These brothers grew a tasty new business in lockdown
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
Before I start, I have to admit something. I have a love-hate relationship with greenery. I don’t mean the likes of cabbage or sprouts...I’m talking about the floppy, sad-looking vegetation that often gets strewn across plates in restaurants for ‘decoration’.
But there are two sides to this story. At worst, offenders will drape every single dish with these ‘nuisance’ items. No, I don’t want parsley and pea shoots on my starter, main course and dessert thankyou very much.
At best, however – and used correctly – tiny fronds of baby veg or herbs can utterly enhance a dish. And therein lies the point. Anything that goes on a plate has to be there for a reason. A snippet of micro coriander or micro basil truly can elevate a lime sorbet, or lemon tart.
Miniscule flecks of chopped chive will bring allium sweetness to a dish without overpowering.
Borrowers-sized brassica shoots can usher in a whoosh of mustard (delightful on cheese on toast).
Done well, and in the right hands, these things can be a force for good in the kitchen.
Which brings me, in a long-winded way, to the Woodbridge-based GRO bros Doug and Matt Witts.
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Raised in Kent, Doug and Matt spent many family holidays in Suffolk in childhood, with their family relocating to the county nearly 20 years ago, and the duo both permanently moving here in 2016.
Doug’s background is in horticulture and hospitality – having studied at Otley College. While Matt has spent the majority of his career working as an architectural designer.
As is the case for many new businesses, GRO bros was spawned during the pandemic, after years of Doug expressing an interest in growing and selling micro herbs.
They began with a one-bedroom flat and a small polytunnel in the garden selling five types of herbs at Framlingham Market. Today, in the space of a year, they can boast a dedicated workshop in Saxtead where they grow and package more than 40 types of teeny tiny herbs and micro veg for markets and wholesale customers. And their products are not just for salads and sandwiches, Doug explains.
“Micro herbs have incredible health benefits, and give dishes a great boost of colour and flavour. For us, they should sit comfortably alongside the salt, pepper and olive oil on your kitchen worktop, and be used in as many day-to-day dishes as possible.”
Doug really has become an expert in his field when it comes to micro herbs, says Matt. “He tends to the products every day of the week with the care, love and attention they deserve. The whole growing process varies slightly between varieties, but it generally takes seven to 10 days from sowing to propagation and growth.
“It’s these early leaves which give you the maximum benefits. Each micro herb contains around 40 to 50 times more vitamin and mineral content per gram compared to their fully-grown counterpart.”
Everything is raised under grow lamps in a controlled environment, enabling the brothers to be in production year-round. And the way Doug grows the herbs ensures they can be sold live to be harvested at home or in a professional kitchen.
“The root ball is so well developed in a short time,” says Matt, “that it makes a robust plant out of something which in itself is delicate, and will ‘cut and come again’ with just a little care and fresh water added to the bottom tray.”
The collection is varied. With all products sold in generous tubs, guaranteeing a second growth within a couple of weeks of your first harvest.
Favourites of Matt and Doug’s include the several micro radishes, with varying levels of heat – they say ideal to pair with red meat.
Sunflower shoots have been very popular with customers, who add them to vegetable-based dishes and salads for a satisfying crunchy with nutty tones.
A mix of alfalfa and fenugreek shoots combine well with micro coriander to pep-up curries.
And there’s even a list of micro herbs, developed alongside Mike Warner of A Passion for Seafood, especially to complement fish, including micro chervil. “It’s beautiful with crab or lobster,” adds Matt, going on to talk about the eco-credentials of the business.
“We strive to be as circular as possible. All of the seeds used in production are sourced from East Anglia, and the compost is provided by a local company only a stone’s throw away.”
The duo have recently invested in equipment to produce their own reusable wooden trugs from sustainably sourced plywood, and regular customers are encouraged to bring back their trugs for refill prices, cutting out single-use packaging in the process.
"We would love to power our entire process and operation using solar panels and to harvest and use rainwater,” says Matt, talking of aspirations for the future, and explaining that they currently reuse all the plastic seed trays returned to them, and are researching a company in the Netherlands that’s developing trays made of organic waste.
“Ultimate GRO bros wants to be plastic-free.”
Find the herbs at Framlingham Market, Wyken Farmers’ Market, Grange Farm in Haskeston, and Snape Maltings.
What do GRObros...grow?
The long list includes micro:
China rose radish
Spicy salad mix