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Fresh local greens are a difficult find in winter, but a Westmount couple has found a way to make salad all year.
Daniil Titov and Kalie Wang began growing microgreens in their backyard last summer. But as the weather grew cooler, they decided to move the garden indoors.
“I gotta be honest — I hate vegetables,” Titov said with a laugh.
“I tried microgreens and I actually liked it. It’s very nutritious food, high in vitamins and protein. I try to watch my nutrition, what I eat, so that was a good addition to my regular diet.”
Originally from Kiev, Ukraine, Titov met Wang almost six years ago while both were studying at Cape Breton University.
Wang grew up in Gansu province in northern China and now works as an international student advisor at CBU, while Titov is employed at the university as a public health lab instructor.
The former international students were married in 2018, and have since purchased a home in Westmount and will welcome their first child in March.
“We initially purchased shelves and lights, plastic trays and soil as a medium and obviously there’s water and seeds too,” said Titov of their basement operation.
Within a roughly 300-square-foot of space inside the basement of their home, the couple is growing a variety of microgreens that include pea, sunflower, red radish, popcorn, amaranth and alfalfa shoots.
And from planting to their appearance on local plates, Titov said the process takes about two weeks.
But what exactly are microgreens? They’re simply salad greens harvested while still young, generally at the first real leaf stage of growth.
Microgreens or shoots taste like the mature plant and are popular choices for salads and sandwiches, juicing or can be sprinkled over entrées, desserts and other dishes.
Wang said several local establishments have become regular clients of theirs such as Kiju's, The Old Triangle and Mise en Place Catering.
“Usually people mix them with salads, but we just eat straight microgreen salads,” said Wang, who estimates the couple eats up to a pound of shoots per day.
“At first some people don’t know about it, but they’re willing to try. A lot of them look pretty similar but they have very different flavours.”
As an example, Wang said radish shoots are spicy like radishes while pea shoots taste very similar to snap peas.
The pair has since opened their Urban Grow Microgreens vendor stall at the Cape Breton Farmers’ Market and today will launch their products on the Cape Breton Food Hub.
Wang arrived in Sydney in 2012 while Titov came in 2013. They were skeptical about their future on the island at first, as both were accustomed to life in bigger cities.
The couple said they quickly adapted to the slower pace and enjoy the friendliness of the people.
“I feel like this is our home now and we’re really glad that we stayed,” said Wang.
“When people ask, ‘Where are you from?' We just say 'Sydney,'” added Titov.
According to Titov, their greens are grown in a sustainable manner using LED lights and seeds from Canada when possible. They are also packaged in compostable containers.
When the growing process is complete, the couple donates leftover soil and plant material to a local farm to help them feed hungry chickens
Wang said in the past few months their business has steadily expanded from two shelves to six. Future plans include experimenting with new shoot varieties and edible flowers.