So you might be planning to start your own farming business. Maybe you’ve already did the math and factored in how much it’s all going to cost in terms of setting up the space, purchasing the equipment, and possibly building some infrastructure. But have you considered all of that under your own context or under somebody else’s?
Today we have microgreen grower Chris Thoreau to talk about how dangerous it is to blindly copy someone’s system without properly taking your own context into consideration, and this includes equipment, growing areas, and growing supplies. We’ll also touch on how important it is to thoroughly think out the principles behind why you do the things you do.
Today’s Guest: Chris Thoreau
Chris Thoreau is a consultant microgreen grower in Canada. Chris has figured out a system that works for him and helps people find out which system works for them. He has several courses online about everything you need to start your own microgreen business.
Chris Thoreau’s Microgreens Business Course – Website
In this episode of Farm Small, Farm Smart
- Getting value: estimated costs and actual costs (02:30)
- Looking at your business returns over a longer scale (05:45)
- Getting a more realistic picture vs. chasing a dream (10:30)
- Approaching DIY’s, sovereignty, and empowerment (14:30)
- DIY and factoring in budgets (20:30)
- Consulting for more focused, specialized areas to keep high standards (22:20)
- Considering the pace and workflow when it comes to planning set-ups and layouts (26:05)
- The value of consulting saves you from stress, money, time, effort, enthusiasm (29:55)
- Falling in love with ideas and the desire to mimic them (35:00)
- Prototyping and gradually building a visualization of what you want to happen (37:20)
- Understanding how and why things are done before you start doing it (42:00)
- Designing and redesigning according to your processes (46:25)
- How a workshop can help your system (49:40)
Subscribe to Farm Small Farm Smart in your favorite podcast player:
Diego: [00:00:00] Just because you see somebody on Instagram doing something and they're successful doing it, should you copy them? Know more about that coming up in this episode with Chris Thoreau, welcome to farm small farm smart. I'm your host Diego, DIEGO.
Today's episode. And every episode of farm small farm smart is brought to you by the company that I co-own.
Paper Pot, Co., your source for all things, paper pot transplanter related from transplanters to drop Cedars to paper pots, themselves, to other items that you can use in farming to help make your life easier. Broad forks, 10 20 flats and Jang seeders, or starting to diversify the product line that we carry to help make your life as a farmer, a little bit easier and a little bit faster.
To see all the great products that we carry. Check us out at Paperpot.co.
Diego: [00:01:04] Today microgreen grower, Chris Thoreau joins me and we're talking equipment, growing areas and growing supplies. And we're talking about all of those things under the context of how do you know what's right to buy and how do you know if you should make it versus buying it? And when is being cheap, wrong.
The base principle behind this whole conversation really comes down to blind copying of anything is very dangerous. I think this conversation with Chris overlaps nicely with the conversations I've had with Ben Hartman thus far. As I go through this episode with Chris, think about what you're doing on your farm and think about the principles behind why you do what you do.
Let's jump right into it with Chris Thoreau.
Diego: [00:02:00] You and I were recently in communication with someone who wanted to grow microgreens in a controlled greenhouse environment, and they wanted to do this they want to a self-contained turnkey operation done for them. We talked about how much we thought it was going to cost.
We came up, it was going to cost X. They thought it was going to cost Y and their estimate was about 20% of the estimate that you had put together and we had talked about huge difference there. What do you think of when you saw that, somebody wants to professional setup and they're that far off compared to what you had?
Chris Thoreau: [00:02:38] It's a good question. And, in thinking about it afterwards, where a lot of that time costs goes in setting something up is in figuring stuff out, which, and we often don't put a value on our time. And we've talked about this before. So if I'm going to value my time at 35 or 50 or a hundred bucks an hour, whatever you want to do.
Then I need to consider how many hours I'm going to, or how much money I'm going to spend for all the hours that I use, trying to figure things out that could be sourcing materials, doing design, learning a production system, training, things like that. So that's where I think a lot of things get lost.
And so what happens is people you might do the equation in your head. Like a lot of people do with thinking about the revenue, potential of microgreens is, Oh, I'm going to do 50 trays and they're going to be, I'm going to sell them for 20 bucks each. So that's a thousand dollars a week. but not all those trays are going to sell out.
All those trays are gonna have the same yield. So that thousand dollars a week becomes $850 a week. And then you need to start factoring in all the costs that come with that. And so I think it's, it's maybe a type of thinking where people just don't have enough experience to understand what all the actual costs are going to be.
With your inputs, like seed and soil infrastructure, the time and the of sourcing all that stuff. And then in retrospect here, I'm making up for the mistakes you make when you buy something and realize, Oh, I did not think this through this, isn't gonna work at all. and so you lose a lot of time on that stuff.
And the more time you lose the longer it takes for you to start generating revenue from your system. this is where I think having some mentorship or consulting or some sort of training really helps, move you along a lot quicker. So you don't go through those growing pains. Yeah.
Diego: [00:04:38] One thing I've noticed in this space in general, as people tend to view consulting more in a bad light than a good light. Like it's�they're not, they don't value it as much as buying the amount of stuff. That's the impression I get. So if I pay you a hundred dollars for advice, that hundred dollars is not as good as if I went out and bought a hundred dollars� worth of some equipment out of a catalog.
