Couple behind micro herbs business share their secrets on how their produce is now on chef’s top tables

DID you hear the one about the dentists that turned over a new leaf?

It sounds like the lead-up to a punchline but a Moore couple have gone from putting smiles on people’s faces in the dentist’s chair to top tables at restaurants.

Urban cultivators Jan and Kevin Dobbs create micro herbs and micro leaves in high tech and climate controlled growing rooms in a large barn next to their Dental Academy in Daresbury.

They go from seed to plate in about two weeks so the greens pack a punch of taste and goodness when they are delivered to chefs.

Jan, Kevin and their team of five at Growing@Field28 can have up to 1,500 plant trays on their tables at any one time.

They first germinate in a dark, humid room before going to the growing rooms where LED lights mimic sunshine and fans provide air movement.

Now they are celebrating a year since their first order which was to Aiden Byrne when he was at 20 Stories.

Jan said: “The chefs really want to have a perfect product.

“Often they have to buy it cut, like you would get in a shop.

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“By then it’s two or three days old but if we send them a tray it’s still alive.

“They can cut it as they want it so they get the freshest product to go on their dishes.

“You see all of the fine dining dishes and things on Master Chef and things like that and it’s all that kind of work they’re using these for.

“It’s just gorgeously fresh and has lovely flavours and when the chef takes it to the plate it hasn’t started to degrade.”

Jan and Kevin work closely with around 20 chefs.

Some of the restaurants they work directly with include La Boheme in Lymm, The Art School Restaurant in Liverpool, Chef’s Table in Chester and Hypha, a new vegan dining experience in Chester.

Jan added: “We feel really proud to be doing this and we try to work closely with the chefs to get them exactly what they want such as making the leaves a bit smaller or a bit larger.

“It’s about tailoring things to their needs as they all like things a little bit differently.”

They have also teamed up with a distributor to send their micro herbs and leaves to a wider network of north west pubs and restaurants and supply to Hollies Farm Shop in Stretton so members of the public can see what difference their scientific methods make.

This is something they want to do more of in the future by selling at the likes of artisan markets.

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But the leaves and herbs will only travel within a 35-mile radius for an emphasis on freshness and provenance.

Jan said: “It’d be nice to do some markets nearby so people can see it’s just come a couple of miles down the road which is really what we feel about The Hollies which is just two and a half miles away.

“It’s just lovely to think people can buy that rather than something that’s come over from Spain or Italy in the winter.”

Thousands upon thousands of seeds each week are used to grow around 70 varieties of herbs and leaves with around 50 growing at any one time.

Jan added: “It’s amazing how many different varieties of things there are that you can grow so tiny and yet get that flavour.

“I love amaranth because it looks pretty – it’s really red – and my favourite taste is probably the rocket.

“It’s so sweet in comparison to what you get in the supermarket.

“We’ve had some great feedback. The chefs love working with it and lots of people will use social media to say they really enjoyed it from The Hollies.

“We’re really busy and we’ve got a really successful dental practice but we had this field and we really felt we needed to do something with it.

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“We both love fresh produce and growing and my ancestors were market gardeners so it feels like it’s in the blood somewhere.

“We’re building a team to help us and everyone’s really knowledgeable about what they do.

“Growing is becoming more and more popular on TV and people like growing their own veg so hopefully we’ll find more people who are as passionate as we are.

“It’s mixing old with the new really. We’re using technology to help us to get that perfect product so we don’t have to use biocides and pesticides.

“The most exciting thing is that journey from seeing the plants come through and then see it sold and sent out.

“We send them out in bread baskets and they’re all laid out with different varieties, however the chef’s chosen them. They just look amazing really.”

And the team are not stopping there with big plans in bloom for 2019.

Jan said: “We’ve perfected some indoor growing and now we’re ready to do some outdoor growing so we’re looking to have some baby veg. So instead of the big veg we see in the supermarkets we want to have really beautiful heritage baby veg going back to the old fashioned, really tasty vegetables.

“They’ll be starting to grow in the next few weeks.”

From a side project to a full fledged business, Growing@Field28 has come a long way since October 2017 when Jan and Kevin began to develop the site with the help of a consultant, who still visits them once a week.

Jan added: “It’s been a massive investment in time as much as anything but we can see things moving forward. We intend to grow.”