The Union Square Grassman Teaches Us About Greens
In Search of a Greener New York is an ongoing Garden Collage series of explorations about sustainability efforts in New York City and beyond– including the people, places, and ideas that are making Manhattan a healthier, happier place to live. In this column, we spotlight individuals who are making New York a “greener” place in an attempt to discover how, exactly, they are doing it. This week, GC spotlights Stewart Borowsky, who taught us a thing or two about farming microgreens.
With a name like “the Union Square Grassman” one would think that Stewart Borowsky was a man of a different flavor, so to speak, given the historically grungy and “grass”-loving environs in which he now sells wheat grass— a known superfood and one of the richest sources of chlorophyll among all alkalizing microgreens.
Wheat grass is high in vitamins A, B-complex, C, E, l and K (it’s also extremely rich in protein, and contains 17 amino acids, the building blocks of protein). Borowsky sells it at the Union Square Farmers Market every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday since 1994.
So why microgreens? We asked.
“When I started out farming,” he tells us, “I had what you would call a ‘market garden’– so not a very large garden, but we did a number of different kinds of vegetables and we would forage blueberries and other forest-based plants, but it was primarily wheatgrass and micro-greens.”
“In 1999, it was ahead of it’s time only because we were selling direct. Wheatgrass was already kind of present in a lot of these health food stores. You could get these products, but I believe that one of the things that made our products better was that we could get them directly from the farm to the market, and I believe that’s what a lot of the farmers now benefit from– their stuff is always going to be fresher, because it’s coming direct from the farm. Otherwise, even a good fruit and vegetable farm is getting their produce one to three days after harvest.”
“Especially with microgreens, you want them to be as fresh as possible. In 1999, we moved our farm down to the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, and last year we moved to Sunset Park. The farm is very small– we use a small parking lot and grow out of shipping containers. By doing it that way we’re able to maintain a constant light, temperature, and climate. This way, we can keep the plants happy and afford to do it.” So what’s the biggest challenge, we ask?
“There were so many, but basically running a small business is always hard, and growing things for money is very difficult. Sometimes there are competing pressures– do you take care of growing or the individual customer first? One of the biggest challenges was not biting off more than I could chew. Don’t get insecure about the fact that you don’t have control over the whole market. The other small food producers here gave me a lot of great advice, and other things you just learn in the field. Our challenges include “our water pipes broke in the winter” or “our seeds didn’t come because we didn’t order them ahead”– but like everything, it’s a learning curve.”