And I don't get that. because I've started a lot of businesses in different spaces and I've spun my wheels trying to figure things out like WordPress and shipping logistics and all that. And I look back and it's if somebody could just start me on a proven path that worked and that cost a little bit of money that saved me a whole bunch of time, tinkering and frustration, which is really valuable for me because I do a lot of things.
I have a family and I think you're right. When it came back to this person, I don't think they were thinking of any of the time they were going to put in. And one of the comments I liked that you made when we were talking about this was like, I'll love to see what they're going to put together. And�I don't know. I think they're thinking of the big things, but they're missing everything. That's a little behind the scenes. Like a lot of people who've never done something before are likely to do.
Chris Thoreau: [00:05:57] Yeah. and the time issue, not just with microgreens growers, I work with a lot of seed growers and a lot of farmers and a lot to ask them during a budget, or when you're doing your you're like an enterprise, but are working out the value of a crop.
How do you value your time? And people say, we don't pay ours. We just kept the profits of the farm. And so that's one way to do it. And if that works for you, it's the same. But what it doesn't give you is a true economic picture of what's happening. and to be honest. So I worked for many years, okay, I just grew a bunch of stuff, I sold it, I have money in my bank account, but I didn't equate that money in my bank account to how many hours I had to work to get that.
And it can be a bit of a trap too, to just look at the number of hours you're working and the number of much of the amount of revenue you generated. But over time, especially when you're starting a business, you're only gonna make two or $3 an hour, right?
This is the price you pay for entrepreneurship or starting up a business. But after three or four or five years, that amount per hour is really, really going to increase. And so it's really important to look at your personal or your business return over a longer scale. And that's what a lot of people don't do.
So we had time again, when you say time by paying a consultant, that's in the end actually saving you quite a bit of money. Now I'll admit I am one of those people who's reluctant to use a consultant, but I have, and when I do it has it's cost me money, but it has saved me time and probably the most important thing that it's saved me is stress.
Because we need good. A good consultant. The funny thing is almost right away as much as the consultant does, if I do a really good consult with somebody I'm telling them 70 or 80% of what I know. And so they're leaving that other 20% is important, but you end up knowing a lot.
And I think that one of the key things is the stress that saves you in terms of figuring stuff out, wondering if this is really going to work, waiting for responses on people, all those things are factors that can determine whether your business is successful or not. And so taking that out of there, I think is very advantageous.
and to be honest, I do a lot of consults where people, by the end of the consult go, this isn't for me, this isn't the type of business that I want to run when you walk through what a day was like, it's not what I pictured. And so what they've done is they've just not only save themselves money, but a whole bunch of time building a business that they probably don't want to run anyways.
So there's a lot of messages to consult in that way. I'll add a caveat and that is you need to consult with somebody who knows their stuff. And I, my guess is that the reason consults and consulting has a bit of a bad name, is that or consultants that either I don't actually know the thing well that they're consulting on or they know it well, but they don't communicate it very well.
And this is a common problem, I think in academia where you could be world-class physicist or chemist or social scientist, but if you can�t communicate the ideas and principles to other people, you are actually not a good consultant or teacher or educator. And so I have a feeling that's one of the things that makes people hesitant about consultants. It's just finding somebody who is capable.
Diego: [00:09:23] Yeah, I think that the most costly mistake is you going ahead and doing something and realizing you totally did it wrong, or you don't want to do it in the first place. And that's talking to somebody who's done it before can save you a lot. I think in general, when people start something new, they totally underestimate everything.
That's involved, the amount of time, the amount of stress, how hard it's going to be to get sales, how much money they're going to need to get started. And they catch the things on a budget or in their quote, business plan that are the sexiest or the juiciest. And they're not always the most important things.
And they miss all the fine little things that. You wouldn't know until you do it. I have a construction project going on my house right now. Initially I thought this project was going to cost X and it's seems like it's going to cost three X by the time it's done, because there's all these little things I didn't factor for.
I'm not an electrician, I'm not a plumber. So I didn't know how to price those things in. When you start a business. I think it's the same way. There's these things. I got to get clam shells and I have to get labels and I might have to get a label printer, and I might have to get twist ties and all these little things add up and they are rode away that $20 a trade that you alluded two before.
Okay. And the value I see in talking to somebody or listening to a podcast like this, or taking an online course is. You can see what somebody has done works. And hopefully that opens your eyes up to a clearer path. So when you plan it out or budgeted out, your plan is more robust, your budget is more detailed and more robust.
So when you go into it, you have a more realistic picture versus chasing some sort of dream.
Chris Thoreau: [00:11:19] Yeah. and the thing that came to mind as you were describing that I'm working on a project right now where we're building the SEM mobile seed cleaning unit. And, I did a pretty good job based on my experience with budgeting it out and thinking about my time.
But another thing that happens with a project is it's not so much that there's the things that you have to do with it. You don't know about like the PAMA plumbing and the electrical. But then there's the things that as you start going, you're like, Oh, this would be a huge improvement. Or this is more than an approval when it's necessary to extend the life.
