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Think small

The hot West Coast trend of microgreens takes root on Hilton Head Island.

Story by Barry Kaufman  +  Photos by W Photography

Neal Bitner and Eddie Borzacchini are the local faces behind Sproutz of the Lowcountry, a new microgreens operation on Cardinal Road.

Stepping into the growing operation of Sproutz of the Lowcountry and meeting the two entrepreneurs behind it is almost like stepping into a decidedly more wholesome version of the TV show “Breaking Bad.”

Start with the company’s two principals, Neal Bitner and Eddie Borzacchini. Bitner is clearly the Walter White of the operation – methodical, exacting and possessed of a wealth of knowledge regarding his art and his science. Borzacchini, likewise, is a pitch-perfect Jessie Pinkman with his exuberant personality, charm and willingness to get out on the streets and hustle to move some product.

Here the similarities end. While Walter White used his scientific knowledge to perfect the art of making illicit drugs, Bitner is using his horticultural knowledge to create fresh, nutritious microgreens. Think of it more as “Growing Good” than “Breaking Bad.”

“This is concentrated nutrition,” said Bitner, holding up a tiny sprig of a broccoli sprout. “There’s anywhere from 25-40 times the nutritional value in this than there is in the mature plant.”

Bitner had been planning his microgreen operation for some time before he ever sowed the first seed. It was a natural fit – he had extensive knowledge of cultivation techniques through his work in horticulture, and extra space for growing racks in the warehouse of his landscaping firm, Lifescapes.
He just needed a partner to help him sell it. Enter Borzacchini, a long-time restaurateur who recently relocated to the island from his native Philadelphia. Bitner floated the idea of a microgreens operation by him and, quote, “He was not on board.”

Hearing this, Borzacchini laughed. “I just didn’t know anything about it. I’m a northeastern guy – I knew Philly cheesteaks and pretzels, but not much about sprouts.”

Since their 1980s debut in California restaurants, microgreens have culled a big following. Sproutz of the Lowcountry sells its microgreens on Thursdays at Bluffton Farmer’s Market and Saturdays at Port Royal Farmer’s Market.

Eventually Borzacchini came around and the pair began honing their techniques, starting where most of us start a new learning adventure: YouTube. “It turns out all the information on YouTube is garbage,” said Bitner. Undaunted, the pair began running their own experiments to hone their technique.

This part of the process is clearly Bitner’s territory. To him, the rows upon rows of plants in their Cardinal Road workshop, situated on shelves and under lights the guys custom-built themselves, represent more than just a side business. More than just a hot new trend. It’s a chance to experiment toward perfection, varying everything from light and soil to temperature and ambient wind in pursuit of a superior sprout.

What they’ve already managed to consistently grow is delicious, with offerings ranging from radishes and broccoli to peas and sunflower, but Bitner is single-minded in making everything just a little bit better. From there, it’s Borzacchini’s job to spread the gospel, selling the crop one container at a time at farmer’s markets in Bluffton and Port Royal.

“People are going to be buying these in an hour and a half,” he said, hoisting a tray of radish sprouts over to Bitner for harvesting. “You can’t get more fresh than that.”

With his experience in the restaurant business, Borzacchini shares the culinary possibilities these sprouts present with genuine enthusiasm. Just a few hours after harvest on the day we spoke, he was posted at his stand on Calhoun Street evangelizing about the way these tiny sprouts can be a game changer for your cooking.

Because microgreens require so little space, it is practical to grow them year-round indoors in controlled conditions.

“I like to take a boneless chicken breast and stuff it with a bunch of broccoli sprouts and some sharp chedder,” he told one visitor to the Sproutz of the Lowcountry booth. To another, he extolled the merits of radish sprouts as an enhancer for grilled cheese with brie. To another, how their Lowcountry salad mix can completely change the flavor profile of a salad while blasting it with nutrients.

Beyond the gourmet possibilities, there are the health benefits to consider. Part of Borzacchini’s pitch is to point out how he’s lost 44 pounds since June of this year, something he attributes to his new love of microgreens. “I’m not saying that’s all because of the microgreens, but the sunflowers definitely helped out as a healthier late-night snack,” he said. “It’s just a better lifestyle than feeding your face with a lot of junk.”

Sproutz of the Lowcountry currently sell their microgreens at the Bluffton Farmer’s Market and Port Royal Farmer’s Market, but hope to find their way into area stores and onto restaurant menus soon. In the meantime, follow them on Instagram @sproutzofthelowcountry.


Microgreens 101

Microgreens are grown quickly from seeds in good light with adequate moisture.

What they are: Vegetable and herb greens harvested just after the cotyledon leaves have developed. Essentially, they are the seedlings of edible vegetables and herbs. The average crop-time for most microgreens is 10–14 days from seeding to harvest.

How they’re used: Chefs use colorful microgreens to enhance the attractiveness and taste of their dishes with distinct delicate textures and unique flavors, such as sweet and spicy. Among upscale grocers, they are now considered a specialty genre of greens, good for garnishing salads, soups, sandwiches and plates.

Health benefits: Nutritional studies have shown microgreens contain considerably higher levels of vitamins and carotenoids — about five times greater — than their mature plant counterparts. When choosing a microgreen, look for the most intensely colored ones, which will be the most nutritious.