Food

Boston Microgreens grows hyperlocal herbs to order

The urban farm sits in a basement space on South Boston’s West Broadway, and delivers freshly cut microgreens straight to Boston chefs and clients twice weekly.

Boston Microgreens sits in a basement on South Boston’s West Broadway. Courtesy

Oliver Homberg, cofounder of Boston Microgreens, recalls eating the redcurrant in his grandmother’s garden as the memory that sparked his connection with growing food.

Now, as the owner of Boston Microgreens, Homberg gets his hands dirty daily — but he’s not working outside.

The urban farm sits in a basement space on South Boston’s West Broadway, and delivers freshly cut microgreens straight to Boston chefs and clients twice weekly.

“Everything you see here has a destination already,” said Homberg. “It has a restaurant or a client that it’s going to.” To maximize space and minimize waste, the farm is completely grow-to-order.

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Microgreens are the young greens of vegetable plants. They’re usually only two or three weeks old, and a couple of inches high — but they pack a nutritional punch, often with higher concentrations of nutrients than their full-grown counterparts.

They’re also intense in flavor, so they’re beloved by many chefs for the taste and nutrition boost they add as a pretty little garnish.

Homberg started Boston Microgreens in 2018 out of the South End apartment he shared at the time with cofounder Matt Alto. After they studied together at Northeastern, a YouTube video on how to grow microgreens ignited Homberg and Alto’s curiosity — and months later, they were selling their homegrown greens to restaurants in their neighborhood. 

When Alto split from the company amicably (Homberg said they’re still “best buds”), Homberg went all in with the business, signing a lease in February 2019 for the South Boston space he now shares with a few other employees, both full-time and part-time.  

Homberg offers 70 different varieties of microgreens, with different growth sizes available.

“If a chef says, ‘I want my Thai basil leaf one and a half inches every Tuesday and Friday,’” said Homberg, he can do exactly that. 

Boston Microgreens uses all organic farming practices. – Courtesy

During the pandemic, Boston Microgreens launched a CSA service that they still deliver to clients’ doorsteps on Tuesdays and Fridays. The “nutrition mix” contains eight nutrient-dense microgreens — sunflower, cabbage, kale, broccoli, beet, swiss chard, radish, and buckwheat — harvested that very morning.

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Customers can also order any microgreen offerings a la carte, as long as they’re willing to wait a couple of weeks for the greens to grow.

“There’s a little bit of lead time,” said Homberg, “but it’s fun because you know that we’re literally growing your product for you.”

Homberg said that on the business side, they try to run the company as sustainably as possible. They source exclusively renewable energy from Eversource, and their compostable packaging is made from corn.

They also use all organic farming practices. “No pesticides, herbicides; we grow 100% clean,” said Homberg.

They recycle about 95% of their water through an irrigation system. The trays of greens sit on flood tables, and using an app, Homberg and his team can fill the flood tables with water from small reservoirs on the floor.

The plants simply suck up what they need, and the rest of the water drains back down to the reservoir. Boston Microgreens even worked with the FDA to clear this new irrigation system at both the state and federal levels.

Microgreens are relatively new to the mainstream culinary scene — and Boston Microgreens is helping to write the playbook.

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The irrigation system isn’t the only cool technology that goes into microgreens. The company uses its own software developed with the help of Northeastern volunteers.

The software “controls everything that happens on the farm,” said Homberg. “Without that, we’d never be able to grow all these varieties.”

For example, said Homberg, if a chef wants more or less product on a certain day, the software figures out how much of each plant to grow and how many days in advance, without the human labor of going into excel and changing orders manually.

Soon, said Homberg, he and a team plan to release the software publicly as an app for other farmers to use.

“Within six months that’ll be beta tested,” said Homberg, noting that it could change the way microgreen farms operate all over the country.

The new system will help farms enable an accurate grow-to-order system, cutting down on wasted labor and wasted food.

While indoor microgreen growing is nothing new, said Homberg, he hopes Boston Microgreens will help create a model for more urban farms to follow.

“This can be done in underutilized spaces, in urban spaces, and by small teams,” said Homberg. “It’s a potential business model to create independent revenue. It can create employment, and it can create sustainable food systems and local food systems. It’s great.”

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