and Tony Farrell
head-to-toe in khaki including his signature boonie hat; Tony Farrell
looks ready to dig in the dirt. But the dirt this Milwaukee resident
digs in isn’t in his backyard — it’s in compost bins stacked
floor-to-ceiling in his kitchen.
Farrell and his
wife, Hillery, launched Farmer Tony’s Mission Greens in October.
Their urban farm — devoted to growing microgreens — is set up in
the dining area of the 1,400-square-foot apartment the couple share
with their two sons. In the living room, several more trays of
experimental microgreens line a shelving unit set up in front of the
south-facing patio doors.
Farrell is harvesting upwards of 300 pounds of microgreens per month.
"People don’t understand how we can produce so much,"
Farrell says. "It’s amazing what you can do in a small
venture into urban farming took root in February 2010 after his wife
returned from a missionary trip to Kenya. She was dismayed by the
number of starving children she witnessed. "It was
heartbreaking," she says, remembering one little girl in
particular named Hilda who was the last to eat — if she got any food
at all — because she was deaf.
Farrell was so
bothered by his wife’s experience that he felt the need to do
something. He enrolled in classes at Growing Power, completing the
organization’s Commercial Urban Agriculture program in 2012. Last
year he received certification from the Victory Garden Initiative’s
Food Leader and Permaculture Design programs.
But it was Will
Allen, founder of Growing Power, who finally spurred Farrell into
action. "I was at a loss as to how to start," Farrell says.
"But he kept telling me to ‘just start something, anything.’"
It was all the
motivation Farrell needed. He began experimenting with vermicomposting,
a process that uses worms to turn organic waste into soil. Today
Farrell’s operation relies on eight worm bins, which create the
rich, nutrient-dense soil he uses to grow his microgreens — young
edible plants that are typically harvested within 14 days of
Farrell says he
chose microgreens because it promised to be the most economically
sustainable crop. He primarily grows sunflower microgreens, wheat
grass and pea shoots, which he starts from organic seeds. "I’ve
also been experimenting with arugula."
often are unsure of what to do with microgreens other than throw them
on salads, the Farrells have developed several recipes like sunflower
super juice and sunflower pesto pasta. "We’ve found you can
substitute microgreens in any recipe that calls for chopped
spinach," Farrell says.
sell their microgreens to customers on a subscription basis and at the
Riverwest Winter Gardener’s Market. Ideally, though, the couple want
to bring microgreens to food deserts in cities throughout the United
States and abroad. "We want to encourage, educate and equip
others to start their own microfarms," Farrell says.
vision is already taking shape. In February, he partnered with the
UW-Extension to launch a job training program for youth. The
initiative focuses on microgreen production and urban farming with the
goal of providing local farming business ownership opportunities.
Sunflower Salsa Verde
sunflower microgreens, pureed
6 to 8 tomatillos
1 medium onion chopped
1/4 bunch of cilantro chopped
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 jalapeno peppers chopped, seeds intact
7 serrano peppers chopped, seeds intact
ingredients in food processor or blender and pulse until all
ingredients are finely chopped and mixed. Allow to sit overnight and
drain excess liquid. Serve with chips.