Promoting Food Sustainability

AP Environmental Science students grow organic microgreens with local company Gourmet Greens.

In Mary Greenlee’s AP Environmental Science classes, students are taught that promoting sustainability involves thinking innovatively when it comes to food production. The class got to see this concept in action when they had a guest visit this week from Gourmet Greens, an urban farm in downtown Richmond that grows, harvests, and distributes organic microgreens.

David Peyton and John Gordon, the owners and founders of Gourmet Greens, spoke to the classes on Thursday, January 19 in the Bryan Innovation Lab and shared their story of starting a local company in their own backyard. The pair sells their carefully grown greens to customers at the St. Stephen’s Farmers Market, as well as to chefs at local restaurants such as The Daily Kitchen & Bar and The Savory Grain.

Using their professional knowledge, the duo helped students plant their own microgreen seeds in small soil plots and gave them advice on proper maintenance to yield a successful harvest.

“Our goal was to show the students what can be done with a finite amount of space and a few simple tools,” Mr. Peyton said. “[Our business] started as an initial idea and turned into something that is fun and educational, and we’re excited to provide enrichment based around a delicious, nutritional product.”

Senior Chris Koerner said: “I was interested in the locality of their business and how they’re literally running a company in their own backyard. It’s really cool to see how two people can do that with such a seemingly simple idea.”

A few days after planting, Mrs. Greenlee and a few of her students observed that some of the plants had developed a fuzzy growth on their leaves. They hypothesized that these plants were producing root hairs in order to receive more water and nutrients from the soil. The students will continue to nurture the plants; they expect to harvest them in the coming days.

Mrs. Greenlee said the project with Gourmet Greens fit perfectly into their current study of natural vs. artificial soils and growth systems because it serves as an example of how one can control and manipulate plant growth to produce a commercial product. In addition, it teaches the students about the importance of using the resources around them to promote a healthy food culture.

“Food innovation is all about analyzing your food supply and figuring out how we can influence or control what we eat, how we receive food, and how it’s prepared,” she said. “Microgreens are a perfect example because it can be grown naturally or commercially, so anyone can learn to do it and grow a product that is nutritious and sustainable.”

Director of the Bryan Innovation Lab Cary Jamieson added: “Mary has been such a strong advocate and partner for exploring food innovation through the lens of sustainability, research, and bio-chemistry. Developing connections with local entrepreneurs and inviting them to share their process with students has been a powerful step in understanding the potential of a quickly evolving food and packaging industry. Students are being inspired on a local level but they are also developing an understanding of the long term possibilities within this industry.”





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