ask other questions

where does the seed come from, where does the electricity for lighting come from, where does the plastic for the high tunnels come from, etc.

In this world today, many unsustainable product streams are made viable by environmentally subsidized production. Ie, things necessary for production would not be so cheap if the true environmental costs were being paid.

I personally love microgreens, a girlfriend of mine grows and sells wheat grass trays as well as other microgreens, but i could never call her operation permaculture or sustainable.

I grew some Kale last year, it was the only cruciferous green in the garden and let it go to seed. I harvested many of the seed pods, and let enough scatter seeds so that i have some "wild " kale coming up now. I also have some seeds that i can process out for sprouting this winter, and it's pretty cool for me to have some of that not just sustainable, but even with little to no work., but no way could i even grow microgreens for myself all winter long, although i can probably keep myself in kale growing slightly larger plants and making the seeds count for a little more biomass before i eat them.

In short, I would like to hear people talk about all the aspects of the operation and how they are making them sustainable, not just how they are turning a meager profit based on large outlays of fossil fuels and products made cheap by fossil fuels.
 
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Sort of like what bob said above, microgreens always seemed like a huge waste of seed. I've also never eaten them, so maybe I don't know what I'm missing
 
gardener
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Hi Margaret, Welcome to Permies!

You don't say where you are located, and what climate you are in, whether you are urban rural or remote, and the availability of local food. I think these are some of the considerations regarding the production of microgreens and the question of whether it is worth the plastics it takes to produce them, as some replies have mentioned.

In the case of an urban farmer in a very cold climate, using the SPIN method, on land that belongs to others often replaces lawns or gravel or pavement, or ? I see that as a step towards sustainability. It is photosynthesis in an urban setting after all.

I think we need to weigh consumption of plastics utilized to grow the crops against what petroleum products might have been expended to grow substitute crops elsewhere and bring those crops from that distant location into a city.

Take the example of Curtis Stone, in Kelowna, British Columbia. He is providing a local product in a very cold climate, using very little land. He is taking advantage of the urban heat island, growing greens all the way into November (I think). His website states that in 2012, his farm used 80 liters (~20 gallons)of gasoline to grow and deliver 50,000 pounds of produce. Not all of it microgreens, not all of it under lights.

If he weren't growing greens in Canada in October and November, the greens consumed in that town would likely come from the Salinas Valley, in Central California, the salad bowl of North America, and it would be packaged in plastic bags and boxes possibly injected with nitrogen gas to prevent spoilage, wait in warehouse cold storage, get trucked in climate controlled trucks, the 1000 + miles. When we take all those things into consideration, it paints a different picture for me.

An urban producer of micro greens, and other crops, DOES buy seeds from somewhere else, but that means he is some one else's customer, someone who is not placed so close to the buyers. It uses less resources to ship the seeds than it would to move the produce. Buying the seeds provides income for someone in a more remote location, matches the "cash" to another's cash crop, can help to support a sustainable farm operation in a distant place. And it increases the independence of that urban food desert.

So, I don't see an absolute answer to your question without more specific information. It's one more time when the answer is "It depends".

Thekla
 
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thanks bob, for bringing up permaculture costs and describing your low permaculture cost kale operation. another cost is for bringing in the fertilizer. there is a cropping system used in india up near the himalayas which involves 12 plants used for greens, 40% of which are nitrogen fixing. when you grow these plants together they are regenerative meaning that they do not need fertilizing and the soil gets better with every usage. this of course is a basic part of a sustainable (or regenerative) equation. i will put these plants here on permies. on my web site, i also describe a 6 plant cropping system which includes cotton which has been regenerating on countless fields for hundreds of years. See my web site, hit cropping system on the top and look down below for details. it is also on the permies forums, under dry land cropping system.
 
charlotte anthony
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okay am posting the barah-anaj (12 grains) system of mixed cropping popularised by navdanya. this is from a farmer i visited who is applying the system. it does not look like this system is just greens which would be more appropriate to the microgreens posting. i am sure they are also using a system which is just greens.

The change I did was to try and structure it into lines instead of simply random broadcast ... Easier to harvest.

