FARM TO TABLE REPORT – MAR/APR/MAY 2020
When it comes to food that’s both beautiful and nutrient-dense, sprouts and mushrooms take the cake. From colorful radish sprouts rich in antioxidants, enzymes, vitamins and minerals to mythical-looking lion’s mane mushrooms that have the potential to enhance brain function, these edible delights are nutritional powerhouses. Delicate by nature, they require knowledgeable farmers to create precise growing conditions and help bring out their incredible beauty, flavor and nutritional benefits. Luckily we have a variety of southern Arizona sprouts and mushroom producers who go to great lengths to grow these coveted crops for the community.
As with any crop, sprouts and microgreens are seasonal. While a greenhouse helps to protect these delicate plants from the elements, the weather largely determines which varieties can grow at any given time. Sunflower Superfoods provides Heirloom Farmers Markets’ customers with a tremendous variety of sprouts and microgreens each week. They grow the luscious crunchy sunflower sprouts that have given them their name – plus so much more. In their greenhouse in west Tucson grows a plethora of sprouts and microgreens that span across a wide array of color and diverse nutrients.
Sunflower Superfoods was recently purchased by Michael Ismail and Stephanie Lipari of Thrive and Grow Gardens, who plan to “continue on in the footsteps of (former owner) Dani K.” Stephanie, who worked with Dani to learn the ins and outs of the operation, will continue to produce sprouts and microgreens that are as vibrant and nutritious as ever. “It’s such a joy every Sunday, seeing customers line up for this amazing product,” says Michael. “We really enjoy being able to provide a variety of sprouts.” Not sure what’s in season? Just visit their booth at the Rincon Valley Farmers Market or the Rillito Park Farmers Market so that Stephanie and coworker Brandon Eddy can help you figure out what to take home that day.
With the diversity of seasonal sprouts and microgreens available at Heirloom Farmers Markets, you’re sure to find something that will add delight to your meals all week long. Those who have only experienced slimy sprouts on a mediocre deli sandwich will want to reconsider their feelings about these meticulously grown greens, perhaps by blending them into a berry-banana smoothie to start. Folks already enamored with the small spindly sprouts might try more adventurous pairings. A few crunchy onion sprouts layered on a sandwich with arugula pesto, goat cheese, and roasted beets would make a most delightful picnic sandwich. Paired with fresh mozzarella and lemon zest, sweet pea shoots add a decidedly springlike flavor to homemade pizza. Or, try piling sunflower sprouts high atop a slice of thick-cut toast slathered with creamy hummus and sprinkled with zaatar, a snack that will remind you of carefree days eating sunflower seeds at the park.
Guillermo Nido of Nido Farms suggests that customers add sprouts to salads, sandwiches – even tacos – to add a little crunch and a lot of nutrients to whatever they’re eating. “They’re really good for you heart-wise,” says Guillermo, adding, “you don’t need a whole lot to get the nutrients.” The retired computer repair shop owner has been farming on a quarter-acre in midtown Tucson for almost two years now. When Guillermo and his wife started buying organic produce in an effort to eat healthier, they were disappointed by the lack of flavor. So, they started growing their own. Now, with a few years of experience under their belts, the Nidos are growing enough to sell at the Rillito Park Farmers Market. “Anything I can get my hands on, I plant here,” he says. This includes a wide variety of sprouts, such as cilantro, radish, broccoli, kale, pea shoots, and amaranth, as well as a salad mix comprised of several kinds of sprouts and microgreens.
New to the sprouts game is Khris Maly of Leapin Lizard Acres Farm, a four acre property in Marana. Until recently, Khris primarily grew salad mix, carrots, and radishes. His sprouts and microgreens have proven to be a delightful addition to his other crops – a salad made up of field greens, sunflower sprouts, julienned carrots, and shaved turnips is welcome at every meal. “We started off with pea [shoots] and sunflower [sprouts] because they’re easy to grow and everyone loves them,” says Khris. He’s since added broccoli, blue curly kale, kholrabi, arugula, and cabbage sprouts to the rotation. Khris has big plans for the future, including a greenhouse that will better protect these delicate greens from the elements. For now, we can all enjoy a colorful Leapin Lizard salad to get our daily dose of flavor and nutrients.
