Andrew McArdle, owner of five-year-old Mountain Man Micro Farms, lives and breathes all things green. As his company’s sole employee, McArdle works seven days a week, often from 3 or 4 a.m. to 7 or 8 p.m. But growing microgreens—edible vegetable seedlings—is his passion. “I love what I do,” he says. “The farm is a fun business to run.”
In January, McArdle fulfilled his dream of owning a customized 3,000-square-foot home and greenhouse in Franktown (near Castle Rock). There, he grows 30 to 40 varieties of microgreens and planned to bring other vegetables into the mix before the pandemic upended his agenda. In fact, before mid-March, McArdle was delivering crates of living microgreens to 60 restaurants along the Front Range. Super Mega Bien, Bamboo Sushi, the Flagstaff House and Blackbelly in Boulder, and the Farm House at Breckenridge Brewery in Littleton were among his customers until Governor Polis announced mandatory dine-in restaurant closures on March 16. “Within a 12-hour period, I lost so many restaurant accounts,” McArdle says. “I was wondering how I was going to pay my bills.”
All but three of McArdle’s restaurant accounts cancelled their orders, but his direct-to-consumer business took off immediately, thanks to heightened demand for grocery delivery. Prior to the COVID-19 era, he only drove greens to two or three homes, but now he brings them to about 50 addresses along the Front Range each week. “I’m blown away by all of the online orders,” McArdle says. “I think people are becoming more health minded and looking for ways to eat more greens.”
What makes the produce grown by Mountain Man Micro Farms so special? First, the living plants arrive in a crate of soil, like a visually stunning container garden, that you can harvest from as you please. As you taste your way through the varieties, you’ll find that each antioxidant-packed green has a distinct flavor profile, so they’re easy to work into a variety of dishes. For example, the crunchy pea shoots are perfect for sautéing and stir frying; the nutty arugula and earthy amaranth seedlings add vibrancy to any salad mix; and the subtly sweet basil and citrusy cilantro are a stellar combo for pesto. And just because microgreens are typically used as high-end restaurant garnishes doesn’t mean that they’re prohibitively expensive: The Farmers Mix tray, with eight types of microgreens, costs $24.99 and lasts seven to 10 days with proper watering.
McArdle, a former wild land firefighter with a background in aquaponics, is also passionate about battling food insecurity. He works with the nonprofit Targeted Aquaponics Growth to build sustainable food systems for orphanages and children’s homes in low-income communities around the world and donates a portion of sales from every microgreen home delivery to the organization.
McArdle encourages those who are only familiar with microgreens as garnishes to order a one-time delivery (weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly options are also available). He’ll even bring them to you personally—because that’s the charm of a one-man microgreen show.