First i broadcast a mixture of mustard, amaranths to act as ground cover. Then I planted widely spaced rows of tall guys like bajra (pearl millet), corn, jowar (sorgham). Between these rows, I planted rows of cowpeas and another local runner bean. This is my first season, will report on results later. In place of the 3 feet wide uncultivated strip, I am doing "black sesame" (that's just the local name for it, it's not actually a sesame but it's an oil seed nonetheless) .... It is a very aggressive plant that out grows weeds and is virtually pest free.

 
bob day
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60,000 pounds of greens does not sound like a microgreen operation. (but it does sound like a worthy endeavor)
I have been a bit of a healthfood "nut" for some time. micro greens are very old news.

Basically somewhat overgrown sprouts, usually an inch of soil, very crowded in trays, harvested in two to three weeks

sweet and tasty, but less overall nutrition. Less soil and less sunlight inhibiting actual nutrition from forming.

some believe the live enzymes from really fresh live plants makes them special, and i enjoy them occasionally

A pleasant taste in the winter, a nice supplement to the diet, but i've mostly put away my trays and prefer more mature greens --easier to grow, better return, less energy all around.

that 12 plant system sounds interesting, have any idea what zone that would be?

I keep trying to sow the type of garden ianto evans talks about where 16 square feet will feed a person all summer, with mixtures of peas, greens, etc, oh well, looking forward to trying again next spring

maybe this winter I'll try some 2 liter bottle stacks not microgreens, but should be an easy way to grow indoors in winter - combine that with a fish aquarium and it's almost sustainable




 
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Here is a link to a guy that this concept down and he is doing it in an urban setting in Canada. He also is not using a plastic greenhouse. I personally don't see why you need to do anything in particular if you are going to be using lights for growth as long as it is vented properly and temperature controlled.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0uVL-PvzQxU
 
Robert McEvoy
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This guy is really great to listen to if you want to get some ideas or good information if you are looking to do some small scale or urban farming. He does try to do things as sustainable as he can in many aspects to the point that he bikes/biked his stuff to market and restaurants. The video above I posted is surprisingly informative and his other stuff is pretty good too.
 
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I love 'em.

I'm doing microgreens on a very small scale as a hobby business. I have been producing one tray of sunflower, and one other experimental tray each week since June. No lights. No fertilizer. Captured rainwater for irrigation.

My inputs are organic seed and organic potting soil.

My sunflower costs per 10x20 nursery tray:
8 oz. seed $2
1" soil $1

In 10 days, I get 6 - 5 oz. bags that I sell for $4 each. I typically just sell one bag a week to friends at work, but that still gives me a profit, and I have over 2 lbs of greens for me and my family to consume every week, just from the sunflowers. The remaining root mat after the harvest is put in the garden as mulch.

At this scale, I am just fine tuning the process and making sure I can get a high yield consistently. In the future, it would be easy to expand production 10-fold without a major expense (like a greenhouse).

I think every household should do this. Even if you sell none, compare the cost of 2 1/2 lbs of sunflower microgreens vs $4 for one organic romaine clamshell at the grocery store.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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bob day wrote:I hear all these ideas about economics and producing microgreens, but not much about the permaculture/ sustainable side of the operation.

It is one thing to buy a bunch of stuff, put it together and then sell a bunch of stuff and say I have this much profit, or can pay off this much of my debt, or buy this much of my food, etc, but the permaculture side has to ask other questions

where does the seed come from, where does the electricity for lighting come from, where does the plastic for the high tunnels come from, etc.

In this world today, many unsustainable product streams are made viable by environmentally subsidized production. Ie, things necessary for production would not be so cheap if the true environmental costs were being paid.

I personally love microgreens, a girlfriend of mine grows and sells wheat grass trays as well as other microgreens, but i could never call her operation permaculture or sustainable.

I grew some Kale last year, it was the only cruciferous green in the garden and let it go to seed. I harvested many of the seed pods, and let enough scatter seeds so that i have some "wild " kale coming up now. I also have some seeds that i can process out for sprouting this winter, and it's pretty cool for me to have some of that not just sustainable, but even with little to no work., but no way could i even grow microgreens for myself all winter long, although i can probably keep myself in kale growing slightly larger plants and making the seeds count for a little more biomass before i eat them.

In short, I would like to hear people talk about all the aspects of the operation and how they are making them sustainable, not just how they are turning a meager profit based on large outlays of fossil fuels and products made cheap by fossil fuels.



