• NRuskell

The Nursery: The finest microgreens, grown to order in Grasse

We catch-up with former 'Riviera Insider' editor, Elsa Carpenter, on her booming microgreens and baby leaves business.

Elsa Carpenter with son, Pascal.

What started as a small venture with the idea to do a short growing season and ‘see how it goes’ has turned into an almost overnight success for former Riviera Insider Editor, Elsa Carpenter. In a whirlwind of a few short months, a few seedling trays from a friend and an interest in the health aspects of microgreens, blossomed into a thriving business with repeat customers, standing orders, supplies to a local 5-star hotel, renowned chefs coming to pick up flats of custom orders and even getting listed in the Yachting supply catalogue. In a FB post in October, Elsa describes her ‘pinch me moment’: “What a week! I'm into my sixth month of business and despite it being October, a time when I thought orders would be winding down, I have officially sold out.”

Riviera Insider joined Elsa in her “little garage” at her home in Grasse, the spare space to start a little business that allowed her to take care of her toddler and new baby. A simple shelf to the left was lined with trays, the purple glow of growing lights feeding the lush forests of microgreens. The pea shoots pale green with delicate tendrils swirling in every direction; sunflower shoots, standing tall and reaching up towards the light; and tray after tray of perfectly uniform radish and broccoli sprouts. To the right, a counter and cabinets where each tray of gorgeous sprouts get their start.

Elsa has been learning as she goes, but after 8 months, she is already an expert on what flavour profile each veggie has, the look and feel, the time for germination, etc. Her stock of seeds is impressive, as is the speed and ease with which she whips out a few trays to demonstrate, gently packs the soil and sprays them with a light coating of water. Some seeds actually need weight to germinate and grow evenly, she explains, showing a stack of trays weighed down by a piece of concrete in the dark cabinet. Without the weight, they grow all sorts of different lengths, making it difficult to get a nice orderly ‘crop’.

Initially, Elsa started delivering her greens to a few local customers but she quickly got so busy that it made more sense to have a pick-up point on certain days of the week, like Valbonne on Friday mornings. She also welcomes customers to pick up from her home any day, as long as they have ordered in advance - an advance of ten days so she can grow the order!

She sells individual sprouts or, more popular, her blends such as the nutrient mix or her tasty radish mix. She takes custom orders, as some clients don’t like the peppery sting of strong sprouts like rocket or black radish, and prefer a mix of something more mild, like alfalfa. She has also partnered with Christine Kjeldbjerg, local nutritionist (and our health writer) to create a specail detox mix for her cleanse and reboot programme.

Nutrient powerhouses

Sprouts have been a staple superfood in the health community for decades, but because they are so hard to keep fresh during long-distance transport, they can be quite hard to come by. Many, this author included, have tried at-home sprouting with varying levels of success - and many levels of failure. Despite the super-packed nutrient profile, fresh sprouts and microgreens remain elusive. So it’s no wonder Elsa’s gorgeous, lush greens have been an instant hit.

On the Nursery Greens Facebook page, Elsa posts nutritional information on many of the greens, including a star of the sprouting world: "Red cabbage is one of the most nutrient-dense vegetables and that's only heightened in the microgreen format. These little plants promote good bone, joint, skin, gut and eye health while also helping reduce the likelihood of cardiovascular and neurodegenerative disease. They're a great health performer as well as tasting delicious so it's a win-win... If you like cabbage!”

Amaranth sprouts from the Nursery Greens

Amaranth, a small, ancient grain is highly prized by chefs for it’s vivid magenta to burgundy colour. It's also incredibly nutritious. Unusually rich in protein and vital amino acids, they contain vitamin A, C, E, folate, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, calcium and antioxidants. And, she reveals, the seeds are also quite expensive. But they sure are beautiful!

There are so many healthy greens to choose from. Another star is broccoli. The highest source of sulforaphane (a super potent cancer fighter), broccoli sprouts are delicate and slightly sweet with a hint of broccoli flavour. They are also rich in vitamins A, B, C, E and K; a source of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc and they contain carotene, chlorophyll, amino acids and antioxidants. More than enough reasons to eat them daily!

What’s next?

Plans for expansion are definitely on the horizon, just so Elsa can keep up with demand. But for now, it’s the end of a much longer season than she expected. She continued to fill orders for as long as her fingers could brave the freezing morning temps, but it's now time to for a break. But she will be back next spring, so keep your orders at the ready!

In the meantime, you can follow The Nursery Greens on Facebook and Instagram to keep up on her latest and check out her website for dish inspiration, recipes and more.

-Nicole Ruskell

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