On an acreage tucked just on the edge of Spirit Lake, Iowa, Calvin and Krissy Thiessen are living their dream of growing tiny plants for the masses.
The two grow and sell microgreens, small vegetables that pack a huge punch in terms of nutrition. They have emerged as a favorite of those looking to add a healthy twist to their diets.
Neither of the Thiessens grew up with a background in agriculture — Calvin grew up on an acreage near Everly, Iowa, and Krissy, originally from Spirit Lake, received her college degree in biology.
They began their family farm together as a hobby. They had hens for eggs, meat chickens, a few heritage-breed hogs and a garden.
In 2015, Calvin Thiessen decided he wanted more from their land. He came across the concept of growing microgreens through urban farming — in other words, producing a large amount of food in a small space.
In the winter of 2016, the couple began to grow microgreens in their basement, and made their first delivery that March.
And just like that, Cherry Lane Farm was born.
“Microgreens are basically just one- to two-week-old plants,” Krissy Thiessen said. “They differ from sprouts because they are grown in soil and sunlight for a longer time period. It’s just like what you would harvest in your garden if you would only grow your plants for a short time.”
The Thiessens produce more than 20 varieties of microgreens in the summer, but focus mainly on five — pea shoots, sunflower shoots, arugula microgreens, broccoli microgreens and a power microgreen mix — which they sell at various retail locations.
Krissy Thiessen said the concept of growing microgreens may sound simple — grow plants, and harvest them early — but it’s actually a difficult process. As each plant grows, she said, its needs vary. While each starts in a soil tray, and goes through pressure the first couple of days, from there, it changes. Plants are taken out and, depending on the plant, are placed in the sun for a week or two, under different amounts of light, different temperatures and specific water amounts.
“We have to watch them carefully,” Thiessen said. “They don’t like to be too hot or too humid. They are very picky.”
Harvesting takes place every week. In fact, the Thiessens are constantly planting, harvesting and tending to their plants. They describe the process as labor-intensive.
Microgreens boast several benefits, with their shelf life lasting about two weeks and a constant new supply. Along with the increased freshness level, they also hold huge nutritional value — anywhere from four to 40 times the nutritional value of their fully grown versions.
Krissy Thiessen said they get some of their seeds from the Albert Lea area, and search for the best prices, as they use organic seeds.
Since that first delivery back in 2016, Cherry Lane Farm has grown to include a full greenhouse. The Thiessens initially only delivered to a few local chefs in the lakes area of Iowa, but they now deliver to 14 restaurants and 25 grocery stores, including locations in Sherburn, Fairmont and Worthington; Sioux Falls, S.D.; and Sioux City, Humboldt, Algona and Des Moines, Iowa.
They say their operation continues to grow and they are looking at adding more retail locations in the future.