Hay River, N.W.T., couple launches microgreens business

Nicolinea Minakis and Chris Shaver recently launched their business Northern Greens, selling the microgreens they grow in their indoor vertical farm to local businesses and households.

Chris Shaver says Northern Greens has found a home in the Hay River agricultural community

In their 300-square-foot space in Hay River, Nicolinea Minakis and Christopher Shaver say they can grow as much produce as a two-acre plot of land outdoors. (Submitted by Nicolinea Minakis and Christopher Shaver)

Affordable fresh produce can be hard to find in the North — especially in the middle of winter. 

But Nicolinea Minakis and Chris Shaver are hoping to make northern shopping baskets a little greener all year round.

Together, the couple recently launched their business Northern Greens, selling the microgreens they grow in their indoor vertical farm to local businesses and households. 

Microgreens are young seedlings of vegetables — like sunflower shoots, pea shoots and brassica broccoli — harvested shortly after they germinate, usually after the plant has only just sprouted its first two leaves.

"They're usually ready to go — depending on the variety — in seven to 10 days," said Shaver. "So we harvest them when they're at their two-leaf stage, and then we cut them and they're nice and tender and flavourful little plants."

Minakis says microgreens can add "a nice little kick" to a lot of meals — everything from salads to sandwiches, soups and even lasagna. 

"My favourite is the broccoli microgreens," she said. "I like mixing them and making little salads to share with everybody. I bring it to work and give little ideas and little flavours to all my coworkers."

Minakis says she adds microgreens to salads, sandwiches and even lasagna. (Submitted by Nicolinea Minakis and Christopher Shaver)

At first, Minakis and Shaver hadn't intended to turn their shared passion project into a business. But circumstances — and enthusiasm from their friends and neighbours — inspired them to take on the challenge. 

"We got started out of our apartment in Yellowknife, growing microgreens for our own enjoyment," said Minakis. "Then COVID hit the Territories and Chris was laid off work out at the Ekati mine. All GNWT employees were soon sent home to work virtually as well. 

"At that time, there was a general panic for supplies, as the state of emergency was unknown. So we started developing a business plan and felt the need to introduce indoor vertical farming to our community." 

A sustainable option

Shaver, who comes from a family of farmers in southern Ontario, is particularly excited about microgreens as a sustainable food option. He says a vertical indoor farm — where the plants are grown on trays that fit into growing racks — takes less water, produces less waste and requires less space than traditional outdoor growing. 

"So in a 300-square-foot space, with our production method, we can grow the same as a two-acre plot of land outside," he said. 

And he says they are popular, too — the early response from customers has been "overwhelmingly good."

"Fresh produce is something that I think a lot of northerners give up on, because it's hard to find here," he said. "And we're offering a weekly harvest and delivery of a fresh product, so that it can be enjoyed." 

On Feb. 26, the couple will be making their first deliveries in Yellowknife — they have already been delivering to customers in Hay River. 

But interest in microgreens is also sprouting up in other parts of the territory. 

"We recently received interest from the community of Délı̨nę requesting our assistance to develop an agricultural plan to help them produce their own crops," said Minakis.

"And for me, being an Indigenous woman from Inuvik — that's where I'm from — it is important for me to give back to the northern people and set an example for the youth by providing an innovative, sustainable and healthy product."