Microgreens firm Lightfoot's in Sway spreading small wonders in the New Forest
MICROGREENS have long been a staple in high-end restaurants around the country, but a Sway couple are pushing to make the increasingly popular superfood a go-to in kitchens across the New Forest.
Pete and Gracey How set up Lightfoot’s Farm microgreens in 2019, growing 15 varieties of herbs and vegetables – perfect, miniature versions of their fully grown counterparts that are promoted as being tiny powerhouses of goodness.
The couple bought the farm at auction in 2018 after moving back to the UK from Afghanistan, where they had worked in international development. Pete spent 15 years working with farmers there and in Iraq to create sustainable and resilient agricultural practices.
Growing microgreens started out as purely an effort to improve the family’s nutrition, but Pete and Gracey saw a potential niche market for their product and began selling the plants to farm shops, restaurants and pubs, as well as to local residents.
These aromatic, nutrient-dense greens are grown indoors in stacked trays, and are cut when they are just a couple of weeks old. Varieties grown at Lightfoot’s include brocolli, pea shoots, ruby raddish, basil, red cabbage, cavolo nero, black kale, rocket, ‘bull’s blood’ beets, mint and lemon balms.
“The nutritional content of these plants is through the roof, and flavour-wise they pack quite a punch,” said Pete. “Many of them contain a higher concentrated nutrient content than mature vegetables, making them great for kids and older people.
“And they really are delicious, giving food lots of flavour and adding colour and texture to dishes. They create a great side salad or can be used to make pesto, and they’re great in a sandwich.”
Lightfoot’s supply many New Forest pubs and restaurants, including The Elderflower and The Fisherman’s Rest in Lymington, The Gun Inn at Keyhaven, The Snakecatcher in Brockenhurst, and Offbeet at The Retreat New Forest in Christchurch. The microgreens are also sold in farm shops including Ferndene in New Milton and Setley Ridge in Brockenhurst.
“We sell directly to people’s homes too, and this is what’s most important to us and what we want to do more of,” said Pete. “This is a fabulous way of getting a really diverse range of vegetables – each 30g pot we provide is the equivalent of more than a kilo of mature veg.
“But this is not about replacing vegetables – it’s just making it easier to get that nutrition but in a more concentrated way.”
Microgreens are more sustainable than crops grown to maturity on large farms that use pesticides and chemicals, said Pete.
“We have an incredibly efficient vertical farming system here,” he explained. “We would need more than a hectare to grow outdoors what we are growing inside, and then there’s all the associated water and spraying.
“If, for instance, you are growing broccoli, you would sow this year and harvest next year, but if there’s any adverse climate event you will lose your crops.
“We are part of a resilient system, and we want to generate a living feeding people nutrient-rich food using less space so we can utilise our outdoor space by growing trees – our aim is to grow nuts like hazlenuts, walnuts and sweet chestnuts.
“Our protein mostly comes from soya, which is linked to the deforestation of the rainforest – nuts are a cheap protein alternative, but there is a lot of labour involved in growing them.
“We want this to really work – we want to produce fantastic, sustainable food for local people. Right now, as a planet, we are not looking after our landscape and we’re not growing food in a sustainable way and we want to change that.
“With Covid and Brexit interrupting our supply chains, this is the answer – local food grown right on people’s doorsteps. And by buying food that is being locally produced you know that the local landscape is being cared for – you’re increasing the likelihood that you will continue to live in a beautiful place.”
Microgreens have been growing in popularity since their introduction to the Californian restaurant scene in the 1980s. Researchers have found that miniature versions of plants like red cabbage, cilantro, and radish contain up to 40 times the levels of nutrients from those that are fully grown.
Pete and Gracey, who have two boys aged eight and 11, have also started a very small-scale glamping business at the farm to supplement their income, which they run over the summer. Each of the five bell tents comes complete with a hot tub, toilet and shower, and a shared kitchen is also available.
For more information about Lightfoot’s or to purchase some microgreens, go to www.lightfootsfarm.com