Recipe for success? Philosophy students advise London food start-up

Recipe for success? Philosophy students advise London food start-up

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It turns out in the battle against the so-called freshman 15, microgreens could provide some ammunition.

That is according to Western University student Kyla Coutts, a third-year student enrolled in a philosophy of food course.

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“I like to call it the freshman 30 because I don’t think most of us just gain 15 pounds when we come to university,” she said. “We’re having to feed ourselves for the first-time ever and we are having to buy our groceries and everything like that.”

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As part of their studies, students developed a marketing strategy for Forest City Microgreens.

Last week, they presented their results to Santiago Ramirez, co-owner of Forest City Microgreens, who started the company after becoming unemployed during COVID-19.

Santiago Ramirez
Santiago Ramirez, co-owner of Forest City Microgreens in downtown London, carries a tray of the young seedlings of edible vegetables. Photo taken on Feb. 17, 2022. (Derek Ruttan/The London Free Press)

Coutts’s team focused on using social media to market the nutritious microgreens to the young adult demographic, including the 11 per cent who are students at Western.

“(Social media) is where university students get their entertainment and a lot of information as well,” she said.

Students would find Forest City Microgreens appealing because the company focuses on transparency and is a family operation, limiting the possibility of labour exploitation, Coutts said.

Vertical farming methods conserve water by recirculating and reusing it. As well, the baby vegetables are grown without pesticides in soil sourced from The Wormery at the Western Fair District.

And then, there are the health benefits. Microgreens offer four to six times the nutrients of mature plants.

“I don’t think a lot of university students have microgreens in their everyday diet,” Coutts said. “We’re resorting to carb-heavy meals. The thing about microgreens is you only need a little bit to get the benefits that they have. You can add them to smoothies, scrambled eggs, potatoes. The same way you would eat spinach.”

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Benjamin Hill, an associate professor who teaches the course, said philosophy of food is about “taking the food system and our relationship to food, and viewing it through the lens of philosophical reflection.

“We have certain values that lie at the core of our identity and who we are and often those values are tied into traditions around food and food-related issues,” he said.

“I focus in on issues of convenience, cost and sustainability. The values surrounding sustainability are important to me in my class,” Hill said.

Students have been working on the marketing project all term, he said, using the idea of sustainability to better connect with a younger demographic.

“They used that as a way to leverage interest in the younger generation who might be more sensitive to sustainability issues with regard to food systems,” Hill said.

Forest City Microgreens offers about a dozen different types of microgreens and blends, grown under LED lights in a controlled environment and harvested when they are young and small, Ramirez said.

“The beauty of microgreens is that in the baby stage they have up to 100 times more antioxidants than an adult plant,” he said. “It is considered a super food for that reason.”

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