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Grow Your Own Microgreens Indoor Year Round

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Here's the deal with microgreens: They're things like sprouts, or maturing spinaches, tiny leaves that are generally less than 14 days old. But what they lack in maturity, they make up with nutritional punch; they contain four to six times as much vitamin C, E, and beta carotene as mature leaves of the same plant.

Here's the deal with growing microgreens: It's relatively easy, but you need someplace to grow them. While that may be possible for those with space -- at least, yards protected from the constant unauthorized "watering" from dogs -- I can count the number of people I know with said outdoor growing areas on one hand. Perhaps that's indicative of my own social circle, perhaps not. Either way, apartment living doesn't allow for the cultivation of microgreens.

Urban Cultivator wants to change that.

The Vancouver-based start-up sells a "smart" fridge-like apparatus that allows users to grow them indoors, all year round. There are two versions of the product: A small one for residences, roughly the size of a wine cooler, and a larger industrial version for restaurants. They're not cheap: a residential version costs about $2,499, while the larger commercial version is upwards of $8,799. But how quickly you recoup that investment depends on how often you buy microgreens. (My own rough, back-of-the-matchbook estimate for my own buying habits comes out to a tad over four years, which means for me it'd be some long-term thinking.)

I spoke to Tarren Wolfe, founder of Urban Cultivator, about who should buy these, as well as the team's long-term goal of bringing fresh greens to the impoverished regions of the world.

Where did the idea come from?

Tarren Wolfe: Out of fulfilling a basic need. My wife has pretty bad food allergies. In the summer, we can have our garden going and she doesn't have those adverse reactions. But over the winter, when we start eating out of the supermarket and everything is trucked in again, and it's from all over the place with different countries and different governing standards, she would have really adverse reactions. So, it came out of just a basic need to grow our own all year round.

Can you go through how it works?

Wolfe: It's like a dishwasher, in terms of being plumbed into city water. It's water in, water out, fully automated, doing everything for you. Essentially, you're just putting these flats of greens in. We give you the organic seed, everything you need.

Who buys these things?

Wolfe: The residential one is getting into large development projects, condos, high-rises, big urban dwellings. They don't have a garden, right? So, it's a cool selling feature. But it's also cool because it's allowing the people that are living in them to obviously experience fresh cut microgreens and herbs. We're also getting a lot of high profile customers, the star chefs, which, you know, can help catapult the movement. We'll take it anyway we can get it. It's been a higher end clientele, but I think it's for everybody, because there's a return on investment on every cultivator. Does a wine cooler save you money? This cultivator... an average American spends between $100 and $150 a month on greens. This will take out a huge chunk of that.

On your website, you mention a plan to use these abroad in impoverished regions as well.

Wolfe: We've started with our first tribe [in Kenya] of 80 people. We're sending a huge seed kit down to them, and trying to get water closer to them, and doing it hands-on to start. That's the point. Ultimately, the goal of what we're doing is to put these into a desert. We have the technology to put this out into a desert and for it be totally self-sufficient, and feed people. We can free up their time to spend more time with each other and all of those other benefits that go along.

How long do you think it'll take for that to become a reality?

Wolfe: It's start small and see where it goes. I'd like to dedicate a percentage of either profit or sales to this, and really grow it.

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