And the example I have is. I'm building this mobile CD unit based on another one I've seen. And the other one just had this plywood slot. I'm like great plywood floor, but I know that plywood slower is going to wear down. So I'm like, Oh, I'm going to put in a vinyl floor. And so it's not that's a big expense for the trailer.
It's going to cost a hundred bucks, but it's this it's I need to source the vinyl. I need to bring it in. It's going to be this big, huge piece. I need to lay it down. I need to cut it. I need to measure it. And yeah, it's something I've recently experienced. And I think what I've learned to do in a project is anticipate all the things I don't know.
So I try to go into as much detail as I can in my budget and my time. And then I add 20 or 30%, depending on the project. If it's something I have a good amount of experience with, I might do 20%. But if I'm going into a completely new realm, I might add 40, 50% to budget or to my time, because I just know no matter how Uncomplicate things I am, that stuff is going to, it's going to show up.
the other thing I think it speaks to is the value of partnerships. And even if you don't know electrical. And plumbing and I don't know, electrical and plumbing, me and you talking through it together or more likely to notice the electrical and the plumbing, as a cost and share different experiences that might help us make a more accurate estimate.
So even if you either can't find the experts you need, or I want to pay that money, having conversation with others around your project is a way of trying to fill some of those gaps in those blind spots.
Diego: [00:13:30] You've been in this area, in this space for a long time as a grower, as a consultant, you're on the seed side of things now. Maybe you agree with this, maybe you don't. I find farming in general has a very DIY mentality associated with it. This isn't just vege. This is on the livestock side. I see it as well.
People are less likely to buy solutions off the shelf, pay for really solid advice, and they have that DIY attitude.
And when they start a business, I think they apply that DIY attitude to some extent, to starting a new business. And I always compare that to like, if you want to go start a subway franchise, like subway is going to mandate, this is what you do. You're not going to make your own oven or buy your kitchen knives at Walmart.
Like you're buying the stuff that they say you're going to buy. And the majority of business, this is in the world, they work that way. Like you need the equipment you need. But when it comes to farming, it's I might need it, but I don't have that much money. So I'm going to make this thing. And then I can gets in this cycle of chicken and the egg.
should you have at least this much to start so you can have the right stuff. So your business has a better chance of success versus totally strapping and DIY it with no money. In other words, just because you can start a microgreen business hundred dollars doesn't mean you should.
Chris Thoreau: [00:14:58] Yeah, you bring up a lot of points to cover there. So I think that the general thing I think of there is if you have the money, you should spend it.
Because I think as people who have money to invest and do regularly invest it, they know that investment usually pays off partially in return in an investment and partially in a return in time. That said, a couple of thoughts. So one is if you don't have the money and you don't have the access to the money, but you have the time and energy and you've got a varied skill sets, you can figure things out and you can do DIY things. I don't think that's a bad way to start. But the DIY thing should be you're using your time and your energy and your skill as a resource because you lack the capital resource.
But the idea is if your DIY skills and your business development skills are half decent, your business is going to start to generate revenue. And so over time, what you should be doing is replacing some of your DIY stuff. If the stuff that you quote unquote should have now, that's not always the case because.
For a smaller scale business, depending on what it is. Sometimes it's hard to get the stuff at the scale you need. And so DIY is your only option. but often it's just understanding as you learn your process more, and get into it. you figure out what it is you need, you just didn't know what you were looking for because you didn't know the process well enough.
So I'm a big DIY advocate. But DIY to me is also doing a lot of consulting to make sure I IDI why at right. and it's so using the DIY approach as a step, to get into a more sort of, I often jokingly say sort of professionals, stage where you are using the type of equipment that you should use.
A thought on farmers and DIY, I give this a lot of thought, on a weekly basis and cause I'm one of those people. And I think one of the driving factors for me, and I know for other growers is, wanting, through farming and through agriculture and growing food is more of a sense of independence.
Of sovereignty, a feeling empowered around things where we live in a world where, products to show up on store shelves. And we don't know how they're made, are made, who made them, and we know these are all very important social issues. And so one of the ways farmers address these things is by doing things themselves, by maintaining and building those skills that allow you to be sovereign in a way, but so you don't become totally dependent on everything being external.
And some people are just, they can't, they can't fix a leaky faucet. They can't even put air in a bike tire to other people who, build bike tires from scratch. And so I think it's good to know where you stand on that spectrum.
And I don't label things within that spectrum as either good or bad. but I think it's important to evolve through that spectrum and know when to spend the money, and when the DIY, is appropriate. And when you need to evolve from DIY to more quote, unquote official or professional, equipment.
Diego: [00:18:07] Yeah. I'm with you there in terms of, I think you buy or acquire the most professional solution you can afford.
Chris Thoreau: [00:18:15] Yeah. I'm often thinking about boy, if I had the money, I would do this and this, for sure. But there�s no way I can justify spending that amount of money, I'm just, I don't have those resources.
