When Kate Brun started growing microgreens in the solarium of her Harrisburg home, she never thought her endeavor would evolve so quickly.
Not yet a year old, Brun's home-based, backyard business is thriving. So much so, she and her husband, Marc, have their sights set on becoming the region's go-to supplier of the tiny yet robust superfood that's only been grown in the U.S. since the mid-1990s.
Lucky Leaf Gardens, on its way to achieving that goal, has gone from offering four varieties of microgreens to a handful of area clients to supplying 40 varieties to 25 restaurants, country clubs and hotels throughout the Cabarrus and Charlotte areas. Brun's maiden name, Lachance, which means "The luck" or "lucky" in French, inspired the name of her business.
Brun's first sale was Memorial Day weekend in 2010. Less than six months later, she expanded her operation to a backyard greenhouse built by her husband, a general contractor. Her clients include The Speedway Club, Ballantyne Hotel and Lodge and North Harbor Club in Davidson. She's planning to build a 2,000-square-foot greenhouse in Harrisburg within the next four months. The expansion will help her company increase its supply and triple its customer base, she said.
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"It will provide enough space to increase our distribution range outside of Charlotte," she said.
She was granted a Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA grant, which will cover building materials. The RAFI-USA grant is part of a tobacco relief fund developed to re-establish farming and growing practices in areas once reliant on the tobacco industry.
"We have some big plans and they reach far beyond charlotte," said Brun. "We are grown to capacity. We only have space for consistent, standing orders, but the consumer side is gaining momentum."
Brun also hopes to implement overnight distribution, better utilize buying clubs and Community Supported Agriculture programs, as well as accommodate more individual consumer requests.
Brun started gardening with her father as a young girl and has since tilled earth throughout the U.S., from New England to Colorado to Washington. She's lived in Harrisburg with her husband and two kids about six years.
Microgreens belong to the cruciferous, or cabbage, family of vegetables and are packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber. Various components of the colorful, shapely plants have been linked to lowering certain cancer risks, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research.
Brun, also a licensed Realtor, raises thousands of the tiny plants in 800-square-feet of grow space. The solarium houses low-light crops and frees up greenhouse space for other varieties with growth cycles that span a week to a month.
On the culinary side, Lucky Leaf's biggest claim to fame with area chefs is shelf life.
"We are harvesting within 24 hours of delivery and our method of growing adds to their shelf life, flavor and nutritional content," said Brun. "My chefs work with us because they like the direct contact. They like knowing who's growing what and they like to be able to request specifics."
Lucky Leaf specializes in made-to-order, custom blends, including an Asian variety. Others include anything from broccoli, clover and sunflower to carrot, cilantro and arugula.
"It's local, sustainable and the quality is far superior to anything I have seen in a while," said Michael Rosen, executive chef at The Speedway Club. "To me, it's the right thing to do, buying as much local as possible."
Brun and her husband eat the perpetual harvest up to three times a day, often at every meal. Jack, their 5-year-old son, enjoys the micro carrot while his 2-year-old sister, Molly, just recently had her first micro sunflower.
Brun estimates there are hundreds of varieties, but not every plant can be a microgreen. Some "duds" she has tried include tomatoes, green peppers, pumpkin and cantaloupe. She learned to grow microgreens from a mentor and friend in California.
"I don't know if I've ever done anything in my professional life that people have appreciated so much," Brun said. "The consumers, the restaurants, and to hear people talking about my products is just heartwarming."