An interview with Jerome Baca and Joey Jacques

Photo by Stacey M. Adams

An edible Local Hero is an exceptional individual or organization working to create innovative, vibrant, and resilient local food systems in New Mexico. Last fall, edible readers nominated and voted for their favorite food artisans, growers, and advocates in nearly two dozen categories—including six new awards. Each issue of edible will contain interviews with several of the winners, spotlighting the important and exciting work they do. It is imperative to the local food movement that we come together as a community to support each other, our local economy, and our environment. Please join us in thanking these local heroes for being at the forefront of that effort.

Urban Rebel Farms is a locally owned, Santa Fe–based, potted veganic farm. Established in 2016, Urban Rebel Farms began developing a microgreen farm that focused on growing a superior product, reliability, and always moving toward greater sustainability. Currently, Urban Rebel produces living potted veganic microgreens for chefs and locals who shop at the Santa Fe Farmers Market. They say that the “integrity of our product is evident in the longevity that our customers get out of our product.”

Urban Rebel prides itself on being “a reliable farm that has developed a microgreen program that is perpetually in motion. We plant and harvest every day so that our customers can rely on us to deliver Monday through Saturday.”

How did you get to where you are now? What’s the backstory, and what was the moment that brought you to your current work?

We (Jerome and Joey) were longtime friends walking separate paths. Jerome, in 2016, was managing an all seasons gardening supply store. This time allowed him to discover his love of plants and provided him the material to gain a knowledge of indoor gardening that was foundational for our business. Joey had just recently graduated from UNM with a philosophy and economics degree and was preparing to continue his education when we had this crazy idea to begin to farm microgreens.

We made a full commitment to the development of a small business and, with a limited amount of space, we set out to produce a product that could be unmatched in quality. Hours upon hours were spent researching not only how to grow microgreens, because we had never done it before, but how to navigate the governing bodies that give the green light for a new business to do commerce.

Initially, production was slow and our method was more than flawed. Deliveries started with a little red cooler in hand and a Volkswagen Rabbit as the means of transportation. However, with determination we developed a veganic potted method that would allow us to produce a living product that exudes integrity.

Tell us a bit about your growing process. 

Jerome developed a plant-based tea blend, that over time has been slightly modified, to inoculate our medium, coir (coconut husk). The decision to use coir rather than soil was made for a couple of reasons.  First, coir is a plant-based material that has an amazing ability to pull moisture throughout a given potted plant, so we are less likely to see pools of water that can lead mold growth. Secondly, we wanted to ensure our customers that they would not have to worry about cross-contamination of manures or other animal byproducts traditionally used in soils to feed plants.

After the coir is inoculated, we are ready to plant. We currently carry about thirty varieties of microgreens, each of which has a specific weight and method of planting in our 10×10-inch trays. Planting is a daily event that has slowly been developed to be more efficient over the course of two years through careful observation and experimentation.

What are some of the challenges specific to growing microgreens? What are the advantages? 

The greatest challenge to growing microgreens is growing microgreens. Just when you think you have it all figured out, some new problem will arise. Growing microgreens indoors is essential if you want to produce perpetually. However, growing indoors comes with its own difficulties, such as humidity, temperature, sufficient lighting, sufficient air flow. Any of these problems can mean the difference between a healthy tray or a dead tray. Sometimes you are graced with an ability to have a control group when experimenting, and other times it is impossible. If a control group is not in the cards, then any little change can be to the detriment of our entire crop, over one thousand trays at any given time.

The greatest advantage we have experienced with growing microgreens is the ability to grow vertical. Vertical growing allowed us to think of a 220-square-foot room as a 1600-cubic-foot room. A small product in high demand was exactly what we needed for our limited space.

What is a local food issue that is important to you, and what would you like to see done about it? 

I truly believe that one of the greatest problems that we face as a society is access and knowledge of the benefits to eating fresh, locally sourced food. There are already great programs like the Double-Up Food Bucks program that helps those on food assistance get quality local food. However, I would also like to see more food education for our youngest members of society. Our expected life expectancy has been going down and I believe that it is due in great part to the lack of food knowledge, the benefits of eating healthy, and the harm a poor diet can do to the body. Also, sourcing local food helps give a boost to the local economy.

Describe your perfect day off.

We are very blessed to have such supportive wives and children. Any time that we have away from work we like to spend with them.

What’s next for Urban Rebel Farms?

Urban Rebel Farms is moving into the production of edible flowers and baby vegetables, all grown indoors in veganic no-till beds, as well as further expansion of the production of microgreens. We started growing in a 1600-cubic-foot space and are now currently moving into 36,000-cubic-foot space. This will allow us to diversify our crops. Obviously, initially space was an issue. The future is bright and filled with many ideas that we know we can bring to fruition. It will just take a little time.

Is there anything else you would like to share with edible readers?

We would love to thank all of the edible community of New Mexico for supporting local growers. We could never grow without you.

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Edible celebrates New Mexico's food culture, season by season. We believe that knowing where our food comes from is a powerful thing. With our high-quality, aesthetically pleasing and informative publication, we inspire readers to support and celebrate the growers, producers, chefs, beverage and food artisans, and other food professionals in our community.