And so the question is often, what can I do with what I have? And usually what that means is it's usually a level of automation or precision and the more you spend off, it means the less maintenance, the less adjustments, the less manual stuff. And so it's I can't afford that or that, but I can afford this.
And so I'm not going to get a text alert every time something goes wrong. But if I check in once a week, it'll be pretty good. So it's understanding what you get and what you don't get. And in some cases, if you can't get something to a certain level, then you shouldn't be doing it. And maybe an example is, if I can�t build a car to national safety standards, you shouldn't be building a car.
If I can't grow food in an environment which I can maintain a sanitary and hygienic, I shouldn't be growing food or if I'm not willing to do those things, I shouldn't be growing food. So there's certain requirements for some things that I think you need to meet. but for other things, I think there could be more flexibility.
Diego: [00:19:26] I worry often on the DIY side of things, is it's similar to budgeting. There's not true time accounting. They, people don't put as much attention into how much time they use to DIY it. Including the maintenance costs and that's something you lean on. if you're making it in something, you gotta maybe make a part and you can't just buy a partner, you can replace her.
It's not as reliable. And the big thing I've found with a lot of DIY stuff that I've made is what you said. It's lack of precision automation. It's often slower clunkier. And when I think of that, I think, okay, that means it's costing me something else. Inconvenience crop failure. Or sometimes it's just so hard or such a pain in the ass to use. That means you don't want to do it when you should.
Chris Thoreau: [00:20:20] Yeah. I think you summed it up pretty well.
Diego: [00:20:23] What about this? What about DIY-ing areas that maybe most people shouldn't be DIY-ing? If we go back to the example. That we started out with this closed system greenhouse. One of the things you mentioned when you and I were talking as well, my need to get a, somebody who specializes in climate control and air exchange involved here pay somebody for their knowledge on that space because the average person, they might not aware, they're do metalwork or woodwork, but when it comes to HVC ventilation, all that type of stuff.
That's probably not in their skillset, especially when it comes to a controller environment where you need the right amount of air in there to make your crops work. And when I was thinking about this, I think those are the areas. These more science-y, more specialized areas where people can suffer where people they focus, maybe on the growing side of things, when they're starting up a farm-based enterprise, the raising animals, raising the vege.
But they're not necessarily focusing as much, or they don't know as much to focus on the environment side, such as nutrients for their crops, soil health, air quality within a closed system, heating and cooling of that closed system. And that's where I see a newbie really screwing up and really either making a bad mistake, buying the wrong stuff, or putting the wrong stuff in and then they have all sorts of trickle down problems, mold or whatever.
Chris Thoreau: [00:21:59] Yeah, two things are coming to mind here. so one thing is if I do a bigger consult and I thought about this in our situation, I'm factoring in, I'm going to give a quote, I'm going to give an estimate on what my time is going to cost and I'm factoring into that time having somebody else to fill my knowledge gaps.
So even though, I may know, 90% of the things that my client needs to know something, I don't know. I'm going to find that out for them and I'm going to cover the cost to them and pass it on. So I'm building that into there. So as a consultant, I also do consults in order to be a good consultant.
And then in terms of, an example that came to mind of doing DIY and Austin were doing DIY, why to save money, and the thing that I see the most with the new model green setup for example, is wooden shelving. And, what is easy to build with, it's easy to get. It's very easy. it's very cheap.
And so it's the ideal shelving option for most things. Except for continually moist environments. And so I always say to people like, I know you want to do shelving, I know you want to save some money, but right away, go to a wire shelving that's, epoxy coated. you just need that. And they'll shelves the last forever.
They have a great resale value. You don't have to worry about hygiene, and you'll save yourself. Some of that time you'll save will actually save you money. So it's an example where people go towards the wooden shells and I've not heard any situation of somebody. having any disease problems because of it, but it's setting people up for that.
And I think if somebody, one of my worries in the microgreens world sure. And I know people have this in other sectors, as well as somebody doesn't do something, Something goes wrong. The little local health authority or the federal health authority comes in and says, what's going on here? Oh, you're using wooden shelves.
now we're really going to crack down, So it's, you actually put up the growers in your sector at risk, by not having a high standard and sometimes DIY options don't give you a high enough standard. So there's DIY options that may be not typical part of a high standard. So instead of buying like a big stainless steel table, you use just a metal shelf, like a wire shelf as a table of what works for you.
So you're saving a lot of money. It's still hygienic. It's not the status quo thing you would use, but it's a less expensive equivalent. So knowing when DIY is like you finding something new, that suitable for that task and you building something that you can afford because you need it done. Those are two very different DIY approaches.
Diego: [00:24:38] That's a really good point there. And in thinking of these setups that people are going to have, when they start say a microgreen operation in this case, one thing you're going to be doing within this setup is you're going to be moving around within it. And the other area, I don't think people think about because they just don't necessarily know enough about it is setting it up for flow or the pace of work or the type of work that's taking place in there.
And they build something how they think it's going to need to be done and lay it out, how they think it's going to be needed to be done. And it's just a wonky, weird layout. And I see pictures on Instagram of people's set ups of how they raise things and they look. Like they might be a struggle to use. And I've had janky systems here at my house for a lot of different things that have just been a pain to use. They've made doing those things really hard. And one thing I've learned over time is it doesn't mean I could have.
