Nisley’s Organic Sprouts | Homegrown, Organic Sprouts from Kalona, Iowa


BY KURT MICHAEL FRIESE

In 1998 James Nisly was “playing Mr. Mom” and remodeling his house outside of Kalona, when he became interested in the health benefits of sprouts. These are not the typical bean sprouts you’ll find in Chinese take-out, but homegrown, organic sprouts in a wide variety of flavors, textures, and colors that bring what James calls “the Goodness” to many salads, sandwiches, and entrees.

Nisly branched out from home “hobby” sprouting to providing sprouts for members of his church. Starting with only three varieties of sprouts, he gradually increased to a range of 12 different kinds, from sweet pea to arugula to popcorn sprouts. He also grows wheat grass, long the preference only of the granola-and-Birkenstock crowd, but now increasingly recognized for its health properties. The flavor of the straight juice from wheat grass can be a little overwhelming, but Nisly says that freezing it into cubes and then putting them in grape juice is an easy way for the novice to enjoy wheat grass’s many benefits.

Today his sprouts are available at four local grocery stores (such as New Pioneer Co-op) and 20 area restaurants (like Givanni’s & Devotay), and not just in salads. Iowa City’s Linn Street Café, for example, once used Nisly’s sprouts in a Salmon Sandwich with Smoked Bacon, Leaf Lettuce, Sprouts, and a Horseradish-Tomato Jam.

The health benefits of eating sprouts are undeniable. They may even improve the long-term health of children before they are born. A University of Saskatchewan study concluded that mothers who consume broccoli sprouts during pregnancy may provide “life-long protection against cardiovascular disease,” according to a research team led by Bernhard Juurlink. The study used pregnant rats to determine the benefits of sprouts in the mother, but found that it helped the offspring as well.

“We looked at the offspring up to six months later, and even on a normal diet, they were in better health than their mothers,” says Juurlink, a professor in the U of S anatomy and cell biology department.

Nisly’s interest in the health of his family sprouted into a profitable business, and into a healthy concern for the world around him as well. Through a program offered by Alliant Energy, 25 percent of the power James uses in his greenhouses is generated by the wind, and James is working to increase that percentage. He recently made the hefty investment necessary to switch to an ozonated water method of sanitizing the harvested sprouts, because it is better for the sprouts and better for the earth than using the much cheaper chlorine-based method.

His company’s name says it all: “Organic Greens.” Nisly’s sprouts are certified organic by the very strict standards of the Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA). The inspectors of OCIA verify that all standards and practices used at Nisly’s farm meet their very stringent code, which is in turn certified by the governing boards of five nations and the International Federation of Organic Movements. OCIA’s independent inspectors must themselves be certified following a rigorous training regimen.

Certification is not easy. Nisly must keep extremely accurate records of each and every step of the process. His seeds must be from certified organic sources, so most of what James uses comes from Jim Mumm of Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds in Parkside, Saskatchewan. Occasionally he sources seeds from the U.S. and E.U. as well. Each step of the sprouting process must be carefully documented, even the harvest, sanitizing, and sale of the product.

Is it all worth it? Nisly’s customers at those 20 restaurants think so, and so do their patrons. Nisly’s Organic Greens offer flavor, freshness, and nutrition not available in the ordinary mass-produced and shipped grocery store brands. Flavors like arugula, brown mustard, red cabbage, sunflower, and sweet popcorn sprouts bring a fresh liveliness to almost any dish.     

Is it all worth it? Nisly’s customers at those 20 restaurants think so, and so do their patrons. Nisly’s Organic Greens offer flavor, freshness, and nutrition not available in the ordinary mass-produced and shipped grocery store brands. Flavors like arugula, brown mustard, red cabbage, sunflower, and sweet popcorn sprouts bring a fresh liveliness to almost any dish.     

Kurt Michael Friese is co-owner of the Iowa City restaurant Devotay and Editor-in-Chief of the magazine Edible Iowa River Valley. He lives with his wife Kim in rural Johnson County. Comments may be directed to Kurt@EdibleIowaRiverValley.com.

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