Pocket Your Profits
With Creative Marketing:
Strengthens Family Farm, Sprouts Returns
by Jane Sooby
For "the price of a used tractor,"
Ken and Karla Disney of Lodgepole, NE, built a
food processing facility at their farm and
purchased a refrigerated delivery truck.
Sprouts - alfalfa, sunflower, clover, and a
"hot mix" of radish, cabbage, and
mustard sprouts - are the Disneys' main products,
but Ken plans to expand his product line to
include milled flours.
More and more farmers are finding creative
ways to process a commodity on the farm and then
sell it as food. This is called
"value-added" marketing, and gives
farmers greater control over the end-use and
marketing of their crops.
"It (the sprout business) has increased
our overall sales substantially, with a fraction
of that increase in expenses," said Ken.
Ken has a full-scale organic farming operation
as well as the sprouting business. He grows
amaranth, wheat, millet, oats, sweetclover,
sunflower, barley, and other crops. By
constructing the food processing facility, Ken
and Karla took the next step in controlling the
processing and sale of their crops.
"We're sprouting now, and we'll be
milling in the future," said Ken, who has a
small mill with which he can make many types of
flour using fresh organic grain. He and Karla
have also investigated numerous
industrial-strength popping machines with which
to pop amaranth grain. Popped amaranth can be
eaten as a cereal or pressed into snack-sized
cakes. Amaranth has a sweeter flavor and is
higher in protein than corn. Popped amaranth
cakes held together with honey are popular treats
The sprout business, using the brand name
Lodgepole Creek, has grown steadily over the 1«
years Ken and Karla have run it. "Our
primary customer is restaurants," said Ken.
"90% of the business goes to salad bars and
He has had some success in marketing sprouts
to conventional grocery stores, yet has built up
a faithful clientele through the four health food
stores in western Nebraska. Ken's white-bladed
wheatgrass leaves, made from sprouting hard red
winter wheat, are excellent for making wheatgrass
juice, which is considered a cleansing and
Merely soaking wheat seed in water for a few
days creates a value-added product, sprouted
wheat berries, that are a healthy snack food.
"They're sweet and chewy - better than Bacon
Bits," said Ken. Soaked lentils and peas
make satisfying "munchies," too.
Ken has experimented with many types of
sprouts, including buckwheat, pea, barley, and
amaranth. This last was inspired when Ken
described amaranth sprouts to Karla: "It has
a pretty, pink sprout that would look good in
salads." Despite their attractive
appearance, amaranth sprouts have a bitter
Ken and Karla demonstrated how sprout
production works. Small seeds are sprouted in a
large, rotating drum. Alfalfa, clover, and hot
mix seeds (mustard, cabbage, and radish) are
first soaked for 8-12 hours. This cleans the
seed, swells it, and initiates the germination
process. The drum consists of four 5' x 2'
quadrants, each served by a spray bar with four
nozzles. The drum slowly turns, making a complete
rotation about once every 5« hours. Seeds are
sprayed at intervals while they are turned in the
drum. Germination occurs within about 24 hours.
The sprouts are removed from the drum with a
long-handled spatula that closely resembles a
plastic oar. They are placed into tubs containing
water and the hulls are rinsed off. This improves
sprout shelf life and the appearance of the
sprouts. After rinsing, the sprouts are placed
into the spinner, which is a washing machine that
has been inspected and approved for this use. Ken
and Karla previously used a restaurant-sized
salad spinner to get excess water off of the
sprouts, but this process was labor-intensive and
didn't dry the sprouts adequately. Since starting
to use the "spin" cycle on their
special-use washing machine, the Disneys regained
some customers who had left because the sprouts
were too wet when spun by hand.
After the sprouts are spun for a few minutes,
they are fluffed, unclumped and packaged for
Large-seeded sprouts, like sunflowers, peas,
and wheat, are produced by first soaking the
seeds, then placing 1 lb. of seed into a tray.
The trays are placed on a rack, covered for 3
days, and watered twice daily. This helps even
out germination. The trays are then uncovered,
the sprouts allowed to grow, and after a few days
are harvested by hand. In the case of sunflower
sprouts, hulls must be picked off individually by
It takes 5 days to produce sprouts from small
seed and 11 days to produce sprouts from large
seed. All of the seed used for sprouting is