Spent more money to make things better. I just needed to know how to make them right. Or lay them out right in the first place. And that might not necessarily have cost me money, but it goes back to again, talk like you said before, talking with somebody else to say, Hey, does this make sense or visiting an operation to see if it makes sense, how you want to set it up?
Because if you DIY it or you buy all the stuff, if it's in the wrong spot, if it's all bolted down or welded into place it like we were looking at, it's going to be costly to fix.
Chris Thoreau: [00:26:14] Yeah. And as one of the things I do, I'm very visual and I actually think I can picture things in my mind really well, but it turns out I can't do it very well at all.
So I actually use Google SketchUp all the time. I make 3D models of things. So when we first, when we were designing that shipping container greenhouse, I had all the dimensions I was looking, okay. What if 8 feet? What if it's nine feet? What if the lights hanging down to here? How far can the shelves come out and then how much space am I going to have to maneuver, where the shadow is going to be?
How much space am I going to have? I am neurotic about that stuff because yeah, until you've done it, unless you've done it's just hard to visualize everything. So yeah, that modeling is a big piece. I'm building a whole micro setup right now and I spent a lot of time in the beginning, just staring at the space, where I wanted to have it.
I ended up, I think I've done a really good job and it's going to be pretty good. But now that I'm really seeing the setup, I'm like, Oh, here's this a few little things, I just didn't catch. And they're not enough to make them worth changing. I'm like, ah, just little things about a tray sticking out a bit further.
how things interact with the stuff around them. You can't catch everything. and I think being, detail oriented to the point of neurosis is another end of the spectrum. But I think it's important to make sure that you've got that significant, the major stuff down. So you're not making like an irreversible mistake or a, an extremely financially costly mistakes.
I'll say, I'm to, I'm going to toot my own horn here. cause it's not, it's something that just happens spontaneously. I follow, microgreens forums and a lot of things on Facebook and I'm mostly an observer. And every once in a while I'll make a comment. partially I'm just busy, so I don't have time to comment and partially because I want to get consults from people.
I value my comments because I know they're pretty good. but sometimes you see problem that's just really easily fixed. I see something I really want to comment on. And the number of times when commented on people's setups, like I really like how you've laid things out. That's it was the design is good.
The flow is good. here's this and this side comment on. And most of the time people come back and they say, thanks. I took your course and it made the setup really easy. And so I'm impressed by it because it's people doing what I learned to do after a lot of trial and error. so it, it really speaks to the point.
And I can see when people are squeezing things in too tight or they're using the wrong shelving or their trays are too close to the ground. They haven't thought through a lot of those things because they don't have the experience. And so I'm seeing in many cases how that consult and consulting really, it's a concentration of information.
You're just learning things really fast. you're not even learning things, you're just being told them. And so you have that knowledge, it really can make a difference. And, I would hope in the end, in most cases, it's gonna save you both time and money. And if not, there's no, there is no point in doing it.
Diego: [00:29:22] Well, the ability to have somebody sit down with you and say a, do this, don't do this is very valuable because if you spent time chasing the, don't do this side of things. What's the cost of that? Stress. Maybe it blows off some of your enthusiasm for the business and the business never gets started.
Maybe it cost a bunch of money. Maybe it cost a bunch of time. That's where I see the value in learning from somebody who knows more than you be it, whatever format you want to learn from a book or whatever it is. But narrowing down your options is where. I think you get the most value from talking to somebody who's more experienced?
Chris Thoreau: [00:30:06] I think the other thing you get from somebody who's more experienced is, often guidelines and principles, beyond just prescriptions. So I'll say to some people sometimes yeah. Do not use what in Kelvin, if you can afford, if you really want to do this, you really need to do it.
And over time you can move on to metal shelving. Sure. Go ahead. If it's just short term while you're learning. Because you're unsure. That's fine. But if you're developing your business infrastructure, I just say don't use wooden shelving. the first time the health inspector comes in, they're going to allow you to rip them out.
They make, they may close it down. You don't see wooden shelving in a kitchen, in a restaurant. and so there's an absolute star. Don't have wooden shelving get a boxy coated metal, wire shelving. But for other things I often go through, Here's why I did it and why you might or might not want to do this.
so my infrastructure was based on Vancouver's climate. even the proximity to my house, to the amount of production, capacity or market, I thought we had to my height, like I, our top shelves are six and a half feet tall. I designed those for me. if you and your business partner are both five, six, you probably don't want to do that.
And so it's important to know why a certain system is like, it is to determine if that's the system you want. we've probably talked about this a bit. I get people all the time saying, I Want to build a shipping container greenhouse, like yours I'm in Florida, or Iran or, central Australia and most of the time I'm like.
That's a very bad idea because you're it doesn't necessitate. You need this. I built this because it made sense since here. And if I was selling, focused on selling prefabrication, shipping container systems and, or doing assaults to build them, maybe I would take a different approach. But in general, as a consultant, I also want to give people the advice that's best for them, not the, not just give them advice because that's.
