Rob Epple and Rachel Shemenski grow microgreens at their hydroponic farm based in Cape Coral.
You likely don’t think much about microgreens in your meal. Maybe they’ve been a garnish on your plate, or perhaps you’ve had a salad filled with shoots of arugula or Swiss chard. It’s just one part of a meal— but for Florida MicroGreens and owners Rob Epple and Rachel Shemenski, it’s become a big part of a thriving business.
Florida MicroGreens is unique for the area: It’s an urban vertical hydroponic farm based in Cape Coral. That means all the growing happens indoors, with trays of microgreens grown on shelves then distributed to restaurants and caterers throughout Southwest Florida.
Also the owner of a video production company, Epple had spent years playing around with hydroponics, or growing plants in nutrient-rich water rather than soil. The farm-to-table movement was catching on, and people were looking for locally sourced food. Typically, restaurants get microgreens shipped in from California, and they only last a couple days after opening their plastic clamshell. But growing locally means they can be delivered quicker and stay fresh for days longer, he said. By 2016, Epple and Shemenski saw the business opportunity, and soon were delivering to dozens of restaurants in Southwest Florida.
Like anyone in the food and beverage business, Florida MicroGreens had to take a step back during the pandemic as restaurants shuttered and cut costs. They’ve shifted into teaching; hosting classes at their hydroponic farm and even organizing a kids’ summer camp that emphasizes the science behind growing plants. They also have plans to expand outside of the area, with a 5,000-square-foot facility in Tennessee where they can farm and host additional classes and camps.
They found that their real joy in their work comes from teaching. “We wanted to do something more than just grow— we wanted to educate people in something that’s environmentally friendly,” Epple says. “It’s our way of giving back.”