There’s nothing like a guest speaker to get third graders’ hands in the air. Today the guest is up at the whiteboard drawing pictures and asking students to identify parts of a plant. The kids at Katherine Finchy Elementary have got this. “What’s the tiny thing the farmer puts in the soil?” “Seeds!” “What pokes above the surface into the air?” “Stem!” “What are these two round parts at the top of the stem?” “Leaves!” “What do you call the stem and leaves together?” Confused faces, a little bit of whispering. The speaker clues them in. It’s an infant plant, a very special one – in fact it’s a “super baby” called a microgreen.
Most of the kids in this nutrition education presentation have never tasted microgreens (MGs) before, but the majority declares them surprisingly tasty (they tried sunflower MGs). They like the idea of these juicy little plants being “tiny but mighty” – a description many would proudly wear on a cape themselves. In fact, researchers at the University of Maryland studying groups of nutrients (vitamins K,C, E and beta carotene) in microgreens were bowled over by the results, which indicated that the miniature versions of certain vegetables were anywhere from 4 to 40 times more concentrated than the mature produce. 1
The third graders quickly learned what chefs have known for years – microgreens also explode with powerful flavor. People delighting the palates of desert diners often sprinkle salads, meat and other vegetables with a confetti toss of microgreens. The itty bitty leaves can impart the taste of a vegetable without the heft or fiber, enlivening an otherwise bland plate of lettuce. Farmers can easily deliver entire trays of microgreens still in their growing medium to kitchens, where the culinary artists harvest them with scissors as needed. 2
It’s become such an important ingredient that microgreen cultivation is an agricultural niche unto itself. In the Certified Farmers’ Markets of the Coachella Valley, three different farmers supply microgreens to the outdoor markets in Palm Springs, Palm Desert and La Quinta. Heinz Strahl from Around the World Herbs originally introduced MGs to the Saturday Market in Palm Springs. His farm is similarly compact – a single greenhouse next to his home in a suburban Hemet neighborhood along with a handful of tidy raised beds. When Cynthia Farquhar’s son Casey wanted to expand his offerings alongside their Redlands-grown citrus and avocados, Heinz showed him the ropes. Now Casey brings MGs to Palm Desert on Wednesday. Rounding out the week, Ruth and Todd Chinnock (mother and son) joined the team in Old Town La Quinta this November, after finally putting their rural property in Oak Glen to the use they originally intended. Their tidy trays of microgreens delight the eye as well as the palate.
Sample these small wonders of the produce world at your local Coachella Valley Farmer’s Market!
Megan Goehring is the Palm Springs manager and community liaison for the Certified Farmers Markets of the Coachella Valley and is passionate about improving access to fresh, high quality food for everyone in her community. For local farmer’s markets dates and times visit www.certifiedfarmersmarkets.org or call (844) 732.7628.
References: 1) https://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20120831/tiny-microgreens-packed-nutrients#1; 2) https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2012/08/29/160274163/introducing-microgreens-younger-and-maybe-more-nutritious-vegetables