In the world of microgreens, we find that dainty radishes, tiny broccoli, and tiny amaranth aren’t little potatoes when it comes to nutrients. In fact, some of these greens are food giants alongside their full blown relatives.
Now Ryan and Sam Archer, an ambitious couple in Moorhead, want to thrive with the miniature fruits they produce in a 10 by 10 foot grow tent in their basement.
Her new company, Archer Greens, uses vertical gardening concepts to grow ultra-healthy, ultra-tasty microgreens such as tiny broccoli microgreens, radish microgreens and a salad mix made from Teensy kale, arugula, kohlrabi and broccoli.
“We’ve always been interested in local produce and farm-to-table concepts, but we saw an opportunity with a harvest where we don’t see a lot of people in FM,” says Sam of one of her favorite hangouts, Twenty Below Coffee, just across from the Concordia College campus in Moorhead.
As one of only several microgreen growers in the area, they didn’t start discussing the project until April. It seemed like a natural fit for this couple who share many of the same business interests and goals. Ryan is writing his thesis to complete his Masters in Plant Science from North Dakota State University; Sam is doing a PhD in communication from NDSU. When not researching or teaching, they work together, photographing and filming weddings under their company name, Images by Archer.
With the slow, steady growth of their photography business, the couple figured it would take just as long to build a microgreens business. They decided to post a little announcement on Facebook, then quietly build their infrastructure and process until they got enough interest to sell their greens.
But the public had other plans. Within 48 hours of Archer Greens’ announcement on Facebook, they had received over 240 likes and many questions about how, when and where the microgreens would be available.
“I don’t think we ever thought there would be so much interest,” says Sam with a laugh. âIt’s a niche thing. Not many people do that, it generates a lot of interest. “
The archers obviously had something big in their sights.
Something big in something so very small.
Microgreens are often exposed to blackout conditions that cause them to “stretch” in their search for a light source. After they have reached their desired height, they are put under light 14 hours a day, which helps the chlorophyll develop in the plant and gives them their bright green color. Contributed / Ryan and Sam Archer
What are microgreens anyway?
Microgreens appeared on the menus of the west coast as early as the 1980s. Over the past decade, they’ve become a popular ingredient on numerous cooking shows, with any “chopped” candidate worth their sea salt trying to make their peanut butter spam confit with savory nests of baby beet greens or bright red amaranth greens save.
Gourmets have got used to finding microgreens as a colorful garnish on their starters – and discovered that these lively decorations also taste much better than parsley.
You start with the same seed that the full-blown versions of broccoli, kale, and others are made from. “However, they are more densely planted and harvested when they just reach the initial start-up phase, before the first real leaf (called the cotyledon) appears,” says Ryan.
These microgreens will go into the archers’ salad mix. Contributed / Ryan and Sam Archer
It’s a theory why microgreens are such tiny nutritional powerhouses. It is believed that the seeds need to store many nutrients in their tiny shells in order for them to have the fuel they need to reach their full size. “The fact that they’re actually filled with more vitamins than the adult versions of themselves from a weight standpoint is pretty fascinating,” says Ryan.
According to the USDA’s AgResearch magazine, a study of 25 commercially available microgreens generally found them to contain about five times more vitamins and carotenoids than their mature plant counterparts. Red cabbage, coriander, garnet amaranth and green daikon radish showed the highest concentrations of vitamin C, carotenoids, vitamin K and vitamin E.
Another advantage is that even vegetarian phobics often like the milder taste and crispy crunchiness. Depending on the vegetables they are supposed to produce, microgreens can taste spicy, hot, nutty or sweet. âThey’re very tasty,â says Sam. “It can literally taste like a radish, even though it’s a tiny little twig.”
Because of this, microgreens can easily be added to anything from pizza to salads for an extra nutritional boost.
âIt’s a great way to get high quality food with little effort,â says Sam with a smile.
