Do you remember how you first got into farming? Did you first grow your own food with plans to market them? Or did you just try your hand at growing food, and then the thought of building it into a business came in after?
In this episode, we have microgreens grower Jon Grootveld of Vertagro Systems to tell us how he started his microgreens operation, how it turned into a business, and the challenges he faced and is currently facing as a new microgreen grower.
Today’s Guest: Jon Grootveld
Jon Grootveld is a microgreen grower up in Canada. Initially done as a hobby, his microgreen operation turned into a rapidly growing business with the help and encouragement of his friends and connections.
In this episode of Farm Small, Farm Smart
- Health, market gardening and the initial draw into microgreens (01:20)
- Growing field crops vs. growing microgreens as a new grower (02:22)
- Approaching the market stream and how to sell microgreens (03:18)
- The biggest challenges in early production of microgreens (06:38)
- Losing crops in the early growing days (07:50)
- Deciding where the business is and justifying the direction of the business (08:38)
- Expanding and experimenting on different crops to grow (10:44)
- Where the business currently is on production and market (13:25)
- The crops that just didn’t take off (15:12)
- Success as a pioneer microgreen grower in the area (16:05)
- The key to a good shelf life (18:15)
- Chris’s thoughts on the challenges and success of Jon’s microgreens operation (19:05)
- Leveraging the long shelf life on the microgreen produce (21:50)
- Approaching selling to grocers and preserving the shelf life (22:55)
- The fragility of sunflowers and approaching stacking and germination (25:25)
- Small scale advantage and caring a lot about the quality (29:34)
- Dealing with the automaton and default monotony (33:20)
- Getting the business to where the goal is and knowing your capacity (38:42)
- 200 trays: number of hours from trays to market (41:45)
- The time commitment, getting more help, and distributing tasks (43:44)
- The challenge of finding someone to help in the production (49:55)
- Investing in trays to save time (54:00)
- Running the microgreens business as a full-time job and balancing life and the business (56:45)
- Some of the challenges in the foreseeable future (57:50)
- Looking at the co-op model and its viability in your context (59:30)
- Germination, stacking, and making use of space (01:06:50)
- Designing the production with limiting movement (01:08:10)
- The holistic approach to educating people about microgreens (01:09:15)
- Looking at the CSA model for microgreen sales (01:14:05)
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Diego: [00:00:00] Anytime you start a new business. There's always going to be challenges. Challenges running the business, challenges balancing life and business, and challenges growing the crops that you're trying to grow. That's what this one's all about with Jon Grootveld coming up.
Welcome to the world of farming small and farming smart.
I'm your host, Diego. Today I'm talking to micro green grower. Jon Grootveld. Jon's a relatively new grower, starting his microgreens business late in 2017. And today he's joining myself and grower Chris Thoreau to talk about some of the challenges and successes that he's having at this early stage of his business.
We're going to touch on things like how he's balancing life and running a business. Something, that's not always easy to manage. And we're also going to talk about some of the challenges that he's having growing crops. Like how do you get those darn holes to come off of your sunflower sprouts? Chris has some good advice on solving that problem.
And some of the other challenges that Jon's having growing there's a lot in this one. I hope you enjoy it. Let's jump right into it. With Jon Grootveld. So Jon, for you, what was initially the draw to micro greens and why microgreens?
Jon Grootveld: [00:01:24] migraines were interesting to me. I had a real interest. Like I wanted to be able to do, market gardening and I wanted to be able to grow stuff. And, when I started doing that, like when I started testing it out, it went well, but, I just noticed like it stopped, in September, October, since we're in Canada, like the winter starts coming. when I first started there wasn't really much opportunity to, or I wasn't educated enough to know.
About any season extension. So when I started looking into that, I found out that, microgreens is probably one of the easiest and the best ways to get the most amount of nutrients. cause I was really into more of the health and what kind of nutrients I was getting out of my food. So the microgreens really interested me because, the easiness of growing up being a new grower and then also the nutrient density in it.
