Jessica Roberts holds a tray of broccoli sprouts as Jesse Tannenbaum shows off some pea shoots just starting to pop out at their home in Sabattus where their business is growing. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

SABATTUS — Jesse Tannenbaum and Jessica Roberts started farming four years ago with four raised beds on a quarter-acre residential lot on a busy Lewiston street.

Eli’s Homestead has grown in the years since to 25 beds, plus a greenhouse and 50 chickens. The couple have just invested in what they hope is a new, year-round addition: Farming microgreens in a room of their 1920 Sabattus farmhouse.

The nutrient-dense little sprouts can be harvested in as little as three days with a sharp paring knife and a light touch.

Tannebaum has planted radishes, broccoli, kohlrabi, greens, edible flowers, sunflower shoots, kale, red cabbage and other vegetables in a warm room with a bright violet LED-light glow.

He both grows and, sometimes, eats.

“At the end of a stir fry, what I like to do is take some of the sunflower shoots and throw those in because they have a nice buttery kind of flavor,” said Tannenbaum. “The mustard greens we grow actually taste like a spicy brown mustard — it amazes me every time.”

Before starting Eli’s, both Tannenbaum and Roberts grew up with connections to farming. Roberts’ grandparents grew cotton and raised animals out west, and she helped her mother with two large vegetable gardens.

When Tannenbaum was 10, he’d pick strawberries in Bowdoinham and walk their neighborhood in Lisbon Falls selling pints with his little sister from her red wagon.

“(It) grew into us picking for some of the local grocery stores and restaurants and things of that nature,” he said. “Our folks didn’t have much money when my dad got out of the navy; we wanted to do things as kids, so we kind of had to hustle to get it.”

They named their farm after their oldest son. (Younger son Isaac hadn’t been born yet.) The couple are conscious about passing on a farming legacy.

“I remember how much I used to dislike working in the garden when I was younger, so I try to find ways to make it fun and not just a chore,” said Roberts. “Once the kids are in the dirt, though, they forget about everything else and just enjoy themselves.”

They’ve historically grown carrots, beets, radishes and quick growing greens in raised beds on Grove and Pond streets, restricted by Maine’s short growing season.

Enter microgreens.

Helped by a microloan from Community Concepts Finance Corp., Tannenbaum outfitted a 10-by-12-foot spare room in their farmhouse in December with rows of shelving, shallow pans and LED lights.

Some varieties take three to five days to grow, others, like carrots, up to 25 days.

“The plants are sprouting really close together so you have to really keep the humidity down in the room and the air flowing because otherwise the trays will start to mold up,” he said.

He harvests at the first baby set of leaves.

“At that point, that green is at its highest nutrient density,” Tannenbaum said. “If you fully let that plant mature, you’ll get the nutrients but it’s spread out; you have to eat a lot more of it.”

He is up each day at 3 a.m., feeding the chickens and answering emails by 5. Next comes harvesting microgreens — once an entire tray is finished, the chickens get fed the root systems. He washes the tray and plants a new batch from seed.

Afternoons are spent talking to vendors or time for meetings. He’s on both the Good Food Council of Lewiston-Auburn and the Lewiston Farmer’s Market steering committee.

Eli’s Homestead sells from its website as well we direct to some restaurants, and starting around May, he’ll be out at a farmer’s market or other site four days a week.

Within the next few years, Tannenbaum would like to see Eli’s growing on more land locally, both microgreens and traditional crops.

“We’re truly passionate about healthy eating and having access to healthy, local food, if you choose it, it should be there,” he said.

Roberts looks forward to seeing their brand on store shelves around New England in the next five to 10 years.

“I am more the kitchen person and love having people try our new foods,” she said. “I also hope that we have the ability to hire over 10-15 people within the next 10 years. It would be really cool to be able to pass what we know on to the next generation to include our boys.”

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