The Superfood You Need to Start Eating - Microgreens + Their Health-Altering Power
Updated: Feb 24, 2018
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I believe it is safe to say that our modern food landscape is encountering a new host of complex problems that need to be solved in a way that is creative, social implication-oriented, and environmentally conscious. Gone are the days of each person growing their own food out of the backyard. Instead, we rely on large-scale agriculture OR if we are fortunate enough to have farmer's markets accessible in our community, then we try to take advantage of this local economy-boosting and environmentally friendly approach to sourcing our food.
Despite our best efforts, Americans are still facing the highest rates of cancer, degenerative diseases, obesity, and diabetes that we have yet to see in modern times. What we need is a paradigm shift. We need a new way of approaching the entire system of food production, from soil to sale. We need creative, forward-thinking individuals who can combine Eco-friendly farming techniques with a community-based approach to grow food that is so saturated with nutrition that we not only get well at an individual level from consuming it, but also at a societal level. This vision is being brought into fruition with a local urban agriculture company known as Arizona Microgreens. I had the pleasure of sitting down with one of the founders of this incredible company that is growing a product so nutritious that researchers and scientists all over the world are flocking to study it in order to make the wide-reaching benefits of microgreens known to the world. Food really can be medicine!
I hope you enjoy this enlightening interview with the co-founder of Arizona Microgreens, Joseph Martinez.
Tristan: Welcome Joseph and thank you so much for taking the time out of your crazy schedule to share with my readers the incredible benefits of the amazing plant-beings that are microgreens. Let’s get things rollin’! For the sake of my readers, can you tell us who you are, what you do, and what your passions are.
Joseph: My name is Joseph Martinez and together with my brother, David Redwood, I co-founded Arizona Microgreens in 2013. We both grew up in Arizona, went to college and lived out of state for many years, and then started Arizona Microgreens together shortly after moving back to Arizona. We both share a passion for doing work that is meaningful, hands-on, and requires a healthy dose of creative problem solving. Urban agriculture turned out to be a great opportunity for us to come together and collaborate!
Tristan: Wow, that is quite the journey! It is amazing that you are able to collaborate with your brother. I’m sure it is incredibly fun and challenging at the same time, which usually equals the opportunity for a tremendous amount of personal development! Microgreens seem like a bit of an odd industry to happen upon. How did the goal to cultivate microgreens in an urban environment come to be in your life?
Joseph: I was first introduced to microgreens while conducting research on urban agriculture in various cities around the world. What excited me about microgreens was the way in which this particular crop was relevant to both the fine dining context as well as the wellness context. Microgreens are extremely versatile. You've got chefs at the top restaurants using them as a premium side salad or garnish while at the same time you've got people tossing them into their daily green smoothie. Microgreens can be utilized to visually elevate a dish; they can also be used to optimize the nutritional benefits of a particular meal plan, detox program, or daily salad.
*image derived from http://www.arizonamicrogreens.com/recipes/
Tristan: Now that I think about it, the versatility of microgreens really is unlike any other crop or food product. I don’t think there are many foods that are highly desirable by both top chefs and health nuts all around the world. Given the exciting potential that cultivating microgreens presents, at what point did you and your brother decide that you needed or wanted to start a business?
Joseph: When I eventually came back to Arizona, it was clear that there wasn't a whole lot going on with microgreens here and there might be an opportunity to explore what it would look like to produce them on a larger scale to meet the demand within the state. Since the beginning, we've been involved in supplying microgreens for both the fine-dining and wellness contexts. We work with all of the leading local produce distributors to move our product into restaurant kitchens throughout the state. At the same time, we also do farmers markets and work with a network of health coaches and naturopathic clinics to distribute our greens to individuals who would like to utilize microgreens in their home kitchen.
Tristan: It is absolutely incredible that you stepped into this market at the perfect time. It seems that your passion for cultivating a product that could be grown in an urban environment was the perfect combination for what is required to meet the demand for a beautiful, yet highly nutritious product such as microgreens. Given the combination of urban ingenuity, health, and cuisine, can you talk a bit about the mission of Arizona Microgreens and how you prefer to run your business?
*image derived from http://www.arizonamicrogreens.com
Joseph: We operate as a social enterprise. For us, this means that we prioritize positive social, environmental, and financial outcomes. Urban agriculture is not just about reducing the number of miles produce travels to the consumer. By operating a farm in the middle of the city, we are making a case for the very positive and tangible benefits a farm can have such as:
creating jobs in the local community, contributing to the financial sustainability of aligned community initiatives, providing the healthiest produce available, contributing to the viability of an urban food system, promoting awareness and transparency around where food comes from and how it is produced, and so on.
Instead of focusing on mechanizing crop production and reducing the cost as much as possible, we focus on maximizing the value that we can create by integrating crop production with other systems such as: early childhood education, environmental stewardship, and local community development initiatives, amongst others.
Tristan: Exactly, this is the main component of what Arizona Microgreens does that drew me into your business and product. I believe it is safe to say that the model you operate your business with is the direction that our food industry needs to transition to. This not only makes the actual product more Eco-conscious but allows more individuals of the community to incorporate the benefits of a product such as microgreens into their lifestyle more seamlessly. Can you describe some of your favorite ways to incorporate micros into your lifestyle?
Joseph: Microgreens are a huge part of my diet. I always have a green smoothie in the morning with sunflower shoots and our sulforaphane-rich "Wellness Mix". For lunch, the whole Arizona Microgreens crew always shares big microgreen salads together. And for dinner, I easily find a way to incorporate our "Micro Salad" with roasted veggies or a healthy protein. This isn't some extreme diet or high-maintenance regimen. This is also extremely affordable. For $20 to $40 per week, microgreens can be a major part of your weekly diet. We aren't just growing local organic produce for the high-end consumer. Our regulars are across the entire economic spectrum.
