As students across Rhode Island and Massachusetts head back to school with new notebooks, folders, and pens tucked in their backpacks, some students at Holy Trinity School in Fall River are excited to make use of a different set of school supplies, including pruning shears, produce knives and clamshell to-go containers.
Trinity students from pre-K to middle school participate in the hydroponics program, where budding green thumbs tend to more than 25 varieties of microgreens. Launched in 2021, it’s become much more than a science lesson — it’s now a viable small business boasting an in-demand product, “Trinity Greens,” used by chefs across the region.
“I was hooked when I saw and tasted the quality of the microgreens,” said Peter Carvelli, chef/owner of Foglia in Bristol. At the award-winning restaurant, serving exclusively plant-based dishes, Carvelli adds Trinity Greens’ amaranth to his vegan cacio e pepe pasta, “which gives it a beautiful red pop,” he said, as well Bull’s Blood, a beet microgreen known for its striking magenta stem, red-veined green leaf, and earthy flavor.
Micro basil and Afila cress tendril microgreens, the latter touted for its concentrated flavor of sweet garden peas, are also among the chef’s favorites. “Microgreens, at least for me, are as important for their visual appeal as their flavor,” he said, and while there are myriad suppliers, Carvelli appreciates the ethos behind the student-grown greens. “I was immediately drawn to the idea that students are learning to grow produce and to learn about business.”
Kevin Flynn, the director of development and strategic planning at Holy Trinity School, spearheads the hydroponics project. Part of the parochial school’s STEM curriculum, students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade learn about growing and harvesting the microgreens in a subterranean 918-square-foot area with four racks growing the microgreen versions of daikon radishes, broccoli, cilantro, arugula, mustards, cantaloupe and more.
Flynn purposely sought out crops that were both low maintenance and that grow quickly, and microgreens are harvested shortly after the seedling stage. For the youngest students, this is especially satisfying. “Only eight days later do they have a plant that’s completely ready to harvest and send out,” he said.
Middle school students are offered the chance to get more involved and get their hands dirty by setting up the equipment, preparing the soil, planting the seeds, harvesting the microgreens, and weighing, packaging and labeling them all for delivery to eager chefs throughout the area. Flynn said Trinity Greens garners between $800 and $900 in sales every two weeks. Supplies used include seeds, coco coir, nutrients, food safe cleaning products, trays, storage containers and racks, lighting, gloves, and tools including pruning shears (or good kitchen scissors) and a flat produce knife.
Richard Allaire, chef/owner of Metacom Kitchen in Warren, was one of Trinity Greens’ earliest supporters. “It’s kind of come full circle, and now the kids are seeing the commerce end of it,” he said. “In the couple of years that we’ve been working together, they’ve been working on packaging and a logo and invoicing. It really has evolved.” Allaire, known for his exquisite culinary creations and inventive dishes, said Flynn is always open to feedback and willingly experiments with growing new microgreens based on his suggestions, resulting in Trinity Greens being the exclusive supplier of Metacom Kitchen’s microgreens.
Sometimes the chef uses microgreens as a sweet or spicy garnish, other times he pairs the microgreens with their conventional vegetable counterparts to pack an extra flavor punch. “Some of them are much more concentrated than others,” he explained. “Things that have a tendency to be more peppery, like wasabi and arugula, really add a lot, especially when you’re using a lot of things that are super delicate — raw fish like hamachi, or cured bass bellies, or anything like that. It really adds to the nuance and the finesse of a dish, more so than just making it look nice.”
Other restaurants that have become customers via Flynn’s grassroots (pun intended) marketing efforts include Brick Pizza Co., Bristol Oyster Bar, and Basil and Bunny; all in Bristol, Rhody Roots in Warren, Black Salt in Swansea, Roger Williams University’s Bon Appetit restaurant, Faneek’s in Fall River, and Diman Regional Vocational Tech High School’s Room 251 restaurant. But for chef Mike McNerney at The Aviary Restaurant in Swansea, using Trinity Greens is personal. McNerney has two stepsons at the school, one in sixth grade, the other in second. “When I go into the school to meet up with Kevin and discuss things with him, the little guy, he’s like, ‘Cool! Let me show you around!’ and he’s so proud to show off the microgreens,” McNerney said about his second-grader. From a business standpoint, the chef said Trinity Greens’ price points are competitive. “[Flynn] is beating everything. Typically, pricing, especially on the Bull’s Blood, is fairly high, and he’s given it to us well below what other vendors are offering,” said the chef.
While McNerney uses a regular rotation of microgreens weekly, Flynn introduces him to new varieties as well. “Whatever else he’s got cooking up in the mix! We did a micro corn vinaigrette with a scallop crudo. We did a spicy mustard greens vinaigrette on that with a swordfish dish… It’s just interesting, like micro cantaloupe. I had never heard of it.”
Flynn is proud of the caliber of chefs who have become customers, as are the students. “They’ll always ask me, ‘Mr. Flynn, where is this order going?’” and when Flynn tells them, he said they evoke a sense of pride.
For many students, growing microgreens is a welcome break during their school day, and for others, it’s become their hobby during morning care hours. “It’s great to have hands-on experience and it gives you a break from book work while also offering the benefits of nature inside,” said James Geiger, an eighth-grader at the school. For Faith Rocha, a seventh-grader, the experience has her thinking about her future. “It has taught me how to start the grow process, maintain, harvest and learn the business side so I may turn what I have learned into a career,” she said. And for others, “farming” has expanded their palates. Olivia Megna and Mia Cabral, both seventh-graders, said they have come to enjoy Bull’s Blood and wasabi microgreens, which they had never previously tasted.
As the school year continues, Flynn will be introducing new microgreen varieties to students — and chefs.
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly credited photos by Kevin Flynn of Holy Trinity School.