Diego: [00:02:12] If you throw seasonality out the window as a new grower, a new farm business owner, how do you view growing field crops versus growing microgreens?
Jon Grootveld: [00:02:23] I think microgreens is a lot more controlled. It's been really nice since we're doing everything indoors under lights and controlled environments.
I'm not subject to the weather especially here, like it's been a really weird, beginning of the season this year, cause we do maple syrup as well. So it's been a really weird maple syrup season, up here. And then, yeah, I haven't had as much success with the field crops and that's why when I started growing the microgreens, I really enjoyed it because it was a quick learning curve and, we were very successful at it very quickly and people really liked what we were growing.
Diego: [00:02:59] It's one thing to have the idea to start anything and microgreens are attractive for a lot of reasons. You can grow them indoors, you can grow them in a small space. They can generate a lot of revenue pretty quick, the trick can be selling them. When you had the idea of going the microgreens route, how did you approach the here's, where I'm going to sell the microgreens. When I grow them to vet, if there was a market there for them,
Jon Grootveld: [00:03:28] When I first started, I wasn't even thinking of it as much of, as a business model, I was more interested on the home side of it. I was actually doing it out of my friend's basement. So me and him were doing it down there and we were growing stuff.
We're growing like sunflower seed. We're growing a bit of broccoli. keeping it pretty simple. We did some pea shoots and stuff, but. people started coming downstairs and seeing what we were doing. Cause we had a couple other systems going as well, like growing some full plants and like people got really excited about it.
And they started coming down and they were like, yo, could we get some of this food? Cause it looks like you guys have a lot. So we started just selling it to some of our friends and like I just looking up the prices of it. I was actually really surprised what they go for. So I'm like, let's try and grow a little bit and try and get some consistency and get a couple of customers. So I picked up maybe 10 people, 10 to 15 people where we were just selling to once a week or once every two weeks.
And I was just selling them like pound bags or half pound bags and just telling everyone to, eat a lot of salads and smoothies. But, when we were doing that, I realized that I couldn't start going to restaurants and stuff just cause we were at my friend's house and he had a cat and his house and stuff.
And I knew that, that was a line that I didn't want to cross with, start selling it to the public out of his house and not having like proper processing. We were cutting stuff on like the top of a freezer. And like we weren't washing stuff that much. We were just saying here's your bag of microgreens, just wash them and use them. I knew we couldn't really do that. So then my next step was figuring out where, how, who with I could, figure out a commercial space, and be able to do it as a business.
Diego: [00:05:09] It's early stages of starting out. How many trays are you doing a week?
Jon Grootveld: [00:05:12] the earliest, the early days we were doing probably like three to five trays a week. Cause we did a three foot. We did a three foot rack and we're doing some weeks. We did one rack, so we only did three. And then other weeks we did two racks, like two levels. So we're doing up to six. And that kind of varied, just based on what we were doing, yeah. And like I said, like at that point it wasn't even much of a business, but, I just got into our commercial space, this December now.
Just the past December, 2017. And then we got to market late after constructing the space we got into market in January 9th. That was almost seven, seven months later since I decided not to pursue it out of my friend's basement.
Diego: [00:05:59] And in those early days when you were first started growing, what were the biggest challenges for you from just a production standpoint?
It's something I'm always fascinated by, from talking to numerous people, including Chris, who've grown a lot of different microgreen crops. Some are challenging some aren't. What was your early experience with production and where did you have challenges?
Jon Grootveld: [00:06:20] Definitely with mold, because as we were growing mainly sunflower, so like after uncovering the trades, like you'd start to see more.
And then we try and do some remedies and then once it got going and it would just spread and we'd see, half a tray go down and then my buddies, he was just like, man, I don't want to sell this to anyone if we're going to sell it to them. So we really had to look into figuring out the mold issue, getting proper air flow in there.
