“The business is multi-faceted,” said Dave Chalek, the man behind Sprout Food and Farm’s mission to bring fresh, local, sustainable produce to the area not just in the summertime but all the time.

This soon-to-be Verona resident plans to operate a produce market in the retail space up front while maintaining a greenhouse in back of the 82 Pine Street property. He’ll also run his current landscape design and organic garden care business out of the location, and he’ll do it all seven days a week 365 days a year.

For local residents and restaurants this means access to fresh, flavorful natural produce all year long. And Chalek’s garden is anything but garden variety.

He grows plants with such intriguing names as long Chinese noodle beans, dragon’s egg hydroponic cucumbers and ghastly hot ghost peppers. He also offers plenty of heirloom varieties – not just tomatoes – like the afore mentioned dragon’s egg cucumber which seeds are “passed down from generation to generation for hundreds of years.”

Customers can also pick up potted, mini-gardens-to-go created by Chalek for those who are garden-challenged or have limited space. Chalek does the hard work filling the pots with all the necessary ingredients to make a great salsa or sauce. Customers just add water. The pasta sauce pot includes tomato, basil and thyme while his salsa pot is planted with peppers, tomatoes and cilantro.

And that’s not the only mini thing he’s got growing. Sprout focuses on, well, sprouts. Harvested when “the first leaves pop out,” these micro greens are sought after by chefs and gourmands alike.

“They are packed with flavor,” Chalek exclaimed, noting his micro peas are particularly popular as are his micro herbs, which are at the peak of flavor when they first sprout.

Using the property’s original 1940’s Lord and Burnham glass greenhouse, which Chalek painstakingly restored when he took over the property, vegetable plants, herbs, flowers and micro greens can continue to flourish over the winter, but to provide a plentiful mix of diverse produce all year long Chalek has also partnered with like-minded farmers.

Selling other produce directly through Sprout allows Chalek to offer a wider array of fresh fruits and vegetables, and the partnerships also enable Chalek to expand his growing capacity. Through crop shares, Chalek is granted plots of farm land in exchange for a portion of the produce he yields.

Aside from direct sales at the market, Sprout will also act as a community sponsored agriculture or CSA site. As such Sprout will become the meeting point for farms delivering weekly grocery bags filled with the latest harvests and their customers who have bought farms shares, which provide them with the freshest fruit and vegetables available.

As with his own produce Chalek noted he only works with farms dedicated to using organic or conventional farming methods.

“Conventional farming uses same methods as organic farmers,” Chalek asserted, pointing out neither applies pesticides, petrochemicals or unnatural fertilizers.

“The whole point of being organic is not using chemicals and fertilizer,” Chalek stressed while explaining conventional farming uses the same practices. These farms, however, do not all bare the USDA Organic government stamp, which is why they cannot call themselves organic. More important than the label though, Chalek believes, is the relationship with the farmers themselves.

“One reason why local is better is because you know the farmers.” That relationship Chalek points out, allows customers to gain an understanding of how their crops are grown and learn exactly what goes into their food. That knowledge is the true benefit of buying local, according to Chalek.

While Chalek would love to supply his market with all locally grown produce, he admits when operating year round, it’s not possible.

“In winter people still want tomatoes,” he acknowledged, which is why as the seasons change he will source his produce from further away. But he’s committed to buying U.S. grown produce “farmed in a sustainable manner.”

“It’s still going to be the same,” Chalek emphasized, “and we give our guarantee that the food is grown properly.”

Sprout’s dedication to food grown the natural way means the market never sells any genetically modified produce (GMO’s). Although Chalek admits no one knows the exact repercussions of engineered food, he harbors concerns stemming from food allergy outbreaks and unintended interference with the functioning of the natural environment. GMO’s he said have been known to negatively impact insects, which are needed to pollinate crops, and have also caused cross-fertilization of non-genetically modified plants, destroying the plant’s seeds.

Along with fresh, healthy produce, the market will also carry local eggs, raw honey and raw cheese, which Chalek explained has not been pasteurized, a process that kills a lot of the healthy enzymes.

“It’s actually healthier for you.”

Epicurious people can check out the market for themselves at Sprout’s grand opening this Saturday from  10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Customers can meet the farmers, browse the wears of local artists, craftspeople and jewelers and sample grass-fed beef burgers, raw cheese and pickles all made in the great Garden State.

Sprout Farm and Food
82 Pine St.
Verona
(917) 232-2100