The coronavirus pandemic this spring negatively affected the lives of Kyle and Kelsey Foor of Claysburg, Pennsylvania. So, the couple put on their thinking caps and came up with an “urban agriculture” solution.
Claysburg is a small village surrounded by farming country — not a city, but a town. The Foors have a near-acre lot with a vintage house from the days when the area thrived with a brick plant.
Kelsey is a trauma nurse at Conemaugh Hospital, and although some nurses and doctors were overworked as the COVID-19 infections spread, some trauma units almost stopped. Now, as the weather warms and social distancing to stop infections can be practiced outside — on motorcycles, skateboards or four-wheelers — business is, unfortunately, once again booming in the trauma center.
Meanwhile, Kyle worked for a small oil company in the Texas oil fields. As oil costs spiraled downwards, his company gave him a three-day notice about his job.
With time on their hands, the young couple began to research ways they might have a part-time sideline business.
“Kelsey loves salads,” Kyle said. “She always takes them to work. I was doing the shopping and got disgusted at not being able to find vegetables that looked fresh. I started growing our own lettuce in the basement.”
Growing lettuce led to microgreens. Kyle studied ways to grow the various vegetable microgreens and Kelsey topped her go-to-work salads with them.
“They were delicious and I started offering them to my co-workers,” she said. “They were an instant hit. My fellow employees, nurses and doctors quickly became our best customers.”
Kyle spent many hours researching microgreens, a highly nutritious form of vegetable.
“It’s a lot of trial and error,” he said about growing the microgreens. “They didn’t all turn out perfect the first time.”
Most important, he said, is the water pH and the temperature.
The Foors do not use fertilizers or chemicals of any kind to grow their microgreens.
Each tiny green starts from seeds that are ordered on the internet. Most take eight to 14 days from planting until harvest. Some microgreens take longer: two to five weeks. Harvesting at the right time is important.
While the Foors started by growing a salad mix and a radish variety, they have increased their regular stock to include borage, a cucumber and melon mix, spicy mustard leaf, peas and broccoli. Carrots have been planted, but are not quite ready for harvesting.
Kelsey said they will also grow microgreens to a customer’s request.
The Foors’ best marketing tool has been the internet, specifically Facebook, which allows for individual orders and deliveries.
Kelsey continues to sell microgreens at the hospital and they also began selling at the Bedford Farmers Market in mid-June.
The microgreens are sold in 16-ounce containers for $5 each.
“That sounds expensive to some folks,” Kyle said. “One container will last a very long time and the greens stay fresh.”
The couple is still researching their containers and hope to find something a little more eco-friendly.
Although they started the venture in their basement, Kyle recently finished putting together a greenhouse shed designed especially for growing microgreens. It has plenty of room for shelving along with the proper lighting and temperature controls.
Microgreens are a highly nutritional form of vegetable and, unlike sprouts, are not prone to bacteria. They grow 1 to 3 inches in height, have an aromatic flavor and concentrated nutrients. They are considered to be somewhere between a sprout and a baby green.
According to the Foors, the top four healthiest and tastiest microgreens are considered to be pea, radish (which is spicy), sunflower and wheat germ.
The couple’s future plans include marketing to restaurants as things reopen from COVID-19. They also hope to add a second greenhouse and possibly a storefront.
Kelsey said the greens are particularly good added to scrambled or deviled eggs or in stir-frys.
“I have also put them on pizza,” she said. “Really anywhere you would use spinach, you can use microgreens.”
If you add them to soups or stews, she recommended adding them at the last minute, after spooning the hot liquid into a bowl, because otherwise the tiny greens would overcook to “nothing” very quickly.
Kyle is currently doing all of the bookwork for the microgreen business and is applying for liability insurance. He said he should be going back to work in a few months as the world reopens businesses.
Besides working on the microgreen venture, the young couple is remodeling their house, going jet skiing at Raystown Lake, or playing with their two Husky dogs.
“We keep experimenting and thinking of new ways to promote our microgreens,” Kyle said. “We think we have found a good form of urban agriculture.