Oliver Homberg, co-founder of Boston microgreens, remembers eating gooseberries in her grandmother’s garden as a memory that sparked her connection to growing food.
Now, as the owner of Boston Microgreens, Homberg gets his hands dirty every day, but he doesn’t work outside.
The Urban Farm sits in a basement on West Broadway in South Boston and delivers fresh cut microgreens directly to Boston chefs and patrons twice a week.
“Everything you see here already has a destination,” Homberg said. “He has a restaurant or a client he goes to. To maximize space and minimize waste, the farm is fully cultivated to order.
Micro-shoots are the young shoots of vegetable plants. They are usually only two or three weeks old and a few inches tall, but they have a nutritional impact, often with higher concentrations of nutrients than their adult counterparts.
They also have an intense flavor, so they’re loved by many chefs for the taste and nutrition they add as a nice little garnish.
Homberg launched Boston Microgreens in 2018 in the South End apartment he shared at the time with co-founder Matt Alto. After studying together in Northeastern, a YouTube video on how to grow microgreens ignited Homberg and Alto’s curiosity – and months later they were selling their greens to restaurants in their neighborhood.
When Alto parted company with the business out of court (Homberg said they were still “best friends”), Homberg got deeply into 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 one and a half inch Thai basil leaf every Tuesday and Friday,’” Homberg said, he can do just that.
During the pandemic, Boston Microgreens launched a CSA service that they still deliver to customers’ doors on Tuesdays and Fridays. The “Nutritional Blend” contains eight nutrient-dense microgreens – sunflower, cabbage, kale, broccoli, beetroot, Swiss chard, radish and buckwheat – harvested that morning.
Customers can also order any offering of a la carte microgreens as long as they are willing to wait a few weeks for the greens to develop.
“There is a bit of a lead time,” Homberg said, “but it’s fun because you know we’re literally developing your product for you. “
Homberg said on the business side, they try to run the business as sustainably as possible. They source renewable energy exclusively from Eversource and their compostable packaging is made from corn.
They also use all the practices of organic farming. “No pesticides, herbicides; we grow 100% clean, ”said Homberg.
They recycle about 95% of their water through an irrigation system. The greenery platters sit on flood tables, and with the help of an app, Homberg and his team can fill the flood tables with water from small tanks on the ground.
The plants simply suck up what they need and the rest of the water flows to the tank. Boston Microgreens even worked with the FDA to authorize this new irrigation system at the state and federal levels.
Microgreens are relatively new to the mainstream food scene – and Boston Microgreens are helping write the playbook.
The irrigation system isn’t the only cool technology that goes into microgreens. The company uses its own software developed with the help of volunteers from the North East.
The software “controls everything that happens on the farm,” Homberg said. “Without it, we would never be able to grow all of these varieties. ”
For example, said Homberg, if a chef wants more or less produce on a certain day, the software determines how much of each plant to grow and how many days in advance, without the human labor going into Excel and modify orders manually.
Soon, Homberg said, he and a team plan to release the software as an app for other farmers to use.
“Six months from now it will be a beta test,” Homberg said, noting that it could change the way green micro-farms operate across the country.
The new system will help farms implement an accurate grow-to-order system, reducing wasted labor and wasted food.
While growing microgreens indoors isn’t new, Homberg said, he hopes Boston Microgreens will help create a model for more urban farms to follow.
“It can be done in underused spaces, in urban spaces and by small teams,” Homberg said. “It’s a potential business model for creating independent income. It can create jobs, and it can create sustainable food systems and local food systems. It’s good.”
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