Microgreens can add vibrancy, color, and crispness to salads. Contributed / Ryan and Sam Archer
One thing a microgreen isn’t is a scion. Microgreens are grown in soil, while sprouts germinate in water and require neither light nor ventilation. Microgreens take several weeks to grow, while sprouts are harvested in less than a week. Sprouts are essentially eaten as exploded seeds that are still pale because they did not enter photosynthesis. Microgreens are generally more nutritious and safer than sprouts, which The Old Farmer’s Almanac says can sometimes contain foodborne pathogens when consumed raw.
A tom-thumb crop doesn’t mean less work. In the short, intensive vegetation period of the microgreen, there are numerous pitfalls to avoid and details to be monitored.
“They’re very picky,” says Ryan. “There are many different nuances based on different varieties.”
The 10 by 10 foot grow tent in the Archers’ basement becomes an ecosystem of its own in which they control everything from light, temperature, and humidity to growing media, water quality, and airflow.
Based on Ryan’s plant science knowledge, they are constantly experimenting with factors such as seed density and LED lighting to come up with the most efficient formula for growing any variety of Microgreen.
âThere is definitely a per ounce measurement process that we use per tray. We’re always trying to find the optimal zenith where we’re best and where we’re going to give in the most, âsays Ryan.
The seeds are grown hydroponically on Coco Coire, a type of growth medium that is extracted from the outer shell of the coconut and can absorb up to 10 times its own weight in water. The pH of the distilled water they use is constantly monitored.
You have learned that some of the seeds will thrive when weighted down. Those who prefer weighted conditions are placed under the continuous pressure of a 15 pound brick that pushes them into the ground to help them put down roots. It also helps loosen the seed coat so that all of the plants in a batch germinate at the same time and get more consistent results, says Ryan.
Once the weight is removed, the pair turn the seedlings into complete blackout, causing the tiny sprouts to stretch upward in their eager search for light. When they are at their desired height, the lights are turned back on for a period of time so that the almost translucent plants begin to produce chlorophyll and turn green.
âIt’s a cool process to watch because you can really see the lifespan of this plant. They really spin in front of your eyes, âsays Sam.
It can take between two and three weeks for microgreens to finish. When they’re between 1 and 3 inches long, they are clipped just above the bottom line and stored in a cool, moisture-controlled place.
Microgreens can improve the nutrition of many foods – even pizza. Contributed / Ryan and Sam Archer
The Archers sell a 2-ounce package of microgreens for $ 5. “Microgreens are super expensive in stores,” says Sam. “You can get a lot of food for $ 5.”
However, they are also piloting beautiful red-garnet-colored amaranth, a sweet, mild, crisp micro-green that is loaded with vitamins K, E, and C. Since this is an even more succinct plant than the greens they’re currently increasing, it will charge a higher price, Sam says.
So far, most of their business has come from special events like the Pups & Pints ââPopup at Wild Terra Cider in Fargo. They like events like this that give them time to explain the benefits of their product to potential customers.
But they are also discussing the possibility of delivering their product through CSAs and restaurants. The latter could be a particularly important customer base as they need a higher volume of microgreens and place weekly orders, Sam says.
They also discussed using the vertical gardening concept to eventually grow CBD, or medical cannabis, since Ryan was involved in CBD research at NDSU. However, until the process is fully legal, they want to stick with microgreens.
Your next goal for now is to sell through the Red River Market in downtown Fargo. “I would really hope for the next season if we don’t have a wedding every weekend,” she says with a smile.
It seems like a lot: science, a photo shop, and now this. “We tend to have our toes in lots of different bodies of water,” says Sam with a laugh. âWe’re just that kind of people. We like to stay busy. And as Ryan says, we always felt that we were entrepreneurial. We have really been blessed to create and maintain businesses that will enable us to live life too. “
They also seem to spend a lot of time together, which not every couple can do. But the archers say their different skills – Sam’s talent for communication, organization, and public relations, and Ryan’s academic training and flair for creative thinking – complement each other.
“We benefit from having two heads and not just one,” says Sam, “and that’s what we ultimately enjoy is that we can work together on troubleshooting, which is really a valuable thing.”
Learn more about Archer Greens at https://www.facebook.com/archergreens