UPPER MARLBORO — Local farm Pure Micro-Greens, located at the Historic Perrywood Manor in Upper Marlboro, became the first micro-greens farm in the state to become Certified Naturally Grown (CNG).
Farmers and beekeepers who use all-natural practices participate in the CNG certification program. CNG certified farms do not use any synthetic chemicals or GMO’s in the food they produce for their communities.
Pure Micro-Greens Co-Owners Wanda Artus-Cooper and Michelle Butterfield earned their certification in April after they completed an on-site inspection. They join two other CNG-certified farms in the area, Owl’s Nest Farm in Upper Marlboro and ECO City Farms in Edmondston.
“Many producers are drawn to CNG because our peer-review inspections foster valuable connections and knowledge exchange among farmers who share a commitment to high standards for farming in harmony with nature,” said CNG Executive Director Alice Varon.
Both Artus-Cooper and Butterfield have extensive experience in the farming industry and decided to join forces to create Pure-Micro Greens, a hydroponic vertical farm in the basement of a 125-year-old house.
Butterfield had been a traditional dirt farmer for 20 years in Maine before joining Artus-Cooper to create Pure Micro-Greens. In Maine, Butterfield operated a family farm that produced apple orchards, berries, fruits and vegetables.
Meanwhile, Artus-Cooper previously had a corporate career in running food manufacturing and processing companies. She also led the advertising and marketing units for news and advertising outlets.
“We decided to combine our strengths and start a farm at a historic site and take our products to the market,” Artus-Cooper said. “We service restaurants and we do farmer’s markets, but we’re not in retail yet.”
Micro-greens, which include basil, arugula, kale and cilantro, are also known as micro-herbs or vegetable confetti due to their small size. They are rich in flavor, contain up to 40 times higher nutrient levels than mature vegetable greens and contain a variety of vitamins and minerals.
“We produce 13 varieties of micro-greens, the superfood” Artus-Cooper said. “They are typically 40% more nutritious than their mature counterparts. They have a lot of health benefits. If you read up on Johns Hopkins (University), they did a two-year study, so it’s good for joint pain, heart health, obesity and then, generally, like all superfoods, it gives you an energy boost.”
In their farming practices, Artus-Cooper and Butterfield use only carbon filtered and pH adjusted water, which ensures that customers get 100% pure micro-greens with no fertilizers and no chemicals. They also sell our micro-greens “live” which offers superior shelf life, nutrition and flavor.
In addition to growing and selling micro-greens, they also open their farm up for tours for their customers and sometimes invite a chef to visit the farm.
Becoming CNG certified is just one step forward in Artus-Cooper and Butterfield’s plans to expand their farm. One of the things they would like to do in the future is to start selling their micro-greens in retailers, but according to Artus-Cooper, this is a long process.
“Companies like Whole Foods would like for you to be in operation for over a year,” Artus-Cooper said. “We started in January.”
However, being CNG certified would be beneficial if when they do move into retail because it shows they have good agricultural practices and could perform a recall if needed.
Additionally, they would like to grow the size of their farm. They have an additional 800 square feet of space in the basement of the historic site to expand into within the next few years. They would also like to educate more people on the benefits of micro-greens.
“These are not sprouts, these are way more nutritious than sprouts,” Artus-Cooper said. “Micro-greens are the first stage of germination, then what you get are shoots, like pea shoots, then the third stage are sprouts. At that point the plant can no longer live off its seeds, you’ve got to fertilize it, put it in dirt or whatever. The bigger the plant, the less nutrition for it, so to speak.”
Now that Pure Micro-Greens is CNG-certified, its co-owners now have the opportunity to help other farms becomes certified.
“Once you are certified you become part of that group,” Butterfield said. “Other farmers can call on you to come and certify them, there is a process and paperwork and we have a checklist that we go through.”
They could also give other farmer’s pre-inspections where they assess the farm in its current state and tell the farmer what they need to improve on to become certified at a later date.