We ended up spacing out our seed density quite a bit. Cause we were covering like the whole thing and probably covering like even a layer, like another layer on top of the other ones. So we're doing it way too dense at the start. But once we figured that out then it was smooth sailing and that probably took us like three or four weeks to figure out.
Diego: [00:07:05] And did you find that at the early stage, like those mold issues, was it, were you losing total crops? Are you losing part of a crop and then once you corrected the density, did that solve that problem totally?
Jon Grootveld: [00:07:17] not totally. it's still there from time to time, like at the beginning of it still come back. Cause you know, maybe we made a mistake on a train or something like that. like it wasn't as systematized at that point. but. Once I realized what the density was and everything, and then the proper air flow. then it definitely cleared up.
It still happens like today and it'll still happen here and there and we have some remedies for it and we can cut around it. But, it's something that's it can't always be avoided for sure.
Chris Thoreau: [00:07:47] When you moved up to the commercial space, that's always a big step for anybody going from starting wherever they can at the beginning to a commercial space. How did you assess here's where the business is at?
Here's where we think the business is going to justify going outside of your friends. Where you were growing them. I know you want to sell to restaurants. And that was one consideration there, but I imagine the business had to be at a certain stage and you thought it could go to a certain point to justify it the move,
Jon Grootveld: [00:08:20] Right. After I probably had six months where I did some good business planning and, and actually it was a really big challenge, like finding out how I could get a space and find other people that want to tackle it as a business. and I think that was the biggest thing, finding the right team.
And I ended up teaming up with a lighting company that had a retail store and so they have a retail store and then we retrofitted the basement downstairs, to be able to grow down there. so we have they used to own a restaurant as well. So he had a bunch of stainless steel equipment. And then we did Mylar on the walls and everything. And, we got a bunch of Chrome racks in there. so like we, more or less, just did what we could to make the space work, with what we had
Diego: [00:09:06] And then moving up to that size. How has that been expanding out? And that you've been in there since basically the first of the year.
Jon Grootveld: [00:09:14] Yeah. Like we started construction constructing December 1st and then I think I planted my first crop. On December 15th. And then we were in our first farmer's market for January 9th. So it was really quick process. And, we've been expanding pretty well for the last couple of months, maybe until the last, up until April. Like we've been moving up about two racks a month and then we've stagnated over the last 30 days.
Diego: [00:09:45] At this point, how do you view crops that you're growing, where you started growing primarily sunflower what's been your plan to expand out from that? Or has there not really been a need to expand too far out, beyond sunflower?
Jon Grootveld: [00:10:02] I actually, since I listened to your guys, you're you and Chris, I probably listened to Chris's talk, original talk with him and Curtis, as well as your guys', original podcast.
I listened to that thing probably like 20 times. So I had a really good idea of what you could grow and what kind of works the best. So I started out, mainly with the radish, the peas and the sunflowers, and, so it started with those guys, but then I also just like right off the hop, just test it out a bunch of other seeds.
So I got like Swiss chard. I tried it, I got some mustard, arugula, red cabbage. I was really trying to find stuff that looked good. Especially with the Swiss chard and the red cabbage, like I really wanted to be able to present stuff to in the local food movement that kind of really made dishes pop, and that's what I was going for.
cause I knew they were used as a garnish. so it was more or less just testing those more special specialty crops. Swiss chard was a bit of a different animal and it, the timing on is, a lot different than anything else that I grow. So there's some challenges figuring out that and how we could adopt it into our production system.
And then, I it's more or less just constantly testing every time that I buy new seeds. I usually try out some different things. I really liked to experiment. And then, like I'll just show my chefs and see if they'd be interested or I'm talking to chefs and seeing what they want, if they're interested in trying new things.
Like I only have a couple chefs that are more or less, experimental. A lot of the other ones are just like, no, just bring me a bunch of pea shoots and we'll be good. it's just always experimenting and finding the people that want to try different things. like the mustard has taken off for me, with my customers at the farmer's market, as well as the restaurant owners.
