Text By: Julia Powers
Photos: Michael Hart, Hart Design
What if I told you that, on an idyllic hilltop in Rochester, there is a converted dairy barn where something magical happens? In that barn, a local company grows nutrient-packed vegetables that are delicious both raw and cooked, and even crunch and pop when you eat them. These veggies are a bit of a chameleon: adding a spicy bite to a dish, or providing a mellow base on which to nestle something succulent like scallops. This sounds like a fable, doesn’t it?
The company working this magic is Jonathan’s Sprouts—and the super-food they grow? You guessed it…sprouts. Sprouts can be grown from the seed of almost any vegetable, grain, bean, or nut. In addition to mung and alfalfa, Jonathan’s also grows radish, broccoli, clover, and sunflower sprouts, a mix of crunchy lentil, aszuki and pea sprouts, as well as pea shoots and wheatgrass. Barbara Sanderson, who owns the company along with her husband Bob, says, “When a seed sprouts, it is like a miracle happens.”
When you visit Jonathan’s Sprouts, it doesn’t look like any farm you have ever seen. But, this is the nature of sprouts. They are not grown in the ground. Instead, these tiny vegetables are grown on/in stainless steel trays or tubes, depending on how much light they need to grow. And you won’t see a farmer in jeans and a sun hat: the workers at Jonathan’s wear lab coats, waterproof boots, and hairnets. It is a bit “back to the future,” but given the company’s strict focus on safety and quality assurance, it is necessary. The amount of seeds sprouted by Jonathan’s boggles the mind. According to Bob Sanderson, “It would take a forty acre farm to grow the alfalfa seed we sprout in only one year.”
Like many small farms, Jonathan’s takes extra steps to ensure the quality of its produce, often at the expense of the profit margin. For example, Jonathan’s harvests its bean sprouts when they yield six pounds of sprouts per pound of seed—compared to the industry standard of ten to twelve pounds of sprouts per pound of seed. The younger sprouts have a sweeter taste and a longer shelf life.
Jonathan’s Sprouts’ stellar safety record is the result of a rigorous testing program. Each lot of seed is tested for quality before purchase. The testing continues when the seeds are delivered; every bag of seed is sampled and checked for contamination. And, when available, organic seeds are used. The third step in the testing process is that each and every crop grown by Jonathan’s is checked for Salmonella and E. Coli O 157:H7 bacteria by an independent lab. Negative results must be received before any crop is shipped. In addition, the facility is scanned weekly for Listeria. Being this meticulous is not cheap. It costs Jonathan’s $150,000 annually to perform these tests, but the program ensures that customers are buying healthy, safe, organically grown, and kosher certified sprouts.
Jonathan’s is one of the country’s leading growers of sprouts. The company started in 1976, when three friends, Barbara Brewster, Bob Sanderson, and Jim Bunker, were fresh out of college and trying to figure out what to do with their lives. Another friend, Jonathan Lagreze, had a home-based business that bore his name, growing sprouts and selling them at the Marion General Store. When he decided to return to college, Barb, Bob, and Jim took over the business. Their timing could not have been better. It coincided with America’s growing demand for fresh produce, as well as the nation’s budding interest in health food.
“We have been growing food with integrity for a long time,” says Barb Sanderson. And from the continued growth of Jonathan’s Sprouts, it seems the word has gotten out. “There has been a growing awareness of food, where it is grown, and what it is doing to your body. And, all this is helping us,” posits Barb. Sprouts are nutritious, versatile, local, and always in season. Why not try a few of the delicious sprout recipes that accompany this article and let these enchanting little vegetables work their magic on you?
For additional recipes, sources, and information about the health benefits of sprouts, please visit www.jonathansorganic.com
384 Vaughan Hill Road
Rochester, MA 02770
Scallops on Wilted Pea Shoots
adapted from Jonathan’s Organic
for the scallops:
2 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 Tablespoons butter, divided
1/2 cup onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 pound fresh sea scallops
1/2 cup white wine or sherry
6 ounces Jonathan’s Organic pea shoots
salt and pepper to taste
Heat 1 Tbs. olive oil and 2 Tbs. butter in a large skillet or wok. Add onion and garlic, and saute until onions are golden brown, stirring often. Add the scallops, and saute until scallops are browned and lightly cooked. Toss in the wine or sherry, and raise heat to boil quickly, then immediately turn off the heat and remove the contents from the hot pan.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 Tbs. olive oil and 2 Tbs. butter in a medium-sized skillet. Toss in the pea shoots and let cook, flipping gently with a spatula just until wilted.
Divide the pea shoots onto two deep plates. Place half of the scallops on each pile of pea shoots, and spoon on the onion, garlic and wine mixture.