I never really understood the point of microgreens.
The whole point of this indoor farming movement, I thought, was to help meet our growing demand for food sustainably. And there were microgreens, calling themselves sustainable, whilst really being something that nobody was consuming anyway. I certainly hadn’t heard of microgreens before getting into indoor agriculture. What’s sustainable about installing expensive equipment and using lots of energy to push for something that nobody except for some fancy chefs would be using otherwise?
At Aquafarm 2018, there was a presentation on microgreens that we attended. I wasn’t too interested but watched anyway, and Seppe Salari posted the following in our group chat:
I hate microgreens
It’s not environmental
My thoughts exactly.
Seppe then said that their only use was to make seed producers rich.
My take on microgreens used to be that they are the Tesla Roadster of vertical farming: not useful, not sustainable, and even quite naff – but a good source of income for an industry in its infancy, and hopefully a good way to gain attention and get prices down for other crops.
Microgreens are relatively easy to grow and require no fertiliser, since everything is already packed in the seed. Despite that, they sell for high prices, which is why Citizen Farm was growing them as well.
Fast forward to September, and not much had changed on my view on microgreens. That month, the gang got together for a vertical farming festival near Ghent. The venue? The greenhouse of PachaGreens, a microgreens farm started by Tom De Windt. I hadn’t been to a place growing microgreens since Citizen Farm last year. Tom and his colleague Marco Nervo kindly hosted us at their greenhouse and camped with us in tents.
Although we didn’t explicitly get down to work, the vertical farming festival was, as always, an opportunity to ruminate over indoor agriculture and AMI with like-minded people. Of course, Tom and Marco showed us around the PachaGreens facilities. Even at 1 AM after a few beers too many, the discussions went on.
Anyway, to get back to the microgreens discussion: visiting PachaGreens and mulling over some thoughts with everyone changed my mind on microgreens. I haven’t figured it out entirely, but I can see some practical benefits.
Food is energy, nutrients, and information. Our bodies require nutrients packaged in the right complexity. Nowadays, people supplement with pills, but pills aren’t optimal, as explained in Deep Nutrition.
As a result, the best way to get this nutrition is through real food. There are a few downsides to food compared to pills, though. Food is hard to transport and store. In India, around 40% of food never reaches the consumer, and a lot of this is down to losses during transport.
Seeds, on the other hand, are easier to store and transport – and a lot less time-sensitive, especially if done under the right conditions. What’s the difference between seeds and microgreens? Energy, water, and 2-3 weeks’ time. Microgreens are easier to grow indoors and near the consumer than other crops.
Seeds, energy, and water are a lot easier to transport than food. As for transporting time, you’ll have to ask a physicist.
Sprouting seeds is an ancient practice. Seeds become far more nutritious when sprouted. The nutrients in seeds are locked in with anti-nutrients like phytic acid. Through sprouting, these anti-nutrients are broken down, and starch stored in seeds gets converted into a plethora of nutrients used for the seedling’s growth. As a result, microgreens are far more nutritious than the seeds they come from, and even more nutritious than mature plants.
Anyhow, in this way, microgreens can have a practical benefit compared to other crops. They are easy to grow and packed with nutrients.
Not to mention their strong and unique flavours!
The only issue I see is, where is it more expensive to ship food than seeds, where it wouldn’t be more beneficial to grow full crops than simple seedlings? I’m a Botany student and I was browsing for my next crop to grow when I came across this article and it just hits me as a defunct idea if you’re using it to get food to people. Most plants used for microgreens really don’t take that long to mature for harvesting and have more nutrients and a larger impact on any given area’s food desert. Not to mention you’d have to consider the impact it would have on the greater seed industry if this became a mainstream approach to fighting global hunger if viable seeds were being used in bulk to produce microgreens that do not have the same impact as fully grown plants. I’d argue that it’s very short-sighted to think it could be anything more than a hobby and has an actual place in mainstream agriculture in regards to fighting food shortages where growing crops to the end of their growth cycle would be more beneficial. At that point you’re arguing whether microgreens are better than grown plants and it’s an argument no one would be willing to make. Interesting idea, but outside of an individual family’s indoor garden it has no real-world purpose.
I don’t think the goal of microgreens should be to fight food shortages. But they’re a good and dense source of phytonutrients. Problem is, they’re a crop where freshness is important and they are perishable. Same applies to leafy greens as opposed to commodity crops like wheat. There’s value in growing them locally. Obviously it’s not a dichotomy – microgreens and leafy greens can never become a staple, we’ll still need fully-grown crops…