Vertical farming microgreens

Sustainable Farming and Microgreens

Sustainable farming, organic, and hyperlocal produce. There’s a lot to learn about the food we consume these days. As more people become aware of the importance of sustainability practices in relation to climate awareness, it becomes even more important to know not only about how your food was grown but also how your food choices impact our world.

Sustainable farming, or sustainable agriculture, is simply a way of farming so that our future agriculture, environment and economies are protected. It’s about planning for the future as well as providing for the present.

With the rise of functional foods–foods that have benefits beyond just nutrition–like broccoli microgreens, many farmers and consumers are looking for ways to build sustainability into the food of the future. 

Microgreens and sustainability

Growing microgreens is an amazing way to help the planet as well as nourish your body. Because microgreens require way less resources than traditional farming and contain more micronutrients, they’re a great opportunity for alleviating the stress on our overstretched farmlands as well as providing more nutrient-packed full food into our daily lives.

Microgreens tend to produce less waste per other words, 100% of microgreens are sellable while there’s virtually always a percentage of traditional crops that go to waste. 

Additionally, they grow in about an eighth of the time as their adult plant counterparts and can be grown hyper-locally, eliminating the need for transport (especially important right now as the COVID pandemic disrupts food supply chains.

Lastly, they’re grown without herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers. You only need clean water, light and air!

Environmental benefits of microgreens

What are some of the amazing environmental benefits of growing microgreens? There are many ways micros are an excellent way to eat sustainably! For instance, microgreens are hyperlocal, can be grown in urban areas and in small spaces, and are highly sustainable.

Infographic on the impact of microgreens in society and on the environment

Hyperlocal farming 

Another benefit of farming your own microgreens is that you’re eating what is known as, hyperlocally. You’ve probably seen signs in grocery stores that say ‘grown locally.’ But how does that compare to ‘hyperlocal’ farming?

In the USA, using the word ‘local’ only means that it was grown within 400 miles, that’s San Francisco to Los Angeles! In many cases that doesn’t mean it was grown in the same county or even the same state as where you buy the food.

On the other hand, hyperlocal means grown right where you are–in other words, a farmer’s market, farm stand down the road, from restaurant gardens, from your neighbor’s backyard down the street, or in your own living space! Hyperlocal farming, measured by the increase of farmer’s markets nationally, jumped up between 1999 and 2014. 

When you decide to grow your own microgreens, you become part of a movement of hyperlocal farmers that help to disrupt the traditional, non-sustainable food system.

In that system, food is often grown far away and sometimes even in other countries, which neglects our own local economy. Food is then transported over long distances–which contributes to environmental degradation due to greenhouse gases and continued use of fossil fuels–while at the same time requiring food to be processed to avoid spoilage along the way. 

In order to prevent unsightly bruises or spoilage, food transit companies will often irradiate (expose to light radiation) food, pick the food before it’s ripe (and before it has maximum nutrients) to prevent rotting while in transit, use genetically modified foods, and cover fruits in edible wax. 

While many of these processes might be considered safe, the food is not maximally nutritious or flavorful, so why eat something picked before it is ripe and covered in wax when you can eat hyperlocally?

When transported food gets to consumers, it loses much of its nutrition. In one study in lettuce, the greens lost 81% of their Vitamin C by the time they had been transported and sat on the shelf for 4 days. 

Clearly, eating locally or hyperlocally is better in terms of the environment, the local economy, and our health. Also, most microgreens farms deliver their greens within a 20 miles radius! Check out our favorite partner, Mountain Man Micro Farm!

Urban Farming

Okay, so we know hyperlocal is better. More and more people are starting to understand the value of urban farming–which is growing food wherever possible in cities and in open spaces. That means backyard gardens, gardens instead of lawns, rooftop gardens, indoor farms, and balcony gardens. 

Lots of countries–particularly in Africa and Asia–already embrace personal urban farming in high-density cities, but the number of urban commercial farms is also starting to increase. While in many cases, personal gardens are tucked onto balconies and window sills, commercial urban farms are usually hydroponic systems grown in rooftop greenhouses. 

Take a look around your personal space. Where could you fit in a couple trays of microgreens?

Diagram on types of vertical farming

A: Rotating shelves B: Multiple-floor design C: Stacked, separate floor design D: Balcony design E: Green wall design F: Vertical arrangement

Vertical farming 

One way to maximize space in your own urban farm is to use vertical farming. Vertical farming is exactly what it sounds like–growing plants in a vertical space instead of a horizontal space! 

When you think of a farm, you may think of sprawling farmlands on the side of a highway. But if we’re trying to take our farms inside, that’s not possible...and it’s not the best use of space anyway.

Vertical farms can maximize a small space by using shelves. This is a particularly good setup for growing microgreens because they’re easily grown in trays and the plants themselves don’t get very tall, so you can stack the trays close together.

Picture of hundreds of trays of microgreens in a vertical farm

A lush vertical microgreens farm 

The interest in vertical farming, like urban farming, has grown a lot in the last decade. Vertical farm systems are considered a futuristic way of solving world food problems over the next 50 or so years.

Studies have even shown that vertical farming can increase vegetable yield over traditional horizontal farming. In one study in romaine lettuce, vertical systems grew 14 times more produce than a horizontal farm! 

Food deserts

You may have heard the phrase ‘food desert’ if you’re starting to think about sustainable farming. A food desert is simply a region where it’s difficult to find fresh, healthy food. Often that means none of the stores in the area sell fresh produce, or there is nowhere to buy healthy food affordably for the average person in the region.