I seriously doubt that any microgreen operation could ever be called self sustaining.
The very nature of selling seedlings for food does not permit the food to mature and so produce seeds.
I also don't think it wise to over indulge in a product that is more enzymatic than nutritious.
How could you permaculture microgreens when what you are selling is plants at the start of life not the middle or the end.
The only way I could see this particular "trendy" food stuff being sustainable would be if you planted some of the seeds and allowed them to mature to seed so you could be planting your own seed.

We eat greens but they come from the older leaves of the plants we grow, things like beet greens are plucked from the outside of the growing beet plant.
I've eaten microgreens before but I much prefer the fuller flavor of more mature plant material on my plate. It has more nutrients and more developed flavors than those just getting a foot hold on life.
 
Taylor Brown
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"SELF-sustaining" is not really my goal. Designing a system that more efficiently produces a good with little waste...that is permaculture is my mind...that is more my goal: sustainability, not self-sufficiency.

My inputs come from an sunflower farmer and a big-box garden center. I wish my next door neighbor produced seed or potting soil...but I do the best I can.

Regardless, the seed is an easily transported and stored dry good that is being transformed into a perishable product weighing 3 times as much. This production is best done nearest the consumer (in my case, next to my kitchen). I only sell locally. In my opinion, this model is SO much more permie than lettuce shipped from California. It's a step in the right direction.

Keep in mind, this article describes the current production model for greens.

 
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Here's a link to Luke Calahan's microgreens business materials:

http://localbusinessplans.com/microgreens/

It's worth the $60, though there are some omissions/typos/incorrect product names in the PDF, but the planting/harvesting schedule and other info is really quite handy. If you're taking Curtis Stone's Profitable Urban Farming course online, you get Luke's stuff included at no additional cost, plus fora to discuss with other folks trying it across the globe.

Alternatively, if you're a TSP member with Jack Spirko, you can get the book for $30.

Hope that's helpful!

~Ben
 
bob day
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The current model we are all sold at birth is obviously extremely flawed. Even "organic" produce (this would include seeds) can be guilty of ecosystem destruction, slave labor, destruction of soils,etc.

Finding a half way place in this model, not permaculture, not sustainable, but obviously better than what most people are doing is not difficult.

here we are not asked to look at where we came from, or what is normal around us, but whether microgreens are sustainable, or are they just one more distraction that costs a whole lot more than what they actually give back.
 
Robert McEvoy
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Well I will say again that I posted a link to youtube.com that has a guy who runs his own company out of an old shipping container and uses solar and delivers with his bicycle. I think that is a step in the right direction if there is one here.
 
Margaret Taylor
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Wow! I didn't expect this to spark off so much debate! Sounds like we're getting into a philosophical discussion about what permaculture is and whether microgreens count.

(Naively) I thought permaculture just meant agriculture that could be carried on indefinitely. A Wikipedia check tells me there's a lot more to it than that.

So, does your growing operation need to have no outside inputs to be truly permie? Do you make sure that your inputs come from sustainable sources as much as possible? What happens when a sustainable input isn't available?

I'm living in a cold-climate urban environment and I don't own any land anyway, so I was planning to grow indoors. I'd increase my electricity and water consumption to an extent, and I hope to recycle the soil if I can get a compost going. That leaves the input of seeds as an unknown for now.
 
Robert McEvoy
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Margaret Taylor wrote:Wow! I didn't expect this to spark off so much debate! Sounds like we're getting into a philosophical discussion about what permaculture is and whether microgreens count.

(Naively) I thought permaculture just meant agriculture that could be carried on indefinitely. A Wikipedia check tells me there's a lot more to it than that.

So, does your growing operation need to have no outside inputs to be truly permie? Do you make sure that your inputs come from sustainable sources as much as possible? What happens when a sustainable input isn't available?

I'm living in a cold-climate urban environment and I don't own any land anyway, so I was planning to grow indoors. I'd increase my electricity and water consumption to an extent, and I hope to recycle the soil if I can get a compost going. That leaves the input of seeds as an unknown for now.



I thought that I left a post about an urban cold environment person doing this without a greenhouse? It explains everything you could pretty much want to know and is in a 25 minute video and a link to visit the actual site and the opportunity to take classes if you like.
 
Taylor Brown
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So, does your growing operation need to have no outside inputs to be truly permie?



No. If it follows the ethics, it is worthwhile and good. People are meant to be part of a society. We exchange goods and services.

Do you make sure that your inputs come from sustainable sources as much as possible?



Absolutely. Yes.

What happens when a sustainable input isn't available?