We sell microgreens to executives and athletes who only want to eat the most nutrient-dense foods, but we have way more regulars who just don't want to see their food expire due to a short shelf life and who value high-quality, good tasting ingredients.
Microgreens are the easiest way I know to incorporate more veggies and whole foods into your diet. Whatever school of thought you look into on nutrition, there is one thing they are all in agreement on: eating more whole foods and plants is definitely a good idea. One thing that is Whole30, Paleo, gluten free, GAPS, vegan, and omnivore-friendly?
A microgreen salad.
People come up to us at the farmers' market and for the first week or, so they ask for ideas on how to incorporate more microgreens into their diet. Then, after a few weeks, they tell us that they're using microgreens in practically everything they make.
Tristan: It gives me chills to think about how accessible you are making a powerful and medicinal food available to nearly everyone. I myself use microgreens at nearly every meal because they are so simple to toss on top of meals or use in larger amounts. However I don’t think the majority of people understand the physical difference is between sprouts and microgreens and what the differences are in terms health benefits. Can you explain for us?
Joseph: Microgreens should not be confused with sprouts. Sprouts are made from germinating seeds in water for a short period of time (usually 48 to 72 hours) with little to no sunlight––just long enough to grow roots, a stem, and small, underdeveloped leaves. Because of this soil-less, rudimentary growing method that encourages the proliferation of dangerous pathogens, sprouts pose a serious food safety risk and contain little added nutritional value.
Microgreens, on the other hand, are carefully grown with the highest food safety standards in nutrient-rich soil and full sun until the plant reaches an ideal stage of maturity. The FDA advises everyone to avoid consumption of raw sprouts. No such warning has been issued against the consumption of microgreens –– there are many growers operating throughout the country producing microgreens that are food safe for children, the elderly, pregnant women, or people otherwise immune-compromised. Arizona Microgreens is proud to be amongst these growers who uphold the highest standards of food safety.
Tristan: Thank you for the clarification! I myself was completely unaware that sprouts are less beneficial and even dangerous compared to microgreens. Given the greater amount of health benefits to be derived from including microgreens into your diet, what are you most excited about with regard to the health benefits of microgreens?
Joseph: There is a tremendous body of research indicating the significant health benefits of microgreens. Brassicas (e.g., broccoli, kale, cabbage) in particular have received an enormous amount of attention due to their high concentration of a chemical compound sulforaphane. In numerous peer-reviewed, double-blind, and placebo-controlled studies, sulforaphane has been shown to have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effects. Sulforaphane has also been proven to alleviate symptoms associated with autism spectrum disorder.
One ounce of the Arizona Microgreens Wellness Mix (consisting of broccoli, cabbage, and kale microgreens) contains the amount of sulforaphane found in 1.5 pounds of raw broccoli.
You can browse some of the peer-reviewed studies with sulforaphane on our website:
Tristan: That is absolutely insane! So in many ways, consuming microgreens derived from Brassicas are more nutritious and beneficial compared to eating the mature plant, i.e broccoli florets or brussel sprouts. Especially considering how far our food typically travels before we purchase it, cook it, and then consume it, most the nutritional value has been depleted due to light, heat, and exposure to other elements. Given the seemingly obvious benefit to consuming microgreens alongside a healthy diet, what do you think the future of microgreen production/sale/consumption will be? Can you see them being used therapeutically?
*image derived from http://www.arizonamicrogreens.com/recipes-1/2015/11/24/tacos
Joseph: We're going to see more people having a micro salad and a sulforaphane-rich microgreen (like our Wellness Mix) as a consistent part of their diet. This is a realistic and affordable way to increase vegetable consumption and incorporate anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer foods into daily food intake.
What is exciting for us is how practical, affordable, and evidence-based this is.
We're not suggesting that everybody incorporate a powder or highly-processed and scientifically dubious food into their diet. There has been a tremendous amount of very high-quality research done on microgreens. They are an easy-to-use, affordable, and versatile whole food with clinically substantiated health benefits. I want more of that in my diet. Our co-workers all want that in their diet. Our families want that. We're excited to be part of making this possible for people throughout the state of Arizona.
Tristan: Well I fully believe in the work that you and your brother are accomplishing with Arizona Microgreens. It is very uncommon to find a company that produces a product that is environmentally conscious, community-driven, highly desirable by a varied audience, and most importantly – incredibly beneficial for the health of those around us. Joseph, thank you so much for sharing you time, passion, and expertise with me and my readers today. Is there anything else you would like to add before we wrap up?
Joseph: One thing I know I could use a lot of help with is how to communicate the health benefits to people in a way that is practical, understandable, and relevant to their goals and priorities. I'm super open to any suggestions on how I could get to the point in a more effective way.
Tristan: Well, I know that this article is a great place to start in terms of reaching people and getting the message out about what you do! I think the biggest take home message for readers is just to try microgreens. They are fun, tasty, and not at all a burden to your routine or habits, yet they add tremendous nutritional value to your diet! Sprinkling a little on top of a salad or sandwich, throwing them in a smoothie, or eating them as is are all super simple ways to incorporate these nutritional powerhouses into your routine at a very low, and reasonable cost. For locals who are interested in trying a variety of microgreens, check out this link to the local farmer’s markets where you can find Arizona Microgreens!