Makes me money. And so I think it's really important, as a consultant to give, those principles and guiding ideas. So people understand why you did something and whether or not that's fight for your situation. It's also a thing for you for when you're talking to a consultant, it's the consultant do this, don't do that in that set, or are they walking through that stuff?
So you're understanding. What were, they're getting to that, why they're getting to that point, because that's going to teach you a way of thinking that's going to help you in unrelated things. And I see it all the time, probably, In the last five to six years of my life, where I can figure things out a lot easier by applying a set of principles that I used on a completely different project.
And I just know I've learned to think a certain way in order to get things done. And I still have a lot to figure out because I'm tendency, I have a tendency, like I said, to be very much that DIY person, I often rush a little bit because my time is limited. So I still have these gaps. But in general, my projects are more effective because I've developed a way of thinking about a project in general, not just specific projects.
And I think that's an important thing to get that point across to people is they need to think about how and why things are done, not just a specific method or way of doing things. I that's been a key thing for me, for sure.
Diego: [00:33:23] I think that's a really good point because I think people fall in love with ideas. They see a picture on Instagram, they see a picture in a book and they want to mimic it without really understanding the context behind that picture. if you think about a picture, it's a snapshot in time. That's all you're seeing. You're seeing what's there. Not necessarily why it's there.
Chris Thoreau: [00:33:44] and that's actually the reason we post those pictures. We want somebody else to see something of ours and say, I want that, or that's cool. this is the curse and the gift of social media. And one of the sort of criticisms of it is it gives us false impression of what things are like, Over the next few months, I'm going to start doing videos and photos and stuff of my whole microgreens set up. but I'm only going to show you the fun stuff and the good stuff. I'm not going to show you at the time. My son banged his head on the tray. Cause it was sticking out too far and spilled the sunflower shoots in the floor.
The time I dropped the cement block on the floor and drove my neighbor downstairs nuts, like I'm just going to tell you about the roses and unicorns that seemed to blew them out of the, my sprouts. Every time I grow them. even though that's not going to be my approach, I plan to show some of the other side.
But that's part of it driving thing is I want people to think I've developed a beautiful, perfect system, but when it comes to talking to them about it, what I'm going to do is let you know, like that's not actually, it's not perfect and here's the flaws and here's how it works. Now. Do you still think this is right for you? So it's differentiating marketing with, from say good advice or good consulting.
Diego: [00:34:58] You see this a lot in the space of the trophy home bill of peace, that is perfect, that the person might not fully understand what it does or how to use it, or why they built it a certain way. They just followed some blueprints and made it happen.
And one thing going back to something you said earlier was, the visualization of how you want something. And I come from an engineering background. I think I can visualize things pretty well. And I've evolved to this process, which maybe this help would help people of I'm looking for always looking for the professional solution, but I'm not necessarily buying all the pieces to the professional solution in one shot because I've been stung doing that.
So I think, okay, here's how I want my system to look be this. However, it is say my packing setup for when I mail packages, this is the longterm picture of how I want this to be. Here's the problems I need solved. Like I don't want to bend over when I'm packing heavy boxes. I visualize that and I say, okay, what's the first kind of key piece I need to put in place here to solve a problem.
And then I do that and maybe that's a purchase, maybe that's a DIY. And I just see that works. And then if that's working, I then get the appropriate piece there. If I had made it, I'll buy the real thing. And then I go with that and I then look, what's the next piece in the system and make sure it all fits together, not just with the equipment fitting together, but how I work. It all fits together. And so I slowly over time make the ultimate vision that I had in my head. Then I don't think I could have ever. Predicted or pulled out of a catalog on day one. Had I gone that route and I can think of some specific examples like this lift table that I now packed boxes on. I was going to go this different route of either a static table of a static height or this cart.
And if I had gotten the static table or the cart, I would have been screwed because one isn't movable and one wasn't height-adjustable so eventually evolved to the best of both worlds, something that is movable. And height adjustable. It took me about nine months to get there. But now that I figured it out, I have the right thing.
So while I've talked a lot in this episode about DIY and professional solutions, I think you don't have to start with the professional solution on day one, but you're working towards it in a. Pace and a controlled manner that works for you and make sense for you. So you're not making gross missteps and wasting money.
Chris Thoreau: [00:37:40] Yeah, there's a few. So the way that first bit you described was great. Cause what you're essentially talking about is prototyping, right? This is what I need told me to build something, to see if it would work. And I like to do that actually over the Thanksgiving weekend instead of being thankful and hanging out with people, I built a prototype seed cleaner.
and by building it and using, it was like, Oh, here's all the problems. So now I'm going to build another one and I'm going to fix these problems and then see how it works. And maybe I'll go through two or three because I can build one for 40 or 50 bucks. It's pretty easy. So it's worth going through that.
And I've done that a lot, with shelving. Like I'll go to home Depot and pull up a shelf out of the box and set it at different heights and then just leave it and walk away. It's Oh, that's what it looks like. Or this is what it looks like when I use this tray or this thing here. So that is a, that is something I think is really, it's a time saver and I really like it cause I feel like I'm learning during that process.
