Chris Allen displays trays of microgreens Sunday at his family's 4A Farms in Lowndes County. In the foreground is a spicy salad mix. In his left hand, Allen holds basil microgreens. The reddish-tint microgreens are amaranth. "Its flavor is beet-like. It's high in vitamins C, E and K and used in salads, soups and sandwiches," Allen says. The taller greens in back are pea shoots. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
June 13, 2018 10:23:30 AM
As maintenance manager at a Columbus plant, Chris Allen tackles some pretty big jobs. At home, however, he's into the smaller things of life. Really small.
Allen grows and harvests microgreens. These minuscule, edible greens are packed with intense flavor and concentrated nutrients. Grown in soil from the seeds of vegetables and herbs, they're smaller than baby greens but larger than sprouts. They are harvested at between seven and 14 days old and 1-inch to 3-inches tall, but don't be fooled by their diminutive size. Microgreens contain anywhere from four to 40 times by weight more vitamins and minerals than their full-sized counterparts, according to the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
"A microgreen is simply a plant that is harvested in the cotyledon stage, just as the first true leaves start to show," Allen explains.
Fine dining chefs have long used microgreens to enhance their dishes with distinctive flavors, colors and textures. The super-charged greens have become more widely known and grown in recent years.
The flavor profiles, Allen says, can range from mild, "like lettuces and peas, to very spicy like radish and arugula. ... They are great added to salads, sandwiches and soups, or as a microgreen salad with vinegar and olive oil. They're also perfect for smoothies and juicing."
Allen didn't start out so small. He grows full-sized spinach, cabbage, cherry tomatoes, kale, lettuce, cucumber and other produce. With microgreens, however, he's not so dependent on the whims of Mother Nature.
"I got into them because I can provide people with fresh, locally-grown greens all year round because we grow them in a controlled environment," he says, referring to his system of grow racks and lighting.
At the Hitching Lot Farmers Market in Columbus every Saturday morning, Allen's 4A Farms booth offers pea greens, sunflower, lemon basil, cilantro, chives and a spicy salad mix containing lettuce, kale, arugula, broccoli, radish and chard. He provides sample flats so shoppers can taste before they buy.
"We try to harvest at the last minute so that the product is as fresh as it can be," says the grower. "We're also now offering wheatgrass in 5-by-5-inch flats that's great for humans and pets. I'm also trying new things every day, and we will custom grow whatever someone wants," he says, noting that delivery is available with a $30 order.
Adding microgreens to 4A Farms' repertoire has been satisfying for Allen.
"I enjoy the germination process more than anything, but getting to know repeat customers well is becoming the best part," he says.
For more information about Allen's microgreens, email him at [email protected], or call 662-549-8245. Or visit the 4A Farms booth Saturdays between 7-10 a.m. at the Hitching Lot Farmers Market at Second Avenue and Second Street South in Columbus.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.