A few blocks away from what will become Madison's first aquaponics farm, another kind of farm has opened, specializing in microgreens, juices and smoothies.
TJ DiCiaula and P.T. Bjerke co-own SuperCharge Foods Wellness Center, Urban Farm and Juice Bar, which has its grand opening on Saturday at 1902 E. Washington Ave. The building used to be home to Tranquil Tattoo and a cat tree shop called Cat Climberz.
Now, it’s a juice bar serving juices and smoothies named for Madison neighborhoods, a place to grow microgreens and, the owners hope, a new kind of community gathering place.
The storefront at the corner of East Washington Avenue and First Street is the first for SuperCharge Foods. For six years, the owners have grown primarily pea shoots, sunflowers and wheatgrass for local restaurants and grocery stores.
Bjerke and DiCiaula founded SuperCharge in a house on East Dayton Street, near East High School.
“We started in a bedroom, expanded to the attic and built a greenhouse in the backyard,” said Bjerke.
More recently, SuperCharge has begun growing “mini-micros,” their nickname for even smaller microgreens of basil, radish, arugula, cilantro, beets, sorrel, chervil, chard, lettuces and scallions.
“It’s a living vitamin," Bjerke said. "The plants we grow, they're very nutrient dense."
Microgreens are more nutritious ounce per ounce than a fully grown plant or fruit, Bjerke said. SuperCharge’s growing process uses ocean minerals, Himalayan salt and rock dust to deliver minerals through water to the plants.
The greens are grown in 10-inch by 20-inch trays, and everything is done manually. During each two week grow cycle, 130 trays are growing under lights, with 80-90 trays in the germination phase.
Instead of dirt, SuperCharge uses shredded coconut hulls which acts as a placeholder for the plant’s roots. Minerals are delivered through water, so it's a soil-less system, similar to hydroponics.
"We can grow an amazing amount of food in a small space with a small amount of labor," Bjerke said. "It's a really efficient process."
Among the restaurants SuperCharge serves are A Pig in a Fur Coat, Graze and L'Etoile, and La Brioche True Food. They've worked with Grampa's Pizzeria in the past and are featured at the sushi bar at Metro Market on Cottage Grove Road.
The greens are available to buy at the Willy Street Co-op, Jenifer Street Market, Whole Foods, the east side Hy-Vee and Sun Prairie Woodman's. The company hopes to expand to other Woodman’s locations and Whole Foods soon.
At the juice bar, Bjerke said, “we can highlight the greens we grow on site, which are not just flavorful but really, really good for you."
All of the juices and smoothies on the bar’s six-drink early menu are named for nearby neighborhoods. Prices range from $5-6 for a 12-ounce juice or smoothie, to $7-8 for 16 ounces.
Shots of wheatgrass cost $2-3, and there are plans for add-ons like sunflower shoots and bee pollen.
According to juice bar manager Jamaal Stricklin, the most popular juice so far is the Tenney, a vibrant bright orange juice made from orange, carrot, pineapple, lemon, ginger and turmeric. People can’t believe the color, Stricklin said.
A green juice, the Marquette, is made with kale, spinach, green apple, celery, cucumber, sunflower microgreens, lemon, lime, ginger and parsley.
Stricklin, who joined SuperCharge Foods about a year ago, developed many of the recipes during a juice fast in November 2014. The Marquette, he said, was his and Bjerke’s "breakfast juice." They had the Tenney for lunch.
"It was a wake up punch in the face," Stricklin said. "By day three of not eating any food, we needed a good energy boost."
Among the smoothies, the Atwood is relatively sweet, made with pineapple, orange, banana, strawberry, sunflower and almond or soy milk.
The Eken is Stricklin's favorite, with blueberry, blackberry and aronia berry as well as maple syrup.
There's also one green smoothie, the Worthington, which has kale, spinach, banana, sunflowers, pineapple, green grapes, parsley, ginger and apple juice.
Bjerke envisions SuperFoods new public location as a community center as well as a café. The rooms have been decorated using sacred geometry, with vibrating tones you can hear as you walk through the space and crystals, like amethyst and quartz, employed to “harmonize” the environment.
“It’s part of our bigger vision of expanding ourselves into the community. On the east side you have such diversity, with income and ethnicity.”
"The juice bar is the front of the house, but it's not the most important thing in the business," Stricklin added. "Our microgreens are what drives the business, getting nutrient dense food into the hands, the mouths and the bellies of people who feel like they don't have other options."
SuperFoods wants to work with community groups and schools, offering tours and lectures or space for a yoga class.
"People go oh, a juice bar, I could use some juice," Stricklin said. "And then they come in and learn more about what we're doing here.
“You'll come in curious and wanting a smoothie, and you'll leave with more knowledge.”