Cause there's just so much flavor in the mustard greens. It's been really surprising how well that's been adopted since it's such a strong flavor. Like when I eat it, I'm like, wow, that's powerful, but I guess everyone else likes that as well. So it's been a really cool crop to grow.
Diego: [00:12:03] And at this stage, where would you say you're at? Are you beyond the exploring the microgreens is a business stage and now it's really into growth. And with all that seed testing and expanding out into chefs, just finding out who you're going to be as a grower, because I've talked to a lot of growers in, like they have the crops that they grow and they know where they're at.
Where do you feel like you're at on that spectrum?
Jon Grootveld: [00:12:30] Yeah, like I'm I like recently in the last few weeks have really solidified my whole list that I offer. and that's what I'm going to stick to for the next while. So I'm just kinda getting to that stage. The first kind of three, four months was more or less figuring out where that is.
And that's why I think the farmer's market was really great, especially since we have a winter one, I was able to test out different mixes and different stuff and sample stuff out. See what people really liked. So now got it down to a list of six to eight crops, and I'm going to stick to those for the next little while.
but I know like my main ones are the peas. They saw the most peer sunflower, my wheat grass, and my radish. Like those are just like every week I'm growing a lot of those. And then the other ones are more. Based on how many, how many kinds of packages I've been signing? So breaking down, what, how much, how many containers I can get off per plot and then projecting that if I'm going to go and outreach to more restaurants or start hitting more markets, I'm just trying to growing those ones slowly and doing like kind of a sampling those out and seeing if I need to start growing more of them, but I kind of stick to my guns with the main four crops.
Diego: [00:13:47] Those four of those. Are your winners so far, is there any crops that even at this stage you said no to, like they're just not going to work in your system?
Jon Grootveld: [00:13:55] Yeah, I think the Swiss chard, but like I have the bag of seeds.
Like I have seeds left over, the Swiss shard. It's been really annoying for the seed shells. They're so delicate. So when you're cutting them, try not to ruin them and then also pulling off the seed shells. And if you leave any of the, like the, let's seed shells in there and someone bites on it, like I've done that once or twice. And it sucks.
I don't want that for my customers. if we do miss something, that's the worst, like other ones like radish, like you can, you don't really notice any of the shells, but like the Swiss chard, biting into that as like biting a rock.
Diego: [00:14:33] With a lot of these crops going out to restaurants, it sounds like you're having some success there. Cause you've mentioned you're moving to quite a few restaurants. Have microgreens not really hit your area as that. How you're getting into a lot of these restaurants. Do you think? Because I talked to some other people and they had struggled with restaurants. somebody is already growing in that market or the chefs just aren't interested.
Where do you feel like you're at, in terms of being a pioneer grower in that area? Or is it just you're growing better than somebody who's already there?
Jon Grootveld: [00:15:09] I think it's a couple reasons why they've been taking off. just, like in my area where I live is because like over the last three years, I think I've really developed a lot of good relationships with the chefs and I've always walked around and done some like primary market research.
Cause I've been interested in getting into indoor farming, like doing herbs and leafy greens and stuff like that. So then when. When I had this operation, I just had a bank of contacts. And I just started emailing people and people were really interesting, interested. It was good to reconnect with them.
And then they're like, yeah, just come by. I don't really know the crops, but if you come by, we'll see what we can do. So I think it was good that I built those relationships. And then the other thing is that, My shelf life has been a lot better than the competitors that were in the area. I'm like we have sup lasting at least two weeks.
it's been really good. We had one restaurant where they forgot about a thing of peas. And, they left a clamshell and in the fridge and three weeks later it looked still like really good. So it was really surprising to see. they're really liking that is that, it's not going to go bad in a couple of days and we only have to deliver once a week for them.
so it's been really good for that and learning what we're doing has been good with our processing. so that's what I take pride in now is making sure everything lasts. Long and has good integrity.
Diego: [00:16:33] This is something we've talked a lot about on the show at this point. What do you think is the key to the good shelf life?