Food deserts don’t have to be in rural, out of the way areas–urban food deserts are a huge problem globally. In some large cities, residents have no access to fresh foods because the local neighborhood markets only sell processed and packaged food. Without access to transportation and enough time to travel further, it can be difficult to ever find nutritious food.

Food deserts are specifically referring to fresh and healthy food, because while gas stations and supermarkets may have food like canned vegetables (most vitamin C is lost during canning) and potato chips, human bodies need the micronutrients in fresh produce to maintain optimal nutrition and avoid malnutrition and disease.

Hyperlocal and indoor farms are a great way to alleviate the problems of food deserts, since crops can be grown right in someone’s own home or backyard. 

Supply chains and COVID-19

One topic that’s getting a lot of press right now is the security of the food supply chain during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Food supply chains are the whole process from farm to consumer including all the in-between steps that happen in the middle.  But things like severe weather, catastrophes, war, or global pandemics can disrupt food chains and cause bad things to happen.

For example, during the pandemic, farmers have been forced to dump their milk or bury their vegetable crops because the closure of so many food-based services (restaurants, hotels, schools) has caused a drop in demand for many foods.

Keeping your own urban microgreens farm is an empowering way to protect yourself against uncertainty in food supplies. Microgreens are unique in the sense that you can grow and harvest a nutritionally-dense food in under two weeks from seed! Microgreens allow you and your family to produce your own superfoods. Even a soil-based garden–although they’re wonderful!–can’t grow food as quickly or as easily as an indoor microgreens farm.

What is organic? 

We’re all familiar with organic foods in the grocery store. But what does ‘organic’ actually mean and when is it most important to buy organic?

A farmer can call their produce ‘organic’ if they adhere to a bunch of specified farming practices designed to increase human and environmental health. Organic food cannot be fertilized with man-made fertilizers or pesticides, which can be toxic to both humans and the surrounding environment and wildlife. It also can’t have growth regulators or additives in livestock products, can’t be irradiated, and can’t contain or use genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Close up of broccoli seeds on jute

Organic broccoli seeds

Why is organic farming better?

That may seem like a lot of constraints, but growing organically has a ton of benefits. Nutritionally, studies show that organic foods have higher levels of minerals, micronutrients, and anthocyanins (anthocyanins are plant pigments and are powerful antioxidants).

In terms of the environmental impact, growing organically is better for the planet and for the ecosystem. Research has shown that organic farming results in increased biodiversity of animals like birds, small mammals and insects, and also results in higher soil fertility

Soil fertility is particularly important right now, since farmlands across the United States and the globe are struggling with soil depletion–when soil loses its nutrients–resulting in much less nutritious food grown in this soil.

Organic farming uses techniques like crop rotation, green manure, and nitrogen-fixing plants to keep the soils healthy enough to grow nutrient-dense foods.

Are microgreens sustainable?

Yes! Incorporating home-grown or locally grown microgreens into your regular diet is a great way to lower your carbon footprint and live more sustainably. That’s because growing microgreens requires way fewer resources than traditionally farmed food. 

Consider this:

(...) broccoli microgreens would require 158–236 times less water than it does to grow a nutritionally equivalent amount of mature vegetable in the fields of California’s Central Valley in 93–95% less time and without the need for fertilizer, pesticides, or energy-demanding transport from farm to table.

More than 200 times less water in 94% less time than it takes to grow an adult vegetable, and in many cases the microgreens would actually have more micronutrients than the adult vegetable! That’s a massive savings on both water and time.

Additionally, most agriculture uses fertilizers that cause huge problems that have repercussions on our water supply, the environment, and on organisms like fish. This is because over-fertilization of things like nitrogen or phosphorus allows excess fertilizer to leak into ground water and the surrounding environment. 

Too much fertilizer leads to acidic soils, too much algae (eutrophication), pollution of groundwater, and increased global warming. Luckily, because microgreens are an early phase in a plant’s life and grow easily on many types of substrates, there’s never a need for fertilizer!

Here’s a list of 9 sustainable benefits of growing microgreens:

  • Use 200 times less water
  • No pesticides are needed
  • No herbicides are needed
  • No fertilizers are needed
  • Less light needed - meaning less energy
  • No soil needed
  • Less physical space needed
  • Only about two weeks from seed to harvest
  • Year-round crop that can be grown indoors through all seasons 

Microtea and sustainability

Microtea is committed to health and sustainability. We only want the freshest, most nutrient-dense, and environmentally-friendly products available! That’s why our microgreens are always 100% organic, sourced from our local farming partners, and packaged in infinitely recyclable US manufactured steel cans (America's most recycled container). 

We’re all in on broccoli microgreens! They have truly amazing health benefits. But even though they’re powerful antioxidants and Nrf2 activators, microgreens are often still viewed as a garnish instead of the superfood that they are. 

We’re working to help people fill the nutritional gaps in their diets by making delicious and nutritious microgreens more accessible through functional and organic microgreen tea

Broccoli Booster, a highly-concentrated and potent tin of broccoli microgreens is now available! If you're looking for ways to add more veggies to your diet, but can't keep up with eating them before they go bad in your fridge, opt for our booster. It's microgreen nutrition made easy!

Carly Anderson Stewart, MSc | Head of Biology and Education

Back to blog