H&G: Sowing the seeds

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Ryan and Sophia Strauss have become specialists in one very specific type of crop.

They are the husband and wife team behind S&R Microgreens, regulars at the Creemore Farmers’ Market, where Sophia has joined the board of directors. They says they have had to learned a lot in the last two years.

The miniature crop is fickle and requires a lot of love and attention. The tiny plants are sensitive to changes in light, humidity, temperature and some unknown factors. When one sprout dies there is really nothing that can be done to save the rest of the tray, as if the shared root system is of one mind. But when they thrive, the minuscule plants pack a punch of nutrition, flavour andcrunch, so a little goes a long way.

The Strausses’ foray into the world of microgreens started six months into the pandemic. Sophia was coming off of a maternity leave and was looking for a new career path, something she could do at home while caring for her two young sons.

When researching options, they were intrigued by microgreens even though they didn’t know anything about them.

They watched a ton of videos, listened to podcasts (paying extra attention to an episode about why not to grow microgreens) and went about sourcing a reputable supplier of organic non-GMO seeds.

“We failed in the most interesting ways,” said Ryan, explaining that on their first attempt they lost 60 trays of seedlings.

They persevered, tweaking the system and learning what seeds grew best in which growing material.

The process starts with the seeds being applied to the growing material laid out in trays. Once watered, they are weighted down and kept in darkness. Through a series of steps the sprouts are stressed slightly, encouraging them to grow tall before starting to photosynthesize.

The entire grow cycle takes only 14 days.

In the pristine, laboratory-like grow room of their Angus home, Ryan and Sophia oversee various stages of the sow/grow cycle, caring for up to 200 trays of microgreens at any one time. The basement of the home has been transformed into a hydroponic nursery, with strict control on light, humidity and temperature to optimize quality.

While Ryan takes care of the sowing, Sophia takes over the growing and is the one who knows exactly when is peak harvest time. For some varieties there is sometimes a very narrow window of only a few hours before the plants start to loose their optimal quality, taste and texture.

The Strausses say that most growers focus on a few varieties but they agree they “went a little crazy” with microgreens. They grow up to 35 different varieties and are always trying new ones.

They have tailored a core crop of 15-20 regular varieties including sunflower, broccoli, pea shoots, beets, Swiss chard, radish, amaranth and are finding their hearty and spicy mixes to be quite popular with customers. They make great toppers for sandwiches, salads, tacos and are said to be nutrient dense.

Each family member, including five-year-old Lucas and three-year- old Ares, has their favourites and their preferred way of eating them, even if it’s munching them right out of the bowl.

With the surplus crops, they dehydrate the plants and make a micro green powder that can be added to smoothies. They also make juice, infused butter, wheatgrass shots, dry rubs, vinaigrette, sauces and a broccoli infused tea.

The Strausses are hoping to expand by supplying restaurants and retail stores, in addition to the ones they already work with in Barrie.

S&R Microgreens will be at the Creemore Farmers’ Market opening day on May 20. Find S&R Microgreens on Facebook and Instagram.

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