Microgreens providing Van Grouw the niche to provide Hope for farm
HOPE — Greg Van Grouw has worked in farming for years, but his Hope Cress Farms is now moving toward being his full-time job.
He worked for other greenhouses for 14 years before starting a computer consulting business at the farm he leases on the Hope/Blairstown border.
His wife, Jenny, works full time on the microgreens they raise in a large greenhouse.
“It’s a niche not well covered,” Van Grouw said of microgreens.
He said he heard lots of talk about them while working on other farms, but didn’t see too many farms growing them.
Hope Cress sells to restaurants, but most of the sales are at four farmers’ markets.
Two are nearby — in Blairstown and Sparta — the other two are farther afield in Ringwood and Riverdale.
A few good customers come to the farm, but he doesn’t push on-farm sales too much.
“It’s all about getting the name out,” he said. “Our best customers are end users.”
He also noted “people don’t travel far to a market,” they usually go to the closest to their town.
Van Grouw keeps the seeds in the dark until they sprout then uncovers them to let photosynthesis work. This way they can cut three times a week.
Hope Cress features 30 to 40 varieties.
“We haven’t made changes, just added,” Van Grouw said.
Besides selling individual greens, Hope Cress features mixes: spicy, mild, Asian, and burger blend (dill, scallions and mustard).
Years of experimented led to a standard black tray of about 6 by 8 inches for growing the greens.
“We started with the 10 by 20 trays,” he said, but sometimes the edges would be dry and the center wet.
The smaller trays, he found too shallow.
“We’ve been using these for three years,” he said of the black trays. “They rarely break. The 10-by-20s constantly crack, they’re just not sturdy.”
The depth of the new trays is perfect, he said. “If the tray is too deep, it pushes out too much roots and not enough top growth.”
The back of the big greenhouse is reserved to tomatoes. Van Grouw is thinking of a new greenhouse strictly for produce.
He said he would like to lengthen the season for his tomatoes and other vegetables.
His recent big purchase was a cooler/freezer for the other half of Hope Cress’s business: Meat.
His laying hens have a chicken house and fenced in yard and the meat the chickens are in a moveable pen.
Both discourage visits from foxes and coyotes and Van Grouw hasn’t had much trouble with hawks.
His beef cattle are Hereford/Angus crosses.
He grows and blends his own feed.
The pork comes from pigs raised by one of his sons.
Van Grouw has several outlets for slaughter and packaging of his meat.
Eggs and greens they package themselves.
The greens are in a trademarked clear plastic pack that farmers market visitors instantly recognize.
Another son keeps some sheep and an alpaca on a nearby farm, but none of the Van Grouw’s 14 children have shown an interest in full-time farming.
The oldest seven are married and most lives out of state.
The youngest still live at home on the farm.
One daughter and her children were helping on a recent morning, with the little ones actually spending more time following the chickens around.
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