While similarly dense in nutrients and flavor, mushrooms exist entirely in their own kingdom: the kingdom of fungi. Rather than grow from seeds, mushrooms spawn from spores that are invisible to the naked eye. As to where they get their nutrients, our fungi friends don’t care much for soil – they get what they need from substrate made up of materials like sawdust, straw, and wood chips. “To understand mushrooms you have to understand mycelium,” says Laura Brehm, sole proprietor of Laura’s Locals. After working together at Maggie’s Farm, Laura and Jorge Sepulveda started Desert Pearl Mushrooms and began growing oyster and lion’s mane mushrooms for the Tucson community. Now, with a team of 5, Desert Pearl Mushrooms is expanding their production in an effort to meet the community’s demand for locally grown mushrooms.
Through her business Laura’s Locals, Laura enables the rest of the Desert Pearl Mushrooms team to focus on growing mushrooms and improving the business. “Laura’s Locals is primarily sales and distribution, something between a distributor and a producer,” says Laura. With years of farming experience, Laura is able to better understand the needs and challenges of local food producers, and even lends a hand in the grow room when she can. Although she mostly handles the sales and distribution of the mushrooms grown at Desert Pearl Mushrooms, Laura takes an active role in growing the products she sells by preparing substrate and helping with other day-to-day duties. With a diverse team that includes CFO John De Lorenzo, CEO Kris Savage, spawn producer Trevor Mock, head grower Jorge Sepulveda and distributor Laura Brehm, Desert Pearl Mushrooms is able to consistently produce a variety of specialized mushrooms.
Desert Pearl offers a selection of oyster mushrooms that includes meaty black king oyster mushrooms, phoenix oyster mushrooms, blue oyster mushrooms, and pink oyster mushrooms. Oyster mushrooms are a great source of protein, calcium, vitamins and minerals. While the black king, phoenix, and blue oyster mushrooms add a subtle flavor to dishes and become tender after a short cooking time, pink oyster mushrooms are a bit different. “[Pink oyster mushrooms’] color and flavor are really pronounced,” says Laura, who likens their color and flavor to salmon. “There’s nothing subtle about them.” She suggests adding them to soups and stews to bring out their flavor and make them more tender.
In addition to oyster mushrooms, Desert Pearl grows lion’s mane mushrooms, which look astonishingly similar to the folkloric Yeti. These white, hairy-looking fungi are a favorite at the farmers market. “It’s fun to see everybody’s reaction to them,” says Laura. She encourages people not to be freaked out by their unique look – after all, there’s evidence that these medicinal mushrooms can regenerate brain cells. Aside from their medicinal properties, lion’s mane mushrooms have a great flavor and texture that’s almost crab-like. Try using them in place of crab in dishes like crab cakes and crab dip for a fantastic twist on old classics.
Andrew Carhuff and Nicole DeVito began growing mushrooms as a hobby, years before they started Aravaipa Creekside Growers on the banks of Aravaipa Creek. When they started selling at farmers markets six years ago, mushrooms were the only crop they grew. Although Andrew and Nicole have since made the decision to run a more diversified farm that includes flowers, winter greens, citrus, and radishes and turnips, they stay true to their roots by continuing to grow oyster and shiitake mushrooms. Since all of their mushrooms are grown in a hoop house, which has similar conditions to the outdoors, they’re unable to grow them throughout the summer. Aravaipa’s oyster mushrooms are available from fall to late spring, while their coveted shiitake mushrooms are available only in the warm spring months. Andrew, who has a background as a chef, recommends quick and simple preparations that highlight the flavor of the mushrooms. You might sautée them with garlic-chile oil, drizzle them with soy sauce and sesame oil, and serve them over a bed of rice for a satisfying stir fry. Or, for a warm-weather meal, try marinating and grilling meaty shiitake mushrooms for a meatless cookout
We’re so lucky to have growers who are dedicated to producing local sprouts and mushrooms for our community. The next time you’re at the farmers market, stop by their booths to learn about the fantastic fungi and super sprouts growing right here in southern Arizona!
Fun in the Shade
Heirloom Farmers Markets is expanding! This March, locals can enjoy a fourth shade pavilion at the Rillito Park Farmers Market, which takes place every Sunday right now from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm (and 8 am to 12 pm from May through October). The pavilion, which increases the popular market’s shade by 25%, will help keep vendors and customers cool on warm, sunny days and protect them from the occasional rainstorm. Still, customers should come to the year-round market with water, sunscreen, and protective clothing in order to stay comfortable and healthy no matter what the weather. With food vendors, live music, and 25% more shade, you can spend all day at the farmers market!