If your NET output benefits the earth, benefits mankind, and allows the surplus to be returned, go for it! I don't think many people here would object to using diesel fuel to construct permaculture earthworks that will provide many years of benefit.

Thanks for starting a great thread.
 
bob day
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I'm sorry if it seems i'm only being critical, i watched that link, seems like a good guy, and much better than a lot of what is going on out there.

I just don't believe it has much to do with sustainability or permaculture.



 
Mother Tree
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bob day wrote:I'm sorry if it seems i'm only being critical, i watched that link, seems like a good guy, and much better than a lot of what is going on out there.

I just don't believe it has much to do with sustainability or permaculture.



I think we have to remember that permaculture is a design science, and that it can be applied to most situations to make them more sustainable, and efficient.

I think it would be a good exercise to try to apply that science to help Margaret Taylor to design the best system possible rather than getting too philosophical on what is and what is not permaculture. It is very much the function of these forums to encourage that sort of thing.
 
Robert McEvoy
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bob day wrote:I'm sorry if it seems i'm only being critical, i watched that link, seems like a good guy, and much better than a lot of what is going on out there.

I just don't believe it has much to do with sustainability or permaculture.





Mainly trying to help the original poster in the concept. She was not looking for permaculture or sustainable. It became a thread topic at some point when it was deemed impossible to be sustainable. It can certainly be sustainable, but not on what she is looking to spend and still be able to make a profit.
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Margaret Taylor wrote:Wow! I didn't expect this to spark off so much debate! Sounds like we're getting into a philosophical discussion about what permaculture is and whether microgreens count.

(Naively) I thought permaculture just meant agriculture that could be carried on indefinitely. A Wikipedia check tells me there's a lot more to it than that.

So, does your growing operation need to have no outside inputs to be truly permie? Do you make sure that your inputs come from sustainable sources as much as possible? What happens when a sustainable input isn't available?

I'm living in a cold-climate urban environment and I don't own any land anyway, so I was planning to grow indoors. I'd increase my electricity and water consumption to an extent, and I hope to recycle the soil if I can get a compost going. That leaves the input of seeds as an unknown for now.



Don't worry about it, Margaret. There is so much diversity in the permaculture community that there are plenty of different opinions to compare and exchange. Each of us has an idea of what is and is not permaculture. In this forum, we (are required by the owner) to maintain respect for the diversity of opinions. In that way I hope we learn from one another, more clearly define our own views, and so forth.

Your first understanding of permaculture is not really wrong, it does have to be sustainable, and is patterned after the complexity of natural systems, because natural systems are sustainable and self perpetuating.

Permaculture does not require anyone to be completely self contained, but that's how some people want to live, so they do. You can buy seeds from someone else. That makes you part of a system that includes you and the seed producer, and your customers when you sell your microgreens. The further down the path you go, the more complex your system may become.

What is important to me is that we are all part of the single planetary system that exists here on earth.
 
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Many of us are on a permaculture path. Most people can't become an absolute purist overnight. I know that I would love to live 100% regenerative and sustainable, but life's responsibilities make it only possible gradually. I am working my way into a permaculture lifestyle and a Microgreens business is my way to transition from my construction job. I have a gofundme campaign set up and am taking an online PDC. My point is that a lot of people are on The Path and that is what's important. Thank you permie community! www.gofundme.com/microgreen
 
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Margaret Taylor wrote:This all sounds very encouraging. Bryant RedHawk, what your friend does sounds like what my partner and I had in mind. So we're not delusional.

I finally figured out the right place to look for legality. It's legal, but you need a permit. The application process looks pretty doable.




<Soapbox>
You don't say where you are from, but if you live in the US, how does it feel to have to get a permit in the land of the free, so you can sell sprouted seeds?

I am glad that I live in a state where a permit is not "required" because they still think freedom still matters here.
<Stepping down now>

Now for something useful: We are starting s microgreens business, and I urge you to do it small scale for at least 3 months before you go to commercial level.
There are lots of ways to screw up a tray of greens.

Richard
 
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:

bob day wrote:I hear all these ideas about economics and producing microgreens, but not much about the permaculture/ sustainable side of the operation.

It is one thing to buy a bunch of stuff, put it together and then sell a bunch of stuff and say I have this much profit, or can pay off this much of my debt, or buy this much of my food, etc, but the permaculture side has to ask other questions

where does the seed come from, where does the electricity for lighting come from, where does the plastic for the high tunnels come from, etc.

