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Sowing seeds of change: Forest City Microgreens’ path to sustainable success 

With the largest area of wilderness untouched by humans in the world – Canada’s Boreal Forest – it’s no wonder the country is perceived as holding great environmental and conservational pride and responsibility. Canada has a long and rich history surrounding both the use and preservation of its abundance of natural resources. In recent decades, it has exponentially strengthened its commitment to prioritizing sustainable development. Today, Canada is a global leader in Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) performance. As part of the United Nations Net Zero Coalition, which is committed to the ambitious target of 45% emissions reductions by 2030, and net-zero by 2050, Canadians of all walks of life should be empowered to aid in this duty. One easy way for anyone to get involved is in their own food consumption and purchasing habits. Mass-scale agriculture is a huge contributor to carbon pollution, due to its long and complicated supply chain. As such, reducing food miles (how long it takes your groceries to get from the farm they were grown on, to the facilities they were processed and packaged in, to finally reaching your local grocery store) is becoming an important factor in sustainable agriculture. This concept is something that the Canadian government is looking to find solutions for through its commitment to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 13 – climate action, reducing emissions. An exciting solution to these issues is emerging through Forest City Microgreens, an exciting agri-food startup from London, ON.  

The birth of Forest City Microgreens: A family’s journey 

If communities can supply a significant portion of fresh, nutritious produce for their members, you can tremendously lower the negative impact of long-distance food transportation and help build self-sustaining communities across Canada. Forest City Microgreens has its humble roots and big aspirations for their home in the London, Ontario community. Spearheaded by Santiago Ramirez and his parents, Cristina and Jaime Ramirez, immigrants from Colombia, the company was born of a collaborative desire to produce purer and safer food in Canada. Microgreens are essentially the baby form of various vegetable plants, which are packed with the healthy nutrients needed during the early phases of growth. They cultivate these nutrient-rich microgreens in an environmentally controlled space by utilizing indoor vertical farming techniques. This maximizes yield and minimizes water usage. In fact, they use 95% less water than traditional farms. How are they able to do this? Excess water from the irrigation system, which isn’t used by the plants (and would normally end up as runoff waste) is collected in the microgreen growing trays and reused. In the future, Santiago aims to transition to a fully closed-circuit water recycling system where any unused water would automatically get filtered and re-introduced. This would drastically reduce their reliance on using municipal water sources. 

Perhaps one of the most impressive and cost-saving aspects of their sustainable operations is their soil recycling method. FC Microgreens has a tremendously fruitful partnership with Terra Optima Labs, whose mission is to close the loop on organic food waste while creating regenerative products for their soils. Santiago uses a combination of topsoil with vermichar – a natural fertilizer comprised of worm castings and biochar – which he obtains from Terra Optima Labs, conveniently located in The Grove of the Western Fair District. Once the microgreens are harvested, the remaining soil is sent back and recycled through The Wormery, a soil composting program run by Terra Optima Labs. This circular economy practice helps preserve soil integrity and protect biodiversity, which is extremely important to Santiago. But there’s another distinct advantage to this truly sustainable practice – Santiago (and his customers!) believe the vermichar makes for better tasting microgreens. Talk about a unique selling proposition! The difference is in the fertilizer. That, and the fact that Santiago ensures that his customers are getting their greens no more than 24 hours after they have been picked and packed. 

Beyond innovating sustainability: Educating and empowering the community 

At the heart of every business decision Santiago makes is his tremendous dedication and passion towards educating the local community about the importance of eating fresh, nutrient-dense foods free from harmful chemicals (no pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides), and getting involved in your own food production to increase self-sufficiency in that community. This aligns with goal 2 of the UN’s SDGs – zero hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition, proving that many small Canadian businesses are also leading the transition to more sustainable business practices.  

Unlike many competitors, they offer 15 different kinds of freshly grown microgreens, which includes both individual varieties (such as broccoli, cilantro, and live garlic chives microgreens) and taste-pairing blends such as Sassy, Sunshine, and Supreme. They also offer a grow-your-own microgreens kit, an instant hit with families who are eager to teach food growing skills. Finally, FC Microgreens also offers a subscription service which gives customers a choice between 2 mixed packages at a bi-weekly frequency or an annual subscription for the microgreen connoisseur, comprised of your choice of 4 microgreens every two weeks for a year. “We’re deeply connected to our local community. You’ll find us at farmer’s markets, and we have great partnerships with local restaurants who value same-day fresh, locally sourced ingredients in their dishes”, emphasizes Santiago. You can find their products at the Western Fair District Market, Masonville Market, Unger’s Market, and QuarterMaster Natural Foods, all located in London, Ontario. Some of their regular and seasonal (as menus change) culinary customers include zen’Za Pizzeria, 10Eighteen Coffee Bar, London Bicycle Cafe, Grill 23 (authentic Mexican dishes and tacos), The River Room (fine dining), Hunter & Co Restaurant (fine dining), The Mule London (Tex-Mex restaurant and tequila bar), and The Posh Cheeseboard Co. (catering). A vital source of sales growth for the company, Santiago aims to add several more restaurants to his portfolio this year. Already off to a great start, he has successfully gained several new partnerships since January. In fact, this expansion was a key consideration regarding his plan to move to a larger facility later this year.
Restaurants, retailers, and caterers interested in sourcing from FC Microgreens can inquire here. 

What’s on the horizon? 

Soon Santiago aims to begin hosting educational and culinary microgreen experiences, bringing an element of urban farming Agri-tourism to his business. These experiences would serve as a hands-on opportunity to learn how microgreens are grown, the importance of sustainable food production, and have some fun in the kitchen cooking delicious meals with microgreens. Just as Santiago’s parents wanted to share the experience of growing food that is better for both people and the planet, Santiago wants to pass this experience onto members of the community – especially the next generation!  

We're constantly looking to grow and innovate. Expansion is on the horizon for us, and we're exploring new ways to bring our high-quality microgreens to even more customers.

Santiago Ramirez, Co-Founder & Owner of Forest City Microgreens

Santiago, alongside business collaborator and friend Kim Totten, a healing arts practitioner and culinary artist based in London, recently developed and tested salad dressings to pair with each of the 3 main blends that FC Microgreens offers. Santiago has high hopes for this partnership as they have been received with much excitement so far. These simple, natural, and raw salad dressings will be available for purchase as bundles soon – so stay tuned!  

To learn more about Forest City Microgreens visit their website here.  

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