Unlike most farmers selling their harvest at local markets, Eric Barenfeld measures his farm in square feet rather than acres.
In fact, very little of Barenfeld’s 5,000 square foot lot in Mar Vista is used to grow his crops of fresh microgreens. He just uses his front porch.
“It’s a constant science project,” Barenfeld said as he looked at the plastic containers of young plants in various stage of growth in front of his house. A microgreen is basically a baby plant, known for strong flavors and potent nutritional package. In the early 1990’s, a study found three-day-old broccoli sprouts, for example, contain up to 100 times the amount of cancer preventing enzymes of a mature plant.
Barenfeld is taking his own experiments beyond broccoli, growing organic kale, arugula, corn, radish, sunflower seeds, and more without a greenhouse. Barenfeld entered the microgreen game about six months ago and has been slowly scaling up his operation. After a few months at the Mar Vista farmers market, Barenfeld will expand into Santa Monica’s Main Street farmers market this weekend.
Just a few years ago, the father of two was on a completely different track, pursuing a specialized master’s degree from USC’s Marshall School of Business. It was almost time to deliver his thesis when he suddenly decided to walk away.
“I had this last second breakaway and I just dropped out after the hardest year of my life and I was like … ’now what?’” Barenfeld recalled on a recent sunny afternoon at his home. “I was trying to figure out what makes me happy and I realized it was my hands in the soil and my feet on the earth.”
Barenfeld began reading everything he could about farming and agriculture. He used the process of elimination to figure out how the average westsider could create a sustainable farm in a residential neighborhood. He thought about planting fig trees but realized he didn’t have enough space. Then, he built raised beds to grow specialty peppers and tomatoes. Even then, his tenth of an acre was simply too little small to scale those crops into a profitable business.
“I researched algae. I researched mushrooms. Then I researched microgreens and I just fell in love with the process, how much nutrition is in there,” Barenfeld said. “It’s this miracle super food that’s on the cusp…I could support my family with this stuff and be able to grow enough to make a living off my front porch.”
Barenfeld is still working out some kinks. He’s looking for a way to make his plastic packaging more sustainable, but until then asks his customers to return their plastic bins for reuse. He says the leftover roots and soil from a package of microgreens will boost home compost.
He says the greens taste delicious on their own or can be added to wraps, salads or blended into frittatas or used to replace grown-up greens in favorite recipes.
Santa Monica has four weekly farmers markets including the Wednesday Downtown market on Arizona Avenue between 4th and Ocean from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., the Saturday Downtown market on Arizona Avenue between 4th and 2nd Streets from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., the Saturday Virginia Ave. Park market at 2200 Virginia Avenue from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., and the Sunday Main Street market at 2640 Main Street from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.