In an inconspicuous shipping container down by Heimaey’s harbour in Vestmannaeyjar, Einar Sigurður Einarsson conducts his work. Step inside the metal box and you are transported to a high-tech world of LED lights and trays upon trays of tiny plants. You’ll hear of Einar referred to as a ‘dealer’ in restaurant kitchens all over Heimaey, and while his workspace does give off some Breaking Bad vibes, what Einar does is completely legal—although perhaps unusual. Einar grows microgreens.
But what even is a ‘microgreen?’ “It’s just the first two leaves of a plant,” Einar explains succinctly. “The seeds have all the energy ready for the plant, and they put it into this first stage. All the minerals and vitamins are in there.”
It turns out that almost any edible plant or herb can be a microgreen. Dill, cress, coriander, mustard, basil—Einar grows them all, and supplies restaurants across the south of Iceland with trays of living greens to use for their dishes. “Restaurants always want tiny things,” he says. “Tiny salads, tiny carrots. It’s an aesthetic.”
But microgreens are more than just a pretty garnish. “You only need to eat 400 grams of microgreens compared with one kilo of broccoli to get the same level of nutrition,” says Einar.
He started out in this unique trade because of a friend, the late actor Stefán Karl Stefánsson. “I always say he’s the father of microgreens in Iceland,” Einar says. “When moved back home from the USA, he didn’t bring clothes in his bags, just microgreen seeds. He’d seen these types of plants in America and started to do some experiments with them, which led to the first microgreens company here.”
Stefán sadly died of cancer in 2018. A picture of him hangs in Einar’s grow lab, looking over the plants and the work Einar is continuing. “We’re trying to keep his ideas and visions alive,” Einar tells me.
Einar and his wife and Aldingróður business partner, Ingunn Þóra Einarsdóttir, aren’t Vestmannaeyjar natives, only moving to Heimaey four years ago. While they are happily settled, they do agree their location presents challenges.
“We didn’t know anyone when we first came here,” Einar says. “I always say we had just one plan, and that’s no plan,” he adds with a grin.
Ingunn jumps in to provide some correction: “We lived in Kopavogur, and we wanted to move away from all the traffic,” she clarifies.
“We were looking at Hveragerdi or Selfoss or Borganes, somewhere maybe one or two hours away from Reykjavik,” Einar continues.
“But we were also talking about Denmark, because I had been working there a lot as a gardener, so I was trying to get the family there. But I always say we went to the middle. Between Iceland and Denmark: Vestmannaeyjar.”
Once a week, Einar loads up his van with trays of fresh microgreens and takes the early morning ferry to the mainland, where he spends the whole day driving between different customers. “It’s not a complicated process to make microgreens,” he says. “But if you are going to have every tray perfectly ready at the right time every week—that’s a little more tricky.”
Despite managing this difficult balancing act, Einar sees growing microgreens—or anything for that matter—as being a beneficial process. “Microgreens take such a short time, it’s really nice,” he says. “It’s such a soul-friendly thing to do, and it’s so good for your wellbeing to have plants around.”
The Islanders is our series where we interview interesting people in Iceland about their unique lives. Know someone we should speak to? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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