By Leslie Lynn Lucio
For many vegetable farms in the Pioneer Valley, springtime means getting back to work, preparing and planning for a busy summer after a winter reprieve. At the Gill Greenery, however, it’s business as usual. For this small-scale sprout farm, it’s always spring inside the greenhouse.
For Rebekah and Seay Minor, the Gill Greenery is truly a family business. Everyone in the Minor family helps out in different ways. The three kids—Ethan, Emmarae, and Rachel—are in charge of putting together boxes and labeling containers for retail sales. The older two children also help with packaging and delivery. They help Seay bring sprouts to co-ops and natural food stores in western Massachusetts and southern Vermont, which gives them a chance to meet and get to know their customers.
The Minors purchased the Gill Greenery in 2009. Seay had been looking for a business he could run from home with his family (the children are homeschooled, so a home-based business was a natural fit), and though he had never farmed before, he felt comfortable buying the place from his friends, Sousie and Philip Maddern, who had owned and operated the greenery for the previous 18 years. Growing sprouts, especially on a large scale, was completely new to the Minors, but the Madderns were very helpful with the transition. “They worked with us for months teaching us all we needed to know, which was a lot,” says Seay, “because prior to this offer, we had never really done any type of farming.”
All of the Minors’ sprouts are grown in climate-controlled rooms, hydroponically. At the beginning of each week, the seeds are weighed out for that week’s growth and then briefly soaked in a water and organic citrus–based bath to help kick start the germination process. The sprouted seeds then go into commercial-size drums large enough to hold hundreds of pounds of sprouts, where they are automatically watered every half hour, and rotated every 10 minutes until they are ready for sale. Depending on the type of sprout, this can be as soon as four days or as long as a week or so.
“We definitely have our challenges!” says Rebekah of hydroponic farming. “We don’t have to deal with pest or weather issues like a traditional farm. Our challenges come in the form of power outages, equipment failure, and occasionally seeds that don’t yield as much as we’d like them to.” Because much of the process is automated, power is one of the most important parts of the farm. Electricity controls water and air circulation, the two most essential components of sprout growth, via built-in fans in the grow rooms. After their first power outage, the Minors installed a backup generator, so that particular challenge has become less of a worry.
The Gill Greenery offers seven varieties of sprouts, ranging from common, mild varieties like alfalfa sprouts to the powerful yet tasty China Rose radish sprouts, perfect for those who crave a spicy zing. Seay plans to offer more sprout varieties in the future as the greenery continues to grow both its customer base and product line. Just as importantly, though, he wants to keep the business at a production level that’s manageable for the family.
“I desire to own the business and not have the business own us.”
Find a variety of fresh Gill Greenery sprouts at local stores like River Valley Market, Green Fields Market, and McCusker’s Market.
Recipe for Sprouty Temaki Sushi here