Standing under a canopy at a table laden with his products at the Farmers Market in downtown Grand Forks, David Bounds is as much teacher as he is urban farmer.
He explains the benefits of microgreens to curious potential customers who are themselves “green” when it comes to the tiny plants.
“A lot of people haven’t heard of them,” Bounds said.
Though most are unaware of microgreens, “nine times out of 10, if they try a sample, they usually buy some.”
He offers a pea shoot to customers because “most people like the taste of peas right out of the garden,” he said. “It’s really neat to see people’s faces light up, seeing that reaction. They’re like, ‘wow.’ ”
These tiny greens, which are basically seedlings of edible vegetables and herbs, are packed with nutrients, such as vitamins C, E and K, lutein and beta-carotene, 40 times that of mature leaves on the same plants, studies have shown.
Eating microgreens “is a great way to add extra nutrition to your diet,” he said.
Because they contain polyphenols, which prevent the buildup of harmful free radicals, microgreens are believed to reduce the risk of chronic disease, according to Bounds.
“I think people are waking up to what’s in food, and it’s not always healthy,” Bounds said.
Microgreens also pack a powerful flavor punch that’s described as intense and unique, even in small amounts. Plus, they lend color and a pleasing textural contrast to dishes.
Microgreens may be somewhat new to this region, but they’ve been popular and used by many restaurant chefs elsewhere around the country since the ‘80s. Their vibrancy and delicateness brightens an array of dishes, including salads, casseroles, wraps, sandwiches, smoothies and scrambled eggs.
They do not, and should not, however, replace the vegetables people traditionally consume, Bounds said.
Those mature vegetables provide the body with necessary fiber, but microgreens fill in other dietary gaps.
Testing the market
Bounds started growing microgreens in his basement early this year, “for family first and then giving them away to friends,” he said.
The idea of starting a side business was bolstered as he “never saw anyone doing microgreens in a couple years,” said Bounds, who has dedicated his Saturdays to spreading the word about the attributes of the little greens at the Farmers Market. This is the first summer he has had a stand at the market, and he plans to be there every Saturday until it closes Sept. 28.
He grows and sells pea shoots and sunflower shoots, as singular products.
He also offers special mixes, with multiple varieties of microgreens, that have been popular with customers. They include a spicy mix, consisting of red radish and wasabi mustard; an Asian mix of bok choy, red garnet mustard and wasabi mustard; and a brassica mix of kale, broccoli and purple kohlrabi.
His goal is to provide “a good, consistent product,” he said.
The microgreens start in his basement, where he sews the seeds densely in trays and, after they germinate in a dark environment, places them under grow lights for about 16 hours each day.
Altogether, the process takes about seven to 10 days, he said.
He maintains careful control of temperature and humidity levels -- inattention to the latter could lead to mold issues.
“Early on, I threw out a couple trays,” he said. “It’s definitely a learning curve.”
Fresh is better
Bounds, 41, became interested in gardening later in life, but the seeds of his fascination with growing produce were sown in childhood.
In St. Thomas, N.D., where he was raised, his family did not have a garden but a friend’s family did. He remembers sampling the vegetables from their garden.
“The fresh cobs of corn or the fresh peas or carrots taste so much better when you get it that fresh,” he said.
After graduating high school at St. Thomas and a short stint at UND, Bounds headed for Florida, where he began studying various gardening techniques and cultivation practices.
“I started following farmers on You Tube, and I developed a skill and passion for growing my own food," he said. “I was drawn to the idea of microgreens. It was an easy way to get into farming if you don’t have a lot of space.”
After he and his wife, Tara, a Florida native, had their first child, they became more aware of how healthy microgreens are, he said. As gardeners, “we were growing simple things, like lettuce and radishes," he said, explaining it was easy to embrace natural gardening techniques, as they learned more about their link to better overall health.
The couple decided to disengage with the “rat race” of life in Florida and, after nearly 17 years, moved to Grand Forks in 2016. They home-school their three children: Lucy, 7; Owen, 4; and Asher, 19 months.
The desire to spend more time with their kids is another factor in their commitment to developing the home-based microgreens business, he said.
Plans to grow
Bounds, who has a job with a local manufacturer, would like to see this sideline business grow to become his full-time occupation.
As the weather turns cooler, he plans to offer a monthly subscription service through which people can order microgreens, which will be delivered to their homes.
Bounds also intends to connect with area restaurant chefs who may be interested in microgreens for their culinary purposes, and he has ideas for new products, he said.
Along with his business presence on Facebook, Instagram and his website, www.gardenforksfarm.com, he’s planning to produce a monthly newsletter later this year that will feature articles, information and recipes related to microgreens, he said.
As his “urban market garden” grows, he hopes more people will discover -- and benefit from -- the good taste and healthful benefits of these small but mighty green wonders.
For now, meeting and talking with people at his stand at the Farmers Market “is definitely the highlight of my day,” he said. “Building connections with the community is a joyful experience.”