Irvine’s newest farm has no soil, no fertilizer – it’s not even outdoors. Malaia’s Microgreens is a hydroponic farm owned by Malaia Martinez and Jaebin Yoo, who grow 400 pounds of organic produce each week in a 1,500-square-foot warehouse. We caught up with them to find out how it works.
What do you grow?
Martinez: We grow over 100 varieties of microgreens, edible flowers and herbs for restaurants, including Solstice and Porch & Swing in Irvine. We grow everything fresh to order, giving chefs full control of the appearance and taste of their greens. If they want something with stripes or a certain size, we can produce it based on seeds, lighting and nutrients.
Why hydroponic farming?
Yoo: We use 90% less land and 90% less water than a traditional farm. Everything is grown in a climate-controlled environment. We plant seeds in a solution made from coconut husks, and they grow in nutrient-rich water – not soil. We believe this is the forefront of an agricultural revolution.
How healthy are these microgreens?
Martinez: Studies have shown that microgreens contain four to 40 times more nutrients than their fully grown counterparts.
Is this considered a sustainable farm?
Yoo: Yes. Every drop of water we use is completely recaptured, refiltered and recycled. We don’t have any runoff, which is something no other farm can say.
At 1,500 square feet, how much can you produce?
Yoo: At full farm capacity, we can service over 50 restaurants. We sprout our products in grow trays, and we can produce 300 trays a week. Each microgreen takes about 12 days to grow.
How have local chefs responded?
Martinez: One chef asked us to supply her with hoja santa, which is a very difficult-to-find herb because it’s grown in the Yucatan. We sourced the seeds and now provide it to her on a regular basis. That’s our goal, to provide chefs with items they typically can’t get in the market.