For proof that very good things come in very small packages, look no further than the specialty microgreens from Gracious Greens in Grover Beach. The tiny sprouts bring a whimsical pop of visual interest to dishes, and — perhaps more importantly — pack a whopping punch of nutrition.
Longtime Grover Beach resident Alvin O’Neal and his wife, Tammy, a Fresno native, both grew up growing much of their own food in backyard gardens.
The couple had started growing microgreens for themselves when they decided to “ramp up the volume and see where it went,” Alvin O’Neal recalled.
A carpenter by trade, O’Neal built Gracious Greens’ greenhouse himself. Thankfully, he built it with room to expand because the business has really taken root.
The O’Neals launched their company in January, but they’re already growing more than 20 different varieties of microgreens.
They started out selling their products at the Arroyo Grande farmers markets on Wednesday mornings. Now, customers can find Gracious Greens at four additional markets in Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo. That includes the recently expanded portion of the Downtown SLO Farmers Market on Thursday evenings.
Though the microgreens are tiny in size, Alvin O’Neal explained that they “are very nutrient dense, with five to 40 times the volume of nutrition found in the mature plants.”
That makes the sprouts a good option for people looking for a real nutrition boost, including athletes and people with dietary issues. “Cancer patients going through chemo can’t or don’t want to eat a lot, so (microgreens) are one way to get them that nutrition,” he added.
“The cabbage sprouts have 40 times more beta carotene than the mature vegetable, cilantro four times more vitamin A, and sunflower 30 percent more protein than the seeds,” Tammy O’Neal said.
“It’s fun to see the kids try the microgreens, especially the sunflower,” she said. “Their eyes get really big and they say ‘These are really good!’ Alvin and I both get excited about educating people about the greens — especially the little ones.”
The O’Neals bring trays of lush microgreens to the farmers markets and cut them to order for customers. Tastes are available so patrons can discover the difference between milder sprouts such as sunflower and sweet pea and the spicier wasabi and radish.
There’s also the option of buying a tray or small container of living microgreens so you can harvest the sprouts as needed.
“Chef Jacob (Town) loves this product because it comes in alive and we only cut what we need, decreasing waste,” Spoon Trade co-owner Brooke Town said. “Also, Gracious Greens is right here in Grover, so it’s truly a part of our community.”
“We’re using micro arugula on our lamb bacon risotto, micro onions on our new melon and farro salad, micro cabbage on our pork chop and micro basil on our fettuccine dish,” Town added. “The greens add a wonderful brightness to each dish ... and they are packed with good stuff.”
Although Gracious Greens is not certified organic, the O’Neals use products that are certified through the Organic Materials Review Institute in Eugene, Oregon — and don’t use pesticides.
“We grow how we want to eat, and we don’t want to eat poison,” Alvin O’Neal said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the nutrients in cabbage and cilantro sprouts.
Katy Budge is a freelance writer from Atascadero. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gracious Greens microgreens are available at the following farmers markets: Arroyo Grande on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings, Morro Bay on Thursday afternoons, San Luis Obispo on Tuesday afternoon and Thursday nights.