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Let’s Eat: Growing food through the seasons

Vegetate Market Garden specializes in microgreens and leafy vegetable crops.

Owners of Vegetate Market Garden, Justin Friedel and Caitlin Peuramaki-Brown’s journey to entrepreneurship started more than a decade ago. The two lived in the city and had a backyard garden, growing salad greens. “We were playing around with passive solar greenhouses,” Friedel says.

A passive solar greenhouse captures and stores solar energy to keep the greenhouse from freezing in the winter, even without additional sources of heat. One day in February, the two came home and harvested a salad from their greenhouse - a truly unique experience in Thunder Bay. That made them all the more passionate about their hobby, and they turned it into a business, Queen Street Market Garden.

As demand for their produce outgrew their backyard, the two moved to Kaministiquia. They renamed their business Vegetate Market Garden and they grow food both in greenhouses and in the field. Vegetate is best known for their microgreens, grown in trays with potting soil and worm castings. “Pea shoots, sunflower shoots and radishes are our big three,” Friedel says. “We also grow smaller finer mustard, clover, sometimes onions.”

In the field, they grow lettuce, Swiss chard, kale, collard greens, arugula, radishes and more. “Right now, there’s claytonia, spinach and lettuce,” Friedel says. “Claytonia is a hardy green that originated as weeds.” Native to North America, the plant is also known as miner’s lettuce and is rich in vitamins.

Their produce is available at several retailers in town, such as George’s Market and Celebrations, Westfort Foods, and Nomad on Bay. They are also on the online Farmers’ Market Superior Seasons. “Our stuff goes into the Superior Seasons [subscription] box,” Friedel says. “We have 200 boxes every week going out.”

Vegetate’s microgreens also grace salads, sandwiches and main dishes at numerous restaurants across the city, such as Bistro One and In Common.

When the pandemic hit, Vegetate transitioned into doing home deliveries, which proved very popular with customers. “Half the stuff we sell are to the same groups of people that buy all the time,” Friedel says.

Vegetate has been at the Thunder Bay Country Market since 2009 or 2010, he says. Lately, they have seen younger people interested in their produce. “There are new people coming out, people looking for healthy alternatives,” he explains. “We have people who want to grow their own food for themselves, and microgreens are an accessible option. We get lots of questions.”

Thunder Bay’s appetite for locally-produced vegetables has grown enough that Friedel and Peuramaki-Brown recently added a few full-time employees to their company. They hope to expand operations and accommodate more home deliveries.

There’s also another food Friedel is interested in growing - mushrooms. “We’re still planning things out, it’s a few years in the future,” he says.

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