Spirit Lake couple transforms hobby farm into full-time work growing microgreens
SPIRIT LAKE, Iowa — If Krissy and Calvin Thiessen would have been asked a few years ago if they believed they’d be making a living exclusively from their rural Spirit Lake acreage one day, the answer would have been “absolutely not.”
But a lot has changed for the young couple in a matter of three years. They have a combination of Calvin’s curiosity and nutrient-packed microgreens to thank for the birth of their business, Cherry Lane Farm.
“Once we get people to try (microgreens) and incorporate them into their diet, they want them every week,” said Krissy of the nutrient-dense veggies she and her husband have grown on their acreage northwest of Spirit Lake — right along the Minnesota/Iowa border — since 2016.
Microgreens, Krissy explained, are grown in trays and use soil and sunlight to grow. That’s what differentiates microgreens from sprouts, which she said many people mistakenly believe are synonymous.
The microgreens are grown after the same seeds of common vegetables are planted. However, their harvest is greatly expedited, only taking two to three weeks to reach their optimum state.
“We plant every week and harvest every week,” Krissy said about why the microgreen farm has quickly evolved into a full-time job.
The couple grows between 20 and 30 microgreen varieties depending on the time of year. The finicky plants are grown year-round in the couple’s 120 foot by 30 foot greenhouse Krissy and Calvin constructed two years ago as the demand for microgreens continued to grow.
The most popular varieties the couple grows and sells are pea shoots, sunflower shoots, broccoli, arugula and a combination of 10 varieties they call a power mix.
To assume the miniature versions of their mature counterparts are less flavorful or are less nutritious would be incorrect.
“A good rule of thumb for the microgreens is that they have 40 times the nutrition of its mature plant counterpart,” Krissy said, adding with discretion that she’s not a nutritionist. “For instance, if you’d eat an ounce of the broccoli microgreens, it’s approximately like eating four heads of broccoli.”
The microgreens are very versatile. According to Krissy, there’s no wrong way to eat them.
“We work with a lot of chefs (around the Lakes area), and they put them on anything from breakfast foods to desserts,” Krissy said, adding that microgreens are used just as much for a dish’s presentation as they are for flavor.
Despite their size, the microgreens require much work.
“They need a lot of attention,” Krissy said about the finicky produce. “We don’t leave the farm much.”
The microgreens were a new concept to the couple, who started their hobby farm with pigs and chickens.
The new concept eventually evolved when Calvin latched on to his desire to grow a large quantity of food in a relatively small area. In 2016 — at a time when Krissy was three months pregnant with son Cooper — the initial experimentation began from the couple’s basement with artificial light.
“Four days after Cooper was born, we made our first (microgreen) delivery,” Krissy recalls.
As the business continued to grow, Calvin refinished an old porch to resemble a sunroom. After striking a deal to supply select Hy-Vee grocery stores with microgreens, it became evident more growing space was needed and the greenhouse was constructed.
Currently, Cherry Lane Farms delivers spring salad mixes and other microgreen products to Hy-Vee stores in the tri-state area. Delivering to Hy-Vee in Spirit Lake, Des Moines, Spencer and Sioux City, Iowa, several locations in Sioux Falls, S.D., Fairmont and occasionally Worthington has necessitated they hire part-time help.
It doesn’t appear that Cherry Lane Farms is done growing. Krissy said this may be the first year they hire additional full-time help.
The couple also has plans to add another greenhouse in order to grow lettuce close to year-round, as the lettuce salad mix is a much-desired item among its grocery store clients.
While the farm is labor intensive, Krissy also finds some time to take on freelance writing projects and be mom to Cooper and newborn daughter Isla.