Microgreens and more at Urbana

photos by Sophie Putka and Rebbekka Tynan

Growing under one warehouse roof in Albuquerque, in the soft glow of electric lights, are plants with names reminiscent of an enchanted garden. You’ll find Mizuna, Bull’s Blood Beet and Antonet Lolla Rosa; Tatsoi, Cegolaine Gem, and Red Veined Sorrel. Almost – but not quite – magically, Rebbekka and Ryan Tynan have launched Urbana, the product of two years of preparation and Albuqeurque’s first urban, aquaponic micro farm. Now, chefs and adventurous home cooks across town can enjoy the benefits of microgreens grown sustainably and locally.

Rebbekka Tynan first dreamt up the idea for a more efficient way to farm after reading an article in the LA Times about a struggling migrant worker. Rebbekka took the story to heart, reflecting on the difficult conditions for farm workers in the US, and began to research alternative ways to farm. After she and her husband, Ryan, battled through a host of government regulations, licensing and start-up costs, they were finally able to install growing beds, lights and a water system in their North Valley commercial space.

The Tynans have over eight varieties of lettuce, and at least a dozen types of microgreens available to their customers, which include shoppers at local farmer’s markets in addition to some top-notch restaurants, including Artichoke Cafe and Farm & Table. The tiny greens make a delicate and crunchy addition to freshly prepared dishes, and according to a study by the US Department of Agriculture, can pack five times as many nutrients into a tiny package as their full-grown counterparts.

The secret to the multitude of baby vegetables is aquaponic farming, a technique wherein a two-pump water system recycles water through large tanks and into beds on which float trays of plants. The tanks contain fish – tilapia, in this case – and the fish discard waste containing nutrients that the plants thrive on. The plants, in turn, filter clean water back into the fish tanks. Ryan Tynan said that when Rebbekka first introduced the idea to him, he was in disbelief. “I said, ‘you can’t do that! You can’t float lettuce on water, it doesn’t work that way!’” Five years later, and the pair have grown hundreds of plants and big plans.

According to the Urbana website, aquaponics on a local scale has a number of advantages – it saves on transportation costs, preserves land, and eliminates the need for pesticides and herbicides. Rebbekka cited a few more benefits of aquaponic farming over traditional farming, including improved climate control, faster growing rates, and water conservation. And in the light of growing food insecurity, she says, “This is going to be the only way we’re going to be able to feed ourselves in 50 years. It’s going to be huge.”

The Tynans hope to ramp up their operation in the future, telling me, “We want to be able to be able to do five times this, producing more for lower-income families and restaurants across the board that want their stuff to be fresh.” Look for their microgreens, including the popular sunflower shoots, pea shoots and micro scallions, at the Downtown Grower’s Market and the Rail Yards Market.

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Sophie Putka is a Massachusetts transplant in love with New Mexico. She writes, makes lattes, and haunts Albuquerque eateries in search of a good bagel. She can usually be found in the kitchen trying to use up as many leftovers as possible and plotting her next adventure.