Lowell Student Launches Microgreens Business

When David Johnston signed up for an agriscience class during his freshmen year at Lowell High School, he had no idea that the course would eventually lead to him launching his own agricultural business.

And yet, that’s exactly what happened. Thanks to a love of plants — sparked by that freshman class — David now operates Céva Farm. It uses hydroponics and aquaponics to grow a variety of greens, including kale, several lettuce varieties and microgreens.

Now a senior, David is an active part of the Lowell High School FFA, takes classes at Kent Career Technical Center for sustainable agriculture and looks forward to continuing his education through an agribusiness program offered jointly by Montcalm County Community College and Michigan State University.

But it all started with a single class.

Gateway to Business: Agriscience Biology

The aquaponics system at Céva Farm.

Taught by Kevin Nugent, agriscience biology is offered at Lowell High School as an alternative to regular biology.

“In the class, we explore a little bit of plants, a little bit of animals and a little bit of natural resources while covering the biology curriculum,” Nugent explains.

While he could do without the animals, David says it was the plant side of the class that really captured his imagination. “I found out that plants don’t bite,” he quips.

The agriscience biology class makes use of the Wittenbach Wege Center, including two greenhouses there. Inside one, Nugent had hydroponics and aquaponics equipment, but it was largely unused.

“This (greenhouse) sits basically empty for three quarters of the year,” Nugent says. So when David – who by this time had experimented with a mini hydroponics system at home – expressed an interest in a larger operation, it made perfect sense to allow him to use the dormant equipment and greenhouse.

However, this wasn’t charity. “We worked out a deal where he pays rent to use the facility and equipment,” Nugent explains.

The greenhouse is now teeming with greens and has an aquaponics tank that supports both goldfish and plants. “Everything you see is a result of his hard work,” Nugent says. “It’s pretty impressive to see how he’s (gone) from that freshman class to senior year.”

Nugent adds that this is the goal of career tech programs: to inspire students and help them see career paths they may not have previously considered.

Céva Farm: Growing Greens and Microgreens

Large greens at Céva Farm are grown hydroponically.

David is enthusiastic about showing how his aquaponics equipment works. He has a large tank that contains goldfish and then small plants float on the water’s surface.

“It’s like a mini ecosystem,” he says. “The plants live off the water, and the fish live off the plants.”

Once the plants are large enough, they are moved to a hydroponics area in which they continue to grow without soil. David has experimented with various greens and found success with bibb lettuce, kale, romaine lettuce and oak leaf lettuce, among others.

He also has a variety of microgreens growing, and those have been more challenging to perfect. The process for growing microgreens is fickle and involves keeping the plants in the dark and weighing them down with a brick at one point.

Early on, David discovered that it didn’t take much to kill the microgreens. “I saw sprouts, was so excited and over fertilized them,” he recalls of one early failed attempt.

Microgreens at Céva Farm.

However, he has since been able to successfully harvest a variety of microgreens including arugula, chive, cilantro, alfalfa, radish and more. David notes that microgreens can have a different flavor profile from regular greens – arugula microgreens are spicy, for instance – and that they are rich in minerals. He suggests adding them to salads and soups for added flavor and nutrition.

Céva Farm uses only organic fertilizers and growing methods, and David dreams of being able to cultivate Venus fly traps to naturally control any insects that make their way into the greenhouse.

In a few months, David will graduate from Lowell High School as one of the only students there to receive a state FFA degree along with his diploma. When asked about his future plans, he says he is looking forward to learning more at the college level that will help support his business: “I’d like to take this as far as I can.”

To learn more about Céva Farm, follow its Facebook page. When greens and microgreens are available for purchase, David posts on social media. Items can be picked up from his porch or delivery can be arranged.

1 Comment

  1. Yet one more reason (not that I need any more) to love, love LOVE Lowell’s First Look. Where else would you find out about David Johnston and Ceva Farm. How else can we learn more about buying and supporting local, and keeping our local economy locally driven. Thank you for sharing this piece on David’s efforts.

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