In talking to Jon's sister Alyson last night who is partnering in starting a microgreens business in Calgary, I realized that it's relevant to share what Jon does in the winter at TapRoot Farms (In theory he should tell the story, but let's be realistic about who does the blogging on our farm!). This is his third winter producing Certified Organic Pea Shoots. He currently grows 140 10x20 trays per week in a special room designed just for growing the shoots. (I don't have any photos of the new room because they are on my old work computer at TapRoot; however, when I googled "Jon Jenkins Pea Shoots" I found some from the first year that I will share.) The current room is insulated with reflective sheet insulation, has LED lights and 4 layers of tables, which he uses to stage the shoots up week by week. They start out on the bottom when they are seeded-- he soaks the seed first, and it's also important for the trays to be very clean, so he washes and sanitizes hundreds of trays over the winter, over 100 per week. In the photo, he was using plug trays, but has switched to open trays after the first season-- easier to compost the soil after.
The growing process takes three weeks, and can be fraught with all sorts of issues. Growing indoors under lights on this sort of scale is not easy. The second year he encountered pithium and had to figure out what was causing that and adjust his process. This winter TapRoot tried a different potting soil which didn't work for the shoots, and of course that took 3 - 4 weeks to figure out, and another 3 weeks to fix. Following that, there have been winter snowstorms preventing Jon from making it to work for the full week for the past month, when he is late seeding, it means the schedule is thrown off and less production available (they are harvested shorter, have less weight and therefore less yield)... something he had to remind his wife this past week (It went something like this: "Why are there no pea shoots for Noggins??" "Well, remember that day I couldn't make it to work and you told me to just enjoy the snow day-- I told you that you'd be complaining in three weeks that there were no pea shoots for market!" Lol, oops, he is so often right about these things!). When the shoots are on the top table for a week they turn deep green and are ready for harvest. He harvests with a serrated knife (scissors are SLOW and hard on the hands, he learned immediately), into new plastic liners and lines all the shoots up carefully. Then they are bagged, for market as 1/6 lb, or varying amounts in the CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) boxes.
It would be lovely to have unlimited space and grow the shoots in a faster turnaround, but it's not possible and so working within the space available, Jon has had to refine and perfect a system that works. We were inspired by our pea shoot producing friends and farming mentors David Blanchard and Cindy Rubinfine at Pleasant Hill Farm to start doing this at TapRoot, and CSA members and market shoppers LOVE the fresh green shoots, especially as the winter drags on. Every other week he produces nearly 700 bags to go in the CSA shares. Here's some photos of Jon's pea shoots in members' dishes, people who RAVE about them:
<-- The shoots in a bag (the label is so basic because there's no reason to bother making it more attractive, they fly off the shelves as fast as Jon can produce them)
And some photos from the markets, where the shoots follow me and I get to proudly say "My husband grew these!"
The Pea Shoots made a splash first when they were unveiled at Saltscapes 2013, where we introduced a large number of the public to these tasty farm goodies, at Atlantic Canada's largest local tradeshow. By the end of it, we were all really tired of answering questions of "What are those?" with "Pea Shoots. PEA SHOOTS!" (Try it, it's a hard combination of words to enunciate well. People mis-hear all the time, it drives me a bit nuts-- Beet roots? Bichou? Pea roots? Bee shoes?", lol!). The public loved them and we as a farm knew that we were onto something. Here's our friend Tim sharing some pea shoots with littler TapRoot CSA members.
Jon also produces Alfalfa Sprouts in a certified kitchen space at TapRoot. They are grown in 4L jars under lights (creates a little extra heat and turns the leaves green). He (assisted by others) rinses the jars twice a day. I think currently he is growing up to 70 jars per week and it takes about 45 minutes to rinse them all. In this process, again, cleanliness is king. The trays are sanitized with bleach (necessary for certification of the sprouting process) and then to meet Organic Certification there needs to be a "removal event" (I just love that wording, lol) of the bleach so it doesn't touch the sprouts. It takes 5 days to grow the sprouts to maturity, and then they are chilled to stop the growing process and bagged with a 4 day expiration. They are sold at the Noggins at the Halifax Seaport Farmer's Market and in the farm market in Greenwich, and also used for the winter CSA shares at TapRoot Farms.
Jon has a great aptitude for this sort of thing, because he is a meticulous perfectionist, with intense precision and the attention to detail this sort of production requires. Cleanliness, keeping to a production schedule, close observation, and advanced growing skills come into play, especially on growing projects of this scale. Poorly done pea shoots suck, but poorly done sprouts can make you really sick, so how great it is to know what a perfectionist Farmer Jon is! He amazes me with his ability to adapt and refine systems to produce these enzyme-rich, nutritious greens for over 6 months a year. Winter as a farmer means different things, depending on what type of farm you are on -- it means you are still busy if you work on a year-round CSA farm. I have so much respect for that husband of mine, and so much gratitude to Josh and Patricia at TapRoot Farms, for making this project happen and supporting Jon's growth as a farmer. Yay to Pea Shoots and Sprouts, staving off winter root veg boredom and scurvy!!
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