It's the fun part of business development, of going through those steps of understanding principles that are going to apply. The other thing is I noticed there's problems and maybe your people example is a good example. this is a problem I want to solve, but it doesn't need to be solved right now.
I don't mind this table as it is. It's not ideal, but it's not burdensome. And then there's other things where you're like, Oh, I know there's a way to do this 10 times as fast and I'm just close, but I'm not. And I'm going to figure this out and you, and that's definitely a place where you're consulting or spending time finding the expert who can do something for you so often.
It's that sense of urgency. that gets people spending that money so they can fill the thing right away. Maybe it's the trap of having more time on your hands. And she's Oh, I've got time on my hands. I'll figure stuff out. And in many cases that's perfectly suitable, but when your time is more limited, that's where that, advice or consulting makes a really big difference.
Diego: [00:39:31] Re-emphasize something we've touched on a few times in here of I think it's really important to know the principles around why you do something or how you're going to do something before you start. And I think where a lot of people get into trouble is they don't understand the why or the, how they just do it.
And then they're left with this thing. So when I approach stuff, I've talked to Ben Hartman, a lot author of the lean farm. I'm always looking to set from say a lean perspective. I don't want to be taken a lot of steps. I want a lot of tools at hand. So any solution I'm going to put in place is going to involve minimal movement of heavy stuff.
I'm going to have tools at hand, but then I understand why things are where they are. when I think of growing microgreens in a closed environment, okay, there's going to be humidity issues. There's potential mold issues. So all, any solution you come up with DIY or professional has to deal with humidity has to deal with, preventing mold has to deal with preserving cleanliness.
Like those are all the fundamentals that go into any solution, no matter how you create that solution. But it's, again, it's a part, I think people gloss over or skip over, or don't put as much time into, because it's not as fun as buying something or making something and then putting it up on Instagram so people can say, I want it that.
Chris Thoreau: [00:40:51] an example that's coming to mind for me is I keep talking about these metal wire shelves, that work well for a lot of systems, but one system they don't work well for, I think is when you have rows and rows of lights. And you've essentially got a tray of microgreens sitting over top of a light fixture, which is just a recipe for disaster.
You don't want to have something that's going to have water dripping from it over an electrical fixture. And so w when developing our system, that was first and foremost in mind. And so we ended up with like metal halide lights that are up above and separated away from that. But it actually took us some time to get to that because we're looking at different ways.
Everybody does it with fluorescence. So we should do that. And it was through working through it. We're like, what's, cause it's a lot of lights. It's a lot of bulbs replacing. It's a lot of shading. and then in the end we realized not only was it just to get the lights up and above and out of the way, but those metal halide lights were also can generate heat, which generally you don't want.
But in our system we did. So we found it found out there was a sort of serendipity around going that route. So it is it's and it's. It's an example of it's this ecological principle that you never do. Just one thing. So as you adjust certain things within your design or system, there's other things that are being affected that may not be as obvious, but down the line, you're like, ah, okay.
We thought through it most of the way, but Oh, we get to this point, this is a little trickier and with the lights above, it's like, Oh, the challenge there is. There's more shadowing on those lower trays because they're just the angle of the life. Wasn't enough. we thought about that a little bit, but we didn't realize how that was going to affect.
Okay. Now we actually have to rotate the trays in the winter every day to make sure everything gets even light. So it changed the production system by adding another task. But in the end we're like, that's just a task. It's going to be a routine. We accept that. And that's it. So it's a question again, of whether you can, those things as they are, or do you need to further adjust the system to remove that step that you don't like?
Diego: [00:42:54] It's funny cause the right there that, there's a very subtle nuance of shadowing or shading that I don't think I would have thought of designing a system where you have been through that experience, about it. If you think about the greenhouse setup you built or the shipping container that you put together you did it over again.
How close do you think version two would be to version one?
Chris Thoreau: [00:43:24] That's a good question. I often say, cause I look at it was cause so we've got a time lapse of the build online. It's had a lot of views and I get a lot of comments about like, why would you just buy a container and take it apart in order to put it together again, this is the stupidest thing I've ever had.
So it's just all these comments. And when I look back at the taking it apart part, I'm like, Oh, actually it wasn't a big part of the project. So I think that the approach is okay. and I, Austin, I go through the analysis. I'm like, I really like this. I really like the setup. I don't know that I would change much.
I do these panels differently. I do this differently, but the design I often say would be the same. However, the trick there is there's. What does the system or the piece of equipment do? And then there's the, how do you use it? So I can take a bit of an aside here. and then we'll come back to that.
I'm working with a group of engineering students from the university of British Columbia to build a seat cleaner. And, so it's part of a school project for them. It's part of my mobile C trailer project, and it's just a fun collaboration. And the idea is how do you build a seed cleaner that does a job to this standard, basically.
and what keeps coming up again. And again, is. we may build a really good seed cleaner, but we might not know how to use it. and like any piece of equipment, you need to, it has its limitations and its strengths, and you have to learn to access those by learning what seed and how much seed to drop at a time and what level to set the suction at and, how big to make a certain column and all these things, that only come from the experience of using it.
