Santhosh Kumar S’ farm is in a 100 square foot room. The crops, one to three inches tall, shine bright in shades of green, pink, yellow and purple. This is Santhosh’s microgreen farm, where he grows different varieties of greens.
Although many had tried their hand at it during the lockdown, Santhosh is among the handful of people in Thiruvananthapuram who have taken to commercial cultivation of microgreens, which are the first true edible leaves produced from seedlings of vegetables and herbs. It is the phase between sprouts and baby plants.
Hailed as a superfood because of the richness in nutrients, microgreens are eaten raw; added to salads and sandwiches; and blended to make smoothies. Flavours of these greens vary from sweet to bitter and even tangy, depending on the variety that is used to enhance flavour, texture and even the look of a dish.
Ananthu Raj RC and Rahul GB are also microgreen farmers who run their venture, Chew Fresh, at Chavadimukku near Sreekariyam; Sunesan K’s brand, Nutrigreens Microgreens, is at Pravachambalam.
Microgreens are produced from edible plant species and over 100 microgreen varieties are available the world over of which 12 to 15 varieties are commonly grown. This includes red and white radish, broccoli, sunflower, arugula, yellow and green mustard, bok choy, fenugreek, beetroot, sweet corn, and amaranthus. The rare ones include kohlrabi purple, purple sango radish, Swiss chard, purple red cabbage etc.
“I have orders for 80 grams each of arugula microgreens and mustard microgreens from a cafe at Ambalamukku every week. In addition, I have subscription-based orders for four boxes per month from employees in Technopark,” says Santhosh. He grows the greens at a friend’s house at Chandavila, 20 kilometres from Thiruvananthapuram city. A software engineer with an MNC in Technopark, Thiruvananthapuram, he has been running a hydroponics farm for the last nine years at his house at Karyavattam and started growing microgreens eight months ago. His produce is sold under the brand, Fresh Leaves.
In the case of college mates Ananthu and Rahul, microgreens farming was an option they tried out when their plan to start a hydroponics farm did not materialise. “We tried producing microgreens on a small scale a year ago and now we grow over a dozen varieties in a 100-square foot room,” says Ananthu, who used to work as a logistics executive with a company. Rahul is employed in Technopark.
“Besides a couple of hypermarkets and supermarkets in the city, we deliver them regularly to restaurants and cafes in Kazhakkoottam and Kowdiar. We started the venture by targetting the hotels because they are more familiar with microgreens as they use them for garnishing,” Ananthu adds.
Sunesan was introduced to microgreens by his wife, Shaikath Majeed. “She showed me a lot of videos about growing microgreens. Initially, I had no interest. But eventually I enjoyed it, especially when our first attempt succeeded. We failed a couple of times after that. So we had to study more about the temperature, humidity, the PH content of the water etc before we were on track,” says Sunesan.
Microgreens are usually grown in trays in a room. Temperature, light, humidity and air flow affect the growth of these mini plants. Sunesan sells over a dozen varieties, including four varieties of radish and purple cabbage to some five-star hotels in the city. They also sell live trays. “That is, the customers can buy the tray laden with microgreens and harvest them when needed. However, microgreens have a short lifespan, and can’t be kept for a longer period,” explains Sunesan.
The microgreens are available in packets of 80 grams and 100 grams and are priced from ₹150 onwards.
According to Beela GK, professor and head, Department of Community Science, College of Agriculture, Vellayani, Thiruvananthapuram, microgreens may contain four to 40 times the nutrients of mature plant leaves. “Their nutrient content is concentrated, which means that they often contain higher vitamin, mineral and antioxidant levels than the same quantity of mature green. If you want to get the most nutritional benefit, you should eat them raw. Just be sure to wash them to remove any bacteria.” She adds that research scholars in the Department are currently working on the quality analysis of microgreens.
Seeds for microgreens are sourced from Karnataka, Rajasthan, Maharashtra etc. “Some of the seeds are costly — for example, the seeds of beetroot cost ₹2,000 per kilogram. Therefore, the beetroot microgreens are also priced more (₹250 to 280 per pack) compared to other varieties,” says Santhosh.
Growing microgreens is a low-cost venture, as it requires minimal space and equipment. “The initial investment would come to around ₹20,000 to ₹25,000. The first two months didn’t go well for us. But now we sell around 40 kilograms a month,” says Ananthu.
However, the growers stress that microgreens are not everyone’s cup of tea. “They have to be eaten raw and not all might like the taste. So it is difficult to market them. It is important to create awareness about the benefits of microgreens,” sums up Sunesan.