For Scott Hyndman and Adam Dudek, the entrepreneurial learning curve has been as steep as their vegetable farm is tall — that is to say, very.
Years ago, the friends were sitting on Dudek’s Osborne Village balcony on a sunny summer day, admiring his tomato plants and grumbling about how difficult it was to find high-quality local produce year round. The conversation became the catalyst for 3 Guys Greens, an urban vertical farm founded by the duo in 2016.
"If we’re frustrated with it, I’m sure there’s a lot of people who are frustrated with this too," Dudek says of Manitoba’s short growing season. "So we started looking into: how can we do this? There’s gotta be a way to grow this stuff indoors year round."
They rented a warehouse space and started experimenting with vertical gardening and aquaponic systems to grow microgreens for local restaurants. Dudek is a plumber by trade and Hyndman is a trained chef — backgrounds that made up for what they lacked in business and agricultural experience. "This sort of farming is pretty much all plumbing," Dudek says with a laugh. "We’re consistently learning and consistently growing."
Until the COVID-19 pandemic hit, 3 Guys Greens sold microgreens — young, nutrient-packed vegetable sprouts — directly to restaurants as a garnish. The public health crisis has thrown the industry into turmoil and cut off a major revenue stream for the entrepreneurs.
"With the restaurants being shut down, there’s no real desire for them to have the added cost of garnish when they’re just putting it in a takeout box," Hyndman says. "That’s kind of why we wanted to go towards (selling) direct to the consumer."
This month, the company launched a salad subscription program that will see Winnipeggers getting greens and dressing delivered to their door once a week. The salads include a base of sunflower and pea shoots and a rotating blend of garnish mixes made from micro arugula, radish shoots, brassicas and mustard greens. They’ve also partnered with local catering company Loaf and Honey to create specialty salad dressings.
A monthly subscription costs $80 and each salad kit is expected to be enough greens for three to five days worth of meals, depending on how customers use the product. The microgreens can be eaten solo, added to other dishes or cooked as a side.
"The greens on wraps and sandwiches are absolutely amazing," Dudek says. "The pea shoots and sunflower I like to sauté with a little bit of lemon juice and some garlic."
Hyndman is a big proponent of the nutrient value of microgreens. One 2017 study out of Idaho State University found that broccoli sprouts had larger quantities of certain beneficial nutrients compared with their fully grown counterparts.
"You can eat your whole entire (microgreen) salad and you’ve eaten your 30 pounds of greens for the week," Hyndman says. "(Or) you can replace your normal lettuce on your burgers and in your tacos or whatever, and you still get to eat what you love, but now you’re incorporating these highly nutritious, nutrient-dense microgreens into your diet."
The microgreens take 10 days to mature and are grown to order.
Since 2016, 3 Guys Greens — which was named when there was in fact a third business partner — has moved three times and now operates out of 26,000-square-foot building with rows upon rows of heavy-duty growing racks and four staff members. The system uses energy-efficient LED grow lights and minimal water, which gives traditional agriculture a run for its money, according to Hyndman.
"One of our towers grows roughly 50 plants on it, so basically in one square foot of our growing space we’re able to do roughly 100 feet of row farming," he says.
The company started growing basil last year and hopes to raise different kinds of produce in the future. They’re also working to develop vertical farming systems within northern Manitoba communities.
Visit 3guysgreens.com for more information and to sign up for their salad subscription program.
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.