Dave Chalek has named the business Sprout Food and Farms, and that should tell you a lot about what’s going to be happening there. He is using the space that was occupied for decades by Pine Florist to sprout microgreens, those tiny bits of vegetation that pop up on plates in many of the better restaurants around here. Verona star chef Ariane Duarte is already trying some of Chalek’s microgreens at her restaurant, CulinAriane.
Chalek, who got his start in landscaping, also has plans for bigger greens–sometimes much bigger. He is growing tomatoes and other vegetables hydroponically, which means that the plant is getting everything it needs to thrive from water, and not soil. Hydroponic growing has been around for more than a century and it is entirely natural. The minerals that a plant needs are delivered directly through the water solution that surrounds its roots, and not filtered through soil.
No pesticides are needed and hydroponic plants can produce a lot of food much faster than conventionally grown plants. That can make them an ideal solution for growing in an area that has a lot of mouths to feed–like Verona–but not a lot of growing space (ditto). The hydroponic tomato and squash plants at Sprout are approaching the size of Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors and they are loaded.
If you like to grow your own food, Sprout can help there too. Starting today, Chalek will be having plants available for sale, such as organic and heirloom vegetables and flowers. By offering unusual varieties of tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers and more, he intends to complement other plant businesses in our area, like Hillcrest Farms. Plants will be available singly or in whimsical combinations that essentially put everything for a good pot of tomato sauce into one container. Chalek can help you set up a food garden in your own yard, and plans to offer instruction in some of the basics of surburban farming, like watering. “There is definitely a right way and a wrong way to water plants,” he says.
Don’t have a green thumb and don’t intend to grow one? Sprout can likely help there, too. Once the local fruit and vegetable season kicks in in June, Chalek hopes to sell fresh produce. Some will be from his own plants and some from farm friends that he has cultivated across the region.
Sprout is located at 82 Pine Street in Verona, and the easiest way to get there is to approach it from Depot Street, where West Essex Building Supply is. He’ll be operating on farmer hours–sun-up to sun-down–and while he hasn’t yet had time to grow his own Web site, it’s in the works.