If you have visited a farmers market in Indianapolis in the past two months, it is likely that you have come across Indiana Microgreens, a new venture from Anna Powell. Microgreens have made their way into a few of my recipes simply out of my curiosity for what they are and how they can transform many dishes. (Check out my black bean burgers and farmers market salad recipes for inspiration.)
What are microgreens, you ask? Smaller than baby greens, microgreens are harvested early on in their life, often less than a few weeks old, and contain many nutrients that make them much more important than just garnish on a plate. Read this great NPR article that gets all up in the scientific facts.
After speaking with Anna a few times while purchasing the pea, radish or mustard microgreens, I knew I had to dig into her a little deeper and learn about why she decided to step foot into the microgreen business. Have you ever met or talked with someone briefly only to step away and have a sense that you are on the same cosmic wavelength, that you have something in common though you don’t yet know what it is? That’s how I felt about Anna, and after she kindly responded to my interview questions about her background and why she decided to take a new career path, I understood why we are so similar.
A little background info about Anna Powell:
Hometown: Vicksburg, Michigan
Current residence: Old Northside, Indianapolis
Education: Ivy Tech Community College, Associate of Applied Science, Culinary Arts & Hospitality Management
Furry friends: 2 Cats, Ellie Mae Cyrus, Ellie is ten years old, a little country and whole lotta rock n’ roll. Jack B. Nimble is 4 years old and thinks he is Mufasa from the Lion King. Both pets were rescued from horrific conditions. It is my sole duty in life to ensure they enjoy the remainder of theirs.
Tell me about yourself – what led you to where you are today? Were you surrounded by homegrown food growing up? Did you live on a farm?
Vicksburg Michigan is a farm community. I did not grow up on a farm, though we had a large garden, chickens and an acre pond stocked with fish. We also had cow and pig shares with other families for our meat. I grew up in a community of hunters and fisherman, and I enjoy both.
What inspired you to enter culinary school?
My career was spent working my way up in Corporate America, or what I forever with now refer to the period of my life as death by a cubicle. Four years ago, I made a life change and decide I couldn’t do it anymore. I walked out of a professional women’s group meeting at Dress for Success, where a gentleman named Matt gave a presentation on living and working your passion, and I said to myself, I’m going back to culinary school. The next day I expressed my interest to a few people and someone told me about the culinary job training program at Second Helpings. This was a great way to get my foot in the kitchen quickly. I started volunteering there, and after a few shifts applied for the program. That ten weeks changed my life. I met amazing people, and realized quickly the need being filled by Second Helpings. Every ten weeks there is a new class of trainees, and every ten weeks I go back and teach the soup class. My experience has molded my aspirations. This fall I begin classes at IUPUI majoring in Philanthropy and Non Profit Management, and have a goal of starting a culinary job training program similar to the ten week program at Second Helpings. There is a need to educate and re-educate people in this community. The major differences that I will implement is to have a sustainable green house and small produce farm. It is my belief that people need to be introduced to their food, and growing and harvesting, then utilizing what you’ve worked for is the easiest way I know how to accomplish that.
What surprised you about your education that you didn’t think would?
What surprised me the most is the overwhelming support I received by those around me. I truly believe that when you are on the path that is meant just for you, you know it. My entire transition has been full of people to support and nourish my career, and for that I am truly grateful.
How did you come up with Indiana Microgreens as a business? What inspired you to grow microgreens?
Last fall, I took a trip to the Findlay market and met a girl that sold wheatgrass & microgreens. The conversation intrigued me, and I started to think, I can do that. The next day, I began research, and started purchasing equipment.
Can you share a little about the growing process? How do you determine which microgreens to grow?
During the testing process, we tested forty different seed varieties. The ones we chose to grow were based upon yield per harvest, seed cost, and ease of growth. Some seeds are not worth growing because the seed cost is just too high. We use over 1,000 seeds per tray, and that is harvested in two weeks. We could use cheaper seeds that have been treated, but I will not compromise.
We grow hydroponically. Instead of using soil, I use organic cotton matting. There is one variety that I grow in organic soil and that is only because the seeds are so large that they will not latch on to the cotton. Our seed is heirloom and organic.
How is Indiana Microgreens different from other microgreens I may find in markets or grocery stores?
Our main mission is sustainable practices, while supplying the community with optimal product. The grow lights we use are the most energy efficient lights on the market, the containers we sell our microgreens in are made of sugar and are fully biodegradable in three months, even our business cards are made from recycled paper. All are key points that cost more when running a business. At the end of the day, I am comfortable with our economic impact and carbon footprint. Another key point is that we offer some custom blends that are extremely flavorful.
What are some of the ways chefs are using microgreens in their dishes?
Microgreens are primarily used as garnish here in Indiana by chefs, however, in other cities, I have seen them lightly dressed and used as an entire salad, tossed in pasta, placed on sandwiches, etc. I prefer radish micros straight from the container
What are some of your goals to accomplish in the next 5 years for Indiana Microgreens?
This year was working out the kinks of starting a new business, now I am looking to diversify. It is my hope to start producing baby lettuces, petite vegetables, edible flowers, etc. We will see what the market demand is, and start to fill in the gaps.
Anna can be found at the Broad Ripple Farmers Market on Saturday mornings, the Indy Farmers Market at City Market on Wednesday mornings, and can be followed on Faceook and Twitter for more updates. I suggest heading to the market early as she has been known to sell out quickly!
(Side note, I was totally going to make something with the radish microgreens I purchased after taking her photo, but…. I ate them all too quickly! I love to eat microgreens on toasted bread with cream cheese or goat cheese, maybe even topped with a lightly salted tomato. Gasp, the simplicity of it all…