Microgreens from a basement near you

Microgreens grown in central city locations and delivered daily to nearby consumers for their culinary delight and good health. That’s the vision of agronomist and entrepreneur Matt Keltie, and his ShootsNZ business.

Microgreens? Young green vegetables and herbs harvested just after their first leaves emerge from a germinating seed. Nutrient rich and with intense flavours, mircogreens are a speciality genre of greens for salads and meal garnishing. They include varieties of basil, broccoli sprouts, coriander, rocket, watercress and an array of other small leafy plants.

Central city locations? Hydroponic growing operations in building basements with LED lighting and expertly controlled growing conditions. They are locations close to restaurants and food stores for speed and lower cost in the growing-harvesting-marketing cycle. The first of them is a former basement nightclub metres from a busy Wellington city thoroughfare.

Since Matt Keltie and his co-founder launched ShootsNZ last year, demand for their 22 microgreens has grown fast and mainly by word-of-mouth. Two employees are out on the ShootsNZ e-bike bicycle most days, delivering trays of super fresh produce to 110 restaurants around the capital. The business has joined GS1 in preparation for launch into gourmet food stores and supermarkets.

“Business is growing so fast that we are now looking at other sites around Wellington, and also in Auckland and Christchurch, and at other channels to market,” says Mr Keltie. “Ultimately we have an ambition to be the leader in this type of growing across New Zealand and Australia, and to be number 1 in supplying our food to the consumer market.”

Microgreens certainly seem a great idea for our times. They are dense with immune system-boosting nutrients and antioxidants. Up to 30-times so compared with most mature vegetables, says Mr Keltie. Some microgreens – lemon balm and shiso are examples – are recognised as having “nutraceutical” healing qualities for certain ailments. They are also grown to organic principles, without chemicals or pesticides. And in the ShootsNZ model, they are grown and delivered in re-usable (and biodegradable) plastic trays.

Mr Keltie, university-educated in agronomy, continues to finetune the basement operation. His microgreens are grown in custom-made vertical racks in a permanently wet, non-soil medium and under carefully-regulated spectrums of light. The average growing cycle is eight days (although some take 22). “By changing the light, you can really change the way the plant grows, and therefore its taste and nutrient qualities.” And he has another 30 varieties in mind for production as the business expands in volume and market presence.

Health conscious consumers may well find microgreens coming to them from a basement nearby before long!