In this world today, many unsustainable product streams are made viable by environmentally subsidized  production. Ie, things necessary for production would not be so cheap if the true environmental costs were being paid.

I personally love microgreens, a girlfriend of mine grows and sells wheat grass trays as well as other  microgreens, but i could never call her operation permaculture or sustainable.

I grew some Kale last year, it was the only cruciferous green in the garden and let it go to seed. I harvested many of the seed pods, and let enough scatter seeds so that i have some "wild " kale coming up now. I also have some seeds that i can process out for sprouting this winter, and it's pretty cool for me to have some of that not just sustainable, but even with little to no work., but no way could i even grow microgreens for myself  all winter long, although i can probably keep myself in kale growing slightly larger plants and making the seeds count for a little more biomass before i eat them.

In short, I would like to hear people talk about all the aspects of the operation and how they are making them sustainable, not just how they are turning a meager profit based on large outlays of fossil fuels and products made cheap  by fossil fuels.



I seriously doubt that any microgreen operation could ever be called self sustaining.
The very nature of selling seedlings for food does not permit the food to mature and so produce seeds.
I also don't think it wise to over indulge in a product that is more enzymatic than nutritious.
How could you permaculture microgreens when what you are selling is plants at the start of life not the middle or the end.
The only way I could see this particular "trendy" food stuff being sustainable would be if you planted some of the seeds and allowed them to mature to seed so you could be planting your own seed.

We eat greens but they come from the older leaves of the plants we grow, things like beet greens are plucked from the outside of the growing beet plant.
I've eaten microgreens before but I much prefer the fuller flavor of more mature plant material on my plate. It has more nutrients and more developed flavors than those just getting a foot hold on life.




I know this is a really old comment; still want to make a note of it for other visitors to follow- "According to microgreen research conducted at the University of Maryland, the 1-3 inch delicacies were found to pack anywhere from 3 to 39.4 times the nutritional content of the plant’s mature counterparts. Scientists considered the vitamin and antioxidant levels of 25 varieties of microgreens and compared the results to the full-grown versions. Cilantro showed 3 times more beta-carotene, while red cabbage showed almost 40 times greater vitamin E and 6 times more vitamin C.

In her book, “Becoming Raw”, Vesanto Melina (et al) describes living foods. The soaking and sprouting of raw foods “results in an increase in the activity of enzymes, which are generally dormant in raw foods. The enzymes serve to release storage of carbohydrates, fats, and protein."

So.. they are suited to a really efficient feeding system, when they can provide so much food, SO QUICKLY (7-12 days!), with little inputs. Solar lighting. Rainwater for misting, filtered with carbon, gravity fed. Seeds could be harvested from your own broadacre cropping harvest. Everyone wins.
 
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excellent post Tristan.  Microgreens, on a gram by gram basis, are probably the most nutritious plant based food.  It took a lot of time and energy for the mother plant to pack all those nutrients into those seeds.  Plus, after sprouting, all the seed defense chemicals like phytic acid go away so our bodies have access to those nutrients.

There are some plant compounds that only concentrate to meaningful levels with maturity.  Aloe Vera and Echinacea come to mind.  But for basic nutrients, I don't think microgreens or sprouts can be beat.
 
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I can buy a little bag of basil seeds at an Indian grocery for like... $3 and it has thousands of seeds. Basil seed is mucilaginous so it's not suited for sprouts (the seeds get a goo sack around them when wet, and need substrate) but I've read they can be used as microgreens. Now I spent several hours and picked the seeds out of the basil flowers from our plant by hand... I wouldn't want to go to that effort for microgreens. But definitely with the bag from the grocery. Do microgreens really need artificial light?
I think that the value added to the seed by turning it into microgreens has a LOT to do with the size and price of the seeds vs. the size of the plant at harvest. Pea tips are delicious, but peas are big and a pea plant doesn't produce a huge number of seeds. Basil on the other hand, produces bazillions of tiny seeds from one plant. You can purchase thousands of these seeds for a couple bucks. It makes sense to me to use types of plants that put their energy into producing many tiny seeds, and then let those tiny seeds do the work of transforming themselves into food, as a basis for a microgreen business rather than using plants which put a whole lot of energy into a few highly nutritious seeds, which then don't add much to their already substantial nutritional value by growing into seedlings.
 
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