Jace Baart isn't afraid to try anything.
Before he opened his organic urban farm Microgreens Ottawa, the Ottawa entrepreneur worked close to 60 jobs and three careers including selling computers for IBM, real estate and pop for Pepsi. He also did renovations, landscaping, drove a transport truck, worked in telemarketing and rep-ed for an airline and a car rental agency.
His life in sales was on track until 2013 when he realized he needed to do something completely different, something meaningful, something good for the planet.
“Everything I tried, I liked, but it didn't hold my interest long-term,” Baart explains. “I didn't find the work fulfilling at all. It was a means to an end. I wanted to find something that would make a difference, make my corner of the world a better place.”
The lightbulb of insight went off after he saw a documentary about organic farming and microgreens, vegetables and herbs organically grown indoors hydroponically. It was to be the wave of the future. So, in addition to scratching his altruistic itch, it looked like a golden opportunity to get in on the ground floor to an up-and-coming industry.
“It made sense,” Baart recalls. “I kept reading about food security, food cleanliness as the way of the future. After all, you can have everything motoring along great, but if you don't have food, you're in trouble.”
After years of growing and experimenting in his basement grow-op, Baart finally opened his Microgreens Ottawa store in 2019. Located at Heron at Bank, he sells 51 varieties of greens and herbs; including cabbage, broccoli, arugula, Cinnamon basil, dill, beets, kale, mustard, chard, rapini and many others. Eaten raw, the flavours are rich, concentrated and intensely delicious. The curly press bites back like horseradish and pepper, the pea is slightly sweet and fresh. The Black Mustard is hot and sugary. Popcorn sprout tastes naturally sweet, like corn, but different.
Sampling microgreens is an experience similar to tasting wine. Intoxicating. It's no idle boast when Baart says, “Once you try my microgreens, going to the grocery store for veggies doesn't cut it anymore.”
More importantly, microgreens are, according to Baart, 40 times more nutritious than regular vegetables and contain no chemicals whatsoever.
Microgreen Ottawa's sells most of the 50 lbs. It produces every week to hotels and restaurants around town, catering companies, the House of Commons, the National Gallery of Canada, the National Arts Centre and five embassies.
In 2020, a local grocery chain approached Baart with an offer to carry his microgreens in their stores. He declined.
“The problem is that the product has to be fresh to be delicious and nutritious,” Baart explains. “Not sitting on a shelf for two weeks. Here in the store, everything is fresh.”
In its third year, Microgreens Ottawa is continuing to grow from the niche market and into the mainstream. At his current rate, Baart would like to open a second store in the new year. Beginning in December, he's offering class in cooking with microgreens. You'll find details on the website www.microgreensottawa.com
“I'm having a great time being an entrepreneur,” he says. “It's putting all of my previous jobs, all those different skill sets together to run a business I am proud of. The most important skill is leadership. To be a good leader, you have to work for your staff, ensure they have everything they need to make sales and enjoy working here. You don't have to be a tyrant in order to get ahead.”
His advice to anyone starting their own business?
“Don't be afraid to fail,” he says. “The problem with success is that you don't learn anything. You only learn from failure. Failure is the best teacher.”