So when I go into the greenhouse now with the suit, Pedalers I think it's perfect because I know the system and the flaws that are there, they're almost invisible because the system has been built around how we grow and what those the laws are. So what would happen. Going back to the earlier thing in our conversation is we may start with something similar, but as we start building it and probably in the design process, I'd be going, Oh wait.
So I remember this bug at the end. I remember this was a problem. So let's fix this into the design and fix this and the design. So ideally that stuff gets fixed and discovered before the bills. So it's a matter of understanding what you've done and what's really wrong and what you've done and understanding how you've learned to adjust, how you work, in order to do that.
There's all sorts of examples of I don't have shoulder pain anymore, but it's because you've been compensating and actually, now you've got back pain, didn't realize it's because that's how you've been compensating for your shoulder. Or, you've learned, six months, I didn't have a passenger side.
Mirror on my car. And I just learned to drive that way. And then a friend got in my car to drive it and she said I can't even drive this car. So we, you have to learn that we adjust to things as they are. And so we're looking at design or redesign. We do need to step back. And again, this might be where bringing somebody else in and having them go through it with clean eyes and a new perspective.
Might help you realize Oh yeah, that's why we do that, or, Oh yeah. I never even noticed I did that. So you pick out the flaws in the design where you've made that up through your processes.
Diego: [00:46:44] When it comes to building a new growing system. I hope we've given people a lot to think about, and there's a lot of ways people can learn about systems of growing my horizons.
One of the ways that they can learn more about growing micros is through the online workshop that you have, if somebody starting out growing microgreens from day one, or they have a very DIY system, how do you think that just a workshop like that can help?
Chris Thoreau: [00:47:12] One thing it does is the breadth of material that it covers.
Cause you're not just growing. one of the things I've said over the years, many times is, I'm not necessarily good at growing micro greens. What I became good at is managing a system which in which micro greens are grown, micro greens are fairly easy to grow, but when you have to grow a hundred or 200, three or 300 trays a week, It's the management of that becomes the challenge.
So what a workshop way more so than a consult is gives you just a sense of the steps, the infrastructure, the process, the troubleshooting you get to see the whole picture. and, in this workshop, there's, an audio part where I'm describing things, but there's a lot of visuals to accompany it.
So you don't have to do a lot of the figuring out in your head because a lot of that is laid out in front of you. the nice thing about this sort of workshop, as well as you can revisit it again and again, And, it covers a lot and I get a lot of requests for it's from people who, who either are starting up or want to, and want to do a consult, but haven't seen the workshop.
And I say to them like, listen, some of the questions you've just asked your email, I'm going to cover those in my workshop. And so it's going to cost just as much on a consult as for you to do the workshop. And you're gonna get way more out of this 10 hours of workshop materials, and you're going to get out of a one hour consult.
So I think it's just the breadth of knowledge that it covers the visuals and the fact that you can go back to it again and again. that's an advantage. Where I think consults come in is okay, like I'm, I've covered the stuff. I've watched the workshop three times. Like I know all that stuff, but I'm having this problem in this climate.
I'm trying to apply these principles, but it's not working, will you walk, will you talk this out with me? And I actually turned down a lot of consults of people that just aren't ready for them. And when I am doing them as somebody who's been doing it for awhile, they're stuck on something either it's scaling up.
Doing a new crop adjusting the system. And usually that's able to get through it while still sticking to the idea of what are the principles that we're trying to think of here. I think the other thing, and I really liked the stuff you talked about working out a system. And this idea of prototyping is, you can look at the workshop and look at the things and go Oh, I see how I can do that on a small scale to test it out.
And there's a lot of people that build systems in their living rooms and their basements and a spare bedroom. And. These are prototypes to me. I say to people like consider this your prototype for launching a business. And the only reason I say that is because of, at any point, you're doing a delivery at a restaurant and the health inspector is there and they happen to say, Oh, I noticed you're delivering.
Microgreens do you have a card? where's your business. And they say, they want to come inspect your facility. You cannot bring a health inspector to your living room or to your basement or to your spare bedroom. They will close you down immediately. And so I'm trying to get people to think about their business as a business and in most jurisdictions, your business needs to be in an appropriate facility.
So think of your home setup and your smaller scale stuff, as you're prototyping your skill development, your business development, and that way he's still like that. And you do want to give it a real try. You're taking those principles and you're going from the DIY to the more professional approach.
Moving to a more quote unquote professional environment. And then going from there,
Diego: [00:50:45] there, you have it. Chris throw, if you want to learn more about Chris and everything that he's doing, you can follow along with him on Instagram. Check him out on the link below in this episode. And if you want to learn more from Chris, be sure to check out his growing your micro greens business course.
That course covers everything that you need to start a microgreens business. Hopefully that course can help get your business started off on the right track. Not because you can blindly copy of that model and assume it's going to work, but instead, because you can learn the principles behind what a successful microgreen business does.
Then you can apply those principles to your context and your situation, adapt and move your business closer to success. If you want to learn more about the course, visit permaculture voices.com/microgreens, or just click on the link listed in the show description below. That's all for this one.
Thanks for listening until next time. Be nice. Be thankful and do the work.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.