Farmers' Kitchen—Sprouting Up
Written onMay 23 , 2014
When visitors come through the door of our grow room, they often inhale deeply and exclaim how nice it is to see and smell green growing things bursting from trays, especially in the heart of winter. At Peace of Earth Farm in Albany, we grow a variety of vegetables and fruits, but we also grow harder-to-find shoots and sprouts, which are most appreciated in the winter months, although many individuals and restaurants enjoy them year-round.
My husband, Jeffrey Ellis, and I are converting an overgrown Christmas tree farm on sandy, undulating land into a mosaic of productive gardens. As our farm name suggests, our farming philosophy is based on nurturing the land. We believe in building our soil by minimizing disturbance, adding good organic matter, keeping the soil covered, and by allowing all the critters in the soil to flourish in partnership with the plants we grow.
For example, we use chickens and pigs to help fertilize and till new areas, then follow with a technique called sheet mulching to smother the sod and build fertility. Sheet mulching involves applying a thick barrier layer of a material that will break down within a year or less (cardboard or newspaper), followed by layers of compost and mulch. Building gardens in this way involves a lot of human-powered handwork, and a lot of material, but in the long run it builds excellent soil. The only drawback is that creating gardens via sheet mulching is a slow process, and our farm grows in only small increments each year.
We started growing sprouts and shoots in 2011 as a way to create some year-round steady income on our farm as our outdoor gardens and CSA slowly evolve. Shoots, sometimes called micro-greens, are seeds grown on soil in trays that are harvested at a small size for eating. Many shoots are harvested at the stage where their first leaves (cotyledons) appear. At Peace of Earth Farm we currently grow sunflower, pea, radish, and buckwheat shoots for sale.
Each variety of shoot has its own distinct flavor, texture, and nutritional profile, much like the mature vegetable forms that most of us are familiar with. For example, radish shoots have a spicy radish flavor similar to the crunchy root they would become. Buckwheat has a slightly tart and lemony flavor, as it is in the same family as sorrel.
Sprouts, for their part, are not grown on soil, but are simply germinated seeds allowed to grow to an optimal size, at which point they are eaten roots and all. Clover, mung beans, and lentils are sprouted in glass jars. Sprouts are well known for their high nutritional value. They represent a captured moment in a plant’s life when the nutrients and enzymes in a seed are unlocked and made available before the plant uses up its store of energy for its own growth. As a bonus, they also taste great.
A predictable seeding and harvest schedule with a short growth period enables us to grow many shoots and sprouts in a small space while currently supplying 11 restaurant and store accounts, as well as a winter farmers’ market. (A list of retail outlets can be found at peaceofearthfarmalbany.wordpress.com/sprouts-and-shoots/). We hope you can one day sample these powerhouses of nutrition and taste.