When we hear “Buy Local,” we often think of farms with animals grazing on hillsides, acres of tomato or bean plants, or maybe apple orchards with trees heavy with fruit. But what about a local produce item that’s grown entirely and exclusively indoors?

As I sat having a delicious wrap that featured alfalfa sprouts; I decided it was time to pay a visit to Sunny Creek Farm in Tryon, North Carolina. Sunny Creek Farm is the largest sprout provider in the Southeast and proudly proclaims that they are celebrating its “…20th year of safe sprouts … we have not had a recall on a product.”

Sunny Creek sprouts can be found in the produce section at your local Ingles Markets as well as restaurants throughout North Carolina. Ingles Markets has been buying sprouts from Sunny Creek Farms for almost 20 years.

It’s a short trip from Spartanburg or Asheville to Tryon, nestled in mountain foothills between North Carolina and South Carolina. I drove up a dirt road to the buildings that house Sunny Creek Farm to meet Ed Mills, CEO, and Lee Ewing, president of Sunny Creek Farm. Both are extremely vigilant when it comes to food safety off their sprouts and have instilled that same level of care and attention for the products in the workers that work in the buildings. Their facility in Tryon exceeds Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements for safety in terms of testing their seeds and sprouts.

Here are a few things I learned as I toured their facility:

1. Safe Seeds — The seeds for their sprouts are sourced worldwide from reputable companies. I saw bags of seeds from the United States as well as from China and Italy.

2. Sanitize Before Starting — Before they attempt to begin the sprouting process, seeds are put into a sanitizing agent and then rinsed again to remove any trace of that sanitizing agent.

3. Swabbing Surfaces — Surfaces in the facility like tables and growing tanks are randomly tested for listeria, e.coli 0157, and salmonella.

4. Safety of Sprouts — The sprouts are grown, and then not released from the Sunny Creek’s facility until they are tested to make sure there is no detectable harmful bacteria (e.coli 0157, salmonella or listeria).

5. Safety On-Site – Sunny Creek employs their own microbiologist who works in a lab on the property. Samples are tested in the lab and must meet their strict standards for safety before the packages of sprouts can be released for transport to retailers and restaurants.

Some of the other interesting things I learned at Sunny Creek Farm:

• The University of Tennessee at Knoxville has sent a video crew to record the growing, testing and handling practices at Sunny Creek. This video is used by the USDA to train inspectors that check sprout farms across the United States.

• Bean sprouts are grown in darkened rooms so photosynthesis doesn’t occur — otherwise your bean sprouts would be green instead of white!

• In addition to the many varieties of sprouts Sunny Creek grows and sells to retailers like Ingles Markets, co-ops and restaurants, they also work with local farmers as a food hub. Sunny Creek contracts with local farmers to sell their locally grown produce and then transports this produce across the Southeast.

Knowing the care and attention that Sunny Creek Farm puts into growing sprouts I have no fears about consuming them in a sandwich or on a salad.

What’s your favorite way to use sprouts? On a sandwich? In a wrap? As part of a salad?

Talk to Leah: Leah McGrath is the corporate dietitian for Ingles Markets. Follow her @InglesDietitian. Contact her at, 800-334-4936 or at

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