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Micro what? Perry County resident on a mission to share the benefits of micro-greens

John Hankins is shown in the sun room in his home just off US 98 in New Augusta where he grows some of the assortment of micro-greens he grows. The Colorado native-turned Perry County resident has made micro-greens a large part of his personal diet and is trying to help others learn their benefits by selling them to private customers and in local markets, and by sharing his knowledge with anyone who asks.
Photo by Russell Turner / Dispatch Editor

Dispatch Staff
If you haven’t seen them yet, it’s time to take a look, then a taste of fresh microgreens. They’re right in your own backyard, and they are packed with nutrition. One local farmer is hoping to educate the community on the benefits of these tiny versions of your big favorites, and he’s a testament to their value to your diet.

New Augusta resident John Hankins has been growing these nutrient packed microgreens for a little while now, and this Colorado transplant said adding these tiny plants into his diet has been lifechanging. Hankins moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. He worked as a volunteer for clean up then worked a few contracting jobs. He had been in Perry County, liked it and after a while decided he would settle here. Now, Hankins has embarked on a new journey that he said is worth sharing with others. Top Leaf Farms is something new in Perry County, and it’s the ‘Home of the Mighty Microgreens.’

Hankins’ venture into his microgreen farm came when he discovered he had to make a change for his health. His ophthalmologist told him he had macular degeneration, and without making some changes, it would progress. There is no cure, only a few treatments to slow the progression. Hankins knew the outcome of the disease and wanted to do something. His doctor suggested a southern favorite-greens.

“My mother had it (macular degeneration),” Hankins said. “I knew it was really bad news. I was able to witness the struggles associated with macular degeneration.”

“The doctor said I could try the injections in my eyes, and he told me to try greens. It might slow things down. I told him I was from Colorado. We don’t grow greens.”

The doctor couldn’t tell Hankins how the greens worked, but studies showed they could help slow the progression of the disease. He also had diabetes, which a better diet would help control. He came home and got to work learning about growing greens. When he came across information on microgreens, the information drew his attention and he had to learn more.

“When I discovered microgreens, I could see there was a huge benefit from the nutritional standpoint,” Hankins said. “When the plants are about four inches tall, there’s a lot of benefit. All of it grows from the seed.”

“All that resonated with me and made me think it might not be a bad idea for me to try.”

It was investment that was worth it, Hankins said. When he returned to his eye doctor several months after incorporating the microgreens into his diet, Hankins said his macular degeneration had improved. Not only that, the diabetes had also improved. He felt better and got up to do more.

“My doctor asked me what I was doing,” Hankins said. “He said there was nothing wrong with my maculas. I told him I had been eating microgreens.”

“He asked ‘what are microgreens?’”

Hankins said most people don’t know about microgreens or the nutrition they provide, and his doctor wanted to downplay their part in his improvement. Another doctor was skeptical as well, he said, but it’s because of that he wants people to know about these tiny little plants that can be added to so many dishes easily. So, what are microgreens?

Microgreens are actually the food you already eat, just tiny in size. Microgreens are greens that are harvested while they are immature, usually within a week to two weeks after seed germination. Cabbage, beets, radishes, various lettuces, broccoli, peas, and believe it or not, even sunflowers. There are nearly 100 types and varieties of microgreens. When the greens are cut at this early stage, they contain their highest amount of nutrition, like vitamin C and antioxidants. They contain high amounts of beta-carotene that help make healthy eyes and vitamin K that helps with the body’s blood and bones. For Hankins, it was easy to add them to his diet.

“I’ll make me an omelet and add the greens to it, and ham and cheese,” Hankins said. “If I want a hamburger, I add micro-onions to it, and oh, they are so good. I haven’t changed the way I eat, just added microgreens to it.”

“I came home from the doctor really excited and started eating more. The VA had me on 20 something medications. I threw them in the trash.”

Hankins said he is diabetes free and free of macular degeneration. He thought many of his ailments were just old age, but he said nutrition plays a big part in how you feel.

For an 80-year-old man, he said he’s doing well. While the doctors might not give the microgreens much credit, he knows it has made a difference.

“I just want people to know I’m here and what I’m doing,” Hankins said. “I want to educate people on microgreens.”

People around the community may not be sure about what he’s doing or what microgreens are, but he’s more than happy to answer questions. Growing the microgreens is something that has been beneficial to his life, and it happened by chance. He welcomes the community to visit and take home some microgreens to put in their salads, smoothies, pastas, chicken, pork, eggs and the list goes on.

“I just want people to know the benefits are phenomenal,” Hankins said.

If you want to learn more about Top Leaf Farms and the benefits of microgreens, look him up on social media visit his farm.

Micro-green farmer John Hankins, of New Augusta, is shown checking on some greens in one of his dehydrators. Hankins dehydrates his micro-greens at very low temperatures for longer periods to better preserve the nutritional value in the dried product.
Photo by Russell Turner / Dispatch Editor

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