'To bet on microgreens is to bet on the winning ticket', although that's what this company sees. Ulrich Kager and Patrick Sanin founded Profarms three years ago, which built a vertical farm to supply microgreens to the northern Italian province of Bolzano.
Kager is 23 years old and began thinking about microgreens as soon as he graduated from high school in San Michele all'Adige. Today, Profarms has three partners and five employees and is certified organic.
"This world fascinated me, and it gives me great satisfaction to see my dream come true. Our cultivation cells comprise a total of 250m2 of which each cell has five racks with four shelves each. Besides that, there are also sprouting-, cooling- and packing cells. Production is about 2,000 cartons (30x40 cm) per month. There are nine trays in each carton."
For the microgreens, seeds are grown on a sheep's wool or hemp substrate where they will germinate in the sprouting area. After seven days, they'll be transferred into the growing room which will be their home for the following 13 days. At the end of the cycle, the product is sold in trays with the substrate. Meaning that the product stays fresh for a longer period and consumers can cut their own microgreens whenever they like.
"We are currently marketing our products in the regional market, whereas our main customers are restaurants that know the potential of the product."
Pea shoots are the most popular variety of which Profarms grows ten different varieties in total. Cultivation cycles are variable. Pea requires 10-15 days to grow, horseradish and radish about 7-8, and mizuna 20 days. In addition, Profarms also offers fennel, broccoli, borage, white cabbage, and arugula, among other crops.
"Many processes are automated in our facility, however, some things are still done by hand such as sowing, harvesting and packing. Management of growing conditions, such as lighting and irrigation, is done automatically," explained Kager.
Profarms also supplies its know-how, software, seeds, substrate, and packaging to other companies. UnoValtellina of Davide Nazzari, in the province of Sondrio, has already seized this opportunity and already has a supply of 1,000 cartons a month.
Davide Nazzari with UnoValtellina
C-Led provided the LED lights and all the assistance needed to define the right lighting system. "With the right illumination, we get an improved quality of microgreens, with thicker cell walls, more compact seedlings, and less water consumption. All this translates into better quality and more intense flavor," concluded Kager.