ZUMBROTA-Dean and Jayne Bredlau are growing produce you wish your regular produce would taste like.
No, it's not off of a large farm. Nor do they have an endless stream of employees caring for, harvesting and packaging the produce.
Similar to major tech companies, the Bredlau family's business, My Sweet Greens MN, started out in their garage. And continues to operate there.
The microgreens started after Dean wanted to get into gardening. After a difficult time getting started outdoors, Dean started looking into alternative ways to grow produce.
After many hours researching, the couple started with just a few flats, trying-and failing every once in a while-but ultimately finding what worked best for them.
So how did they know what they were doing was actually good? They enjoyed the produce, but would others? Early on in the growing process, Jayne was working at the Kahler Hotel in Rochester. Jayne decided to ask the head chef if he'd be willing to try the produce and give them honest feedback.
After three months of trying them, the chef finally asked when they would start selling the produce to him on a regular basis.
Now, Dean and Jayne are two years into their microgreen adventure. But what hasn't changed is the belief that "tasting is believing," according to Jayne.
Microgreens are small vegetable greens packed with nutritional value and have a short growing cycle. At My Sweet Greens MN, they can harvest their produce in eight days and produce around 150 pounds per month.
It's been a major education process, according to the couple. Growing radishes, sunflower shoots, and mustard greens can be quite an adjustment. Introducing this sort of produce not regularly known in the Midwest can be more difficult.
My Sweet Greens MN can found at the Northfield, Rochester and Zumbrota farmers markets, as well as a number of grocery stores, co-ops and restaurants. Having the chance to meet with people at markets is worthwhile, the Brediars said, being able to discuss their products at length. On a weekly basis, Jayne will go to one or two grocery stores or co-ops to discuss products with perspective customers as well.
Jayne recalls being at a farmers market when someone said their produce tasted like grass. The couple understand that not everyone will enjoy microgreens, but also acknowledge that people may be so used to processed, overly salted, or sugary foods which can do damage to one's pallets. With their products, they are able to give a clean, powerful punch of flavor in just the smallest strand of sweet pea shoots.
"We can have fresh food, product in the Midwest that doesn't have to be just meat," Dean said. "We want our children to be eating good food. And if your children eat food that tastes good, they'll eat their vegetables, if they taste good."
One of the most rewarding parts of their business is introducing children to microgreens. Watching a 2-year-old's eyes grow wide as they take a crunch of the zesty mix. Seeing a young girl spend her allowance money on vegetables over a lemonade or sugary treat. And when a young boy, who has a textural issue with vegetables and didn't normally eat them, enjoyed their produce, they realized how much impact they could have.
So where do Dean and Jayne see My Sweet Greens MN going into the future? How much longer can they operate out of their garage, in a limited space, while also getting offers from large grocery chains? It's complicated.
In January, My Sweet Greens MN was sent a cease-and-desist letter from Sweetgreen, a restaurant chain based out of California. Sweetgreen told the Bredlaus to change the name of their operation or legal action would be taken.
The letter hit Dean and Jayne hard, forcing them to look closely at their business.
"Challenges always make you stronger," Jayne said. "But they're not pleasant to go through. When that letter came last January, I just thought, not on your life. This is us. This is our business, we can't have another name"
An agreement has been struck, with My Sweet Greens MN having to change their name and re-brand by October 2020.
The letter gave Dean and Jayne a lot to discuss and reflect on what kind of business they want to run, since after all, it didn't start off as such.
So what to do they want for their future? To be themselves, but larger.
Having a rented or purchased building to operate out of would be ideal. Dean said they could remodel their garage, but it would be a lot more work and likely not a feasible one.
Jayne would like to have a commercially licensed and inspected space large enough so other producers could operate out of the building.
All in all, they aren't a massive corporation. They can't call on others to care for their microgreens. Every day, Dean and Jayne are growing, harvesting, cleaning, selling and marketing their products.
That's something the two want people to know: buying a bag of chips that's passed through three different corporations may be more feasible, but when you buy their products, it's like buying it from your neighbor.
"This comes from my hands to the store. ... There's no middle person," Jayne said. "It's my driving 2,000 miles a week. It's his time planting and harvesting. It's my two packagers that come twice a week to package because that's 30 hours a week I don't have now."
For more information on My Sweet Greens produce and sales locations, visit https://www.mysweetgreensmn.com/.