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Microgreens are all about the health benefits. They are the seedlings of certain vegetables and herbs harvested between sprout and baby green stage, and in Berks County, broccoli and salad mixes are the big sellers, says Judy Henderson, owner of Humming Hills Farm in Richmond Township.The tiny, nutrient-dense greens are grown year-round, and thrive indoors. “Anywhere you eat lettuce, you can use microgreens,” said Henderson, 57, who started her farm, situated on 4.5 acres south of Hamburg off Route 662, in December 2017.”It’s the lazy way to get nutrients,” Henderson said, noting that microgreens grow within one to two weeks of planting. They grow in organic soil or in coco coir. “What I like about it is the quick turnover — you harvest within 10 days,” she said. “It follows my sort of ADHD personality.”A major milestoneOn March 3, Henderson was notified that her farm is recognized as a Certified Naturally Grown producer.”I’m so passionate; I want this to work,” said Henderson, who is thrilled that Humming Hills Farm is the first microgreens producer in Berks County to obtain the CNG certification. It signifies direct market farms that use natural practices and sell in their own communities.The CNG program is the grassroots alternative to certified organic, with site visits and inspections by peer farmers. The certification assures that food is grown without GMO seeds or synthetic chemical fertilizers or pesticides. As for the farm’s name, the “Humming” comes both from their love of alpacas, and a sighting of hummingbirds.Henderson said she and her husband, Kevin, had always dreamed of raising alpacas, pack animals that are known to vocalize that sounds like humming. Also, their property is on a steep hill.”One day I was sitting on our deck with our oldest daughter and saw our first hummingbirds,” she said. “I was so excited to see that! I looked at my daughter and said, ‘How about Humming Hills Farm?’ She approved, so that was that.”The couple has two grown daughters and three grandchildren, ages 4, 3 and 2, with one on the way. They moved to Berks County from the Lehigh Valley in 2017 to be closer to the little ones, who live in Fleetwood.The farm has chickens, ducks, and 6-month-old puppy, Chloe, a red heeler/shepherd mix. They plan to add Valais Blacknose sheep soon. “I love living here,” she said of Berks County.Overcoming obstacles”I was trying to figure out how to make a living from my property,” said Henderson, who credits a former co-worker with introducing the idea of microgreens. A native of Center Valley, Lehigh County, Henderson was working as a court reporter for Social Security hearings.In 2019, she underwent double hip replacement surgery, and during her recuperation, she researched microgreens. She bought seeds, a tray and lights and started growing the greens for friends and family. That was in January 2020. Then in March she lost her job and that same month, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.”I had so many things happen,” she said. “But I’m not going to give up.”The biggest challenge with microgreens is preventing disease, and monitoring air flow, temperature, humidity and seed density, she said.Humming Hills Farm is a member of PA preferred, and Buy Fresh, Buy Local of the Greater Lehigh Valley, which are both tools for helping consumers find locally grown food.Henderson pursued the CNG certification to help distinguish her microgreens from those grown conventionally. It’s assurance for customers that her plants are free of synthetic chemicals and genetic modification. Even her packaging is biodegradable or compostable.“At Humming Hills Farm we are passionate about growing safe and healthy food for our community,” she said, “and we are proud to have our efforts recognized by Certified Naturally Grown.”The certification aligns with her mission to grow food the community can trust, and her commitment to create a sustainable community.Packing a nutritional punch”From the get-go I wanted to do everything,” said Henderson, who loves educating people about the health benefits of microgreens. She has a PDF recipe book and fact sheets on how to use microgreens on her website, www.humminghillsfarm.com.According to webmd.com, microgreens like red cabbage, cilantro and radish contain up to 40 times higher levels of vital nutrients than the mature plants. Plus, they’re colorful and taste good.Henderson has an online store and sells her microgreens at local farmers’ markets, farm stores, retail shops and restaurants, and offers free delivery within a 15-mile radius. Also, a Grow It Yourself microgreens kit is available, and there will be other items available soon. A 1-ounce package is priced at $3.There are more than 750 CNG farms nationwide, including five in Berks County. Visit cngfarming.org to find a list of CNG producers.A family effortThings have moved quickly at Humming Hills Farm, and while she hasn’t seen a profit yet, things are looking up, especially now that her husband has put the finishing touches on a 12 X 24 foot growing shed, which allows sharper focus compared to working out of her home.”My husband willingly helps with washing and sanitizing my trays every week,” she said. “It’s definitely a labor of love because it’s an awful job, especially now that my planting has increased.”Kevin also sifts the soil if it’s needed, and both daughters help deliver microgreens to customers.Long-term, Henderson envisions developing the business enough so that a buyer will be waiting in the wings when she decides to retire.”I’m determined,” she said. “I feel very satisfied.”
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