Jon Grootveld: [00:16:40] I think I, when I cut stuff and packaged stuff, I do small quantities, at the start, I know if I was doing sunflower, I'd cut eight trays and then try and, do get rid of all the halls and stuff like that and package them all. And then once they're all packaged, then put them into the cooler.
but now it's I'll do maybe six packages at a time, like one or two flights and then get them right into the cooler, or right into the fridge. And, yeah, just being really quick with that and not leaving stuff out. that's been the key, I think. and we've really improved on that in the last four months.
Diego: [00:17:15] Knowing Chris, you're on the line here, and everything that Jon's doing over in Ontario, what are your thoughts on some of the challenges and some of the successes that he's having so far?
Chris Thoreau: it's really, it seems like a similar story. We hear a lot and you build your clientele up over time. You utilize the contacts you've already got. you pick your, you pick your core crops and you experiment with others. it sounds like people are following our advice. I know it's working. but I think what happens is when you're doing that stuff, it starts to be very intuitive.
It's something grows well. Then you want to keep growing it. And when something's difficult to grow, you want to step back because you need to build the business. You need to make the sales. And then I think once you get rolling and a little more comfortable in your operation, you can go back and start experimenting with things that aren't growing as well, or aren't fitting into your system as well.
But as you get to learn the system better, you can tweak it and learn to adapt a little better. and then really, the thing that's always nice to hear is the, hearing growers talk about the importance of the integrity of their product. And I've pushed this in a lot of our conversations and in my consults and workshops and the value of a good storing product goes such a long way.
with chefs in particular, but even if you're selling the grocery stores and people are taking that product home and they do it, they forget it in the fridge, or even if it's in the fridge for a week and it's still, looking really good, and often as you mentioned in there, Jon, as good as day one, that really goes a long way with a lot of people, especially because.
some of the feedback I've heard from chefs in the past is they're getting microgreens delivered and they're actually off. Some of them are off upon delivery. And it's just because it's already been potentially two or three days since it's left the left of the production facility. It's been through a couple of distributors.
It gets handled. And that. Increases the risk of damage and damage increases the risk of deterioration. so it's another sort of advantage of buying direct and buying local that I think chefs see. So really good to see you, that sort of principle holding true and seeing chefs all over the place, really valuing that.
And obviously in the end, what happens is you don't waste any product. And as a chef, that means right. I think better use of the money you're spending. So it's great that you're, you've identified that. you're really pushing that. And it's a big part of your, business approach going forward.
Jon Grootveld: [00:19:48] Yeah. And I think that's like when I'm talking to people, especially at the farmer's market, like that's the thing that like when they come back, they realize that, and that's what I told them since day one. It's look, this is going to last you two weeks. You want to eat it in a week and come back, but I'm like, it's going to last you.
So if you miss a week or whatever it is like, It'll be fine. And we've been getting so many comments with that, even at the farmer's market. Cause those people really appreciate that as well. so yeah, it's really good to like now we take that really seriously and building that into our process.
Yes. It was pretty funny. I went into a grocery store last week. I'm in a new town, and, I went in there and talked to the manager. They have a cafe in and, a display there as well. And I asked him like, yeah, are you guys selling any sprouts? Or microgreens, he's yeah, you can go check them out.
I gave him my card and the price list and stuff like that. And I go over there and they were just all wilted and they look terrible. And he walked over and he took them off the shelf. So it was pretty funny.
Chris Thoreau: [00:20:46] Those are somewhat ideal situations. Cause you know, one of the approaches we use for a while was we would approach a grocer.
We would say, okay, we're going to supply you with this much, every delivery. We're not going to charge you for anything unless you sell it. We'll do that for the first month. And then if you decide, you want to keep going. then we'll just have a regular thing and it's your responsibility to manage your stock.
and once again, if you're coming in and sales are at least equivalent, but they're not throwing anything away, there's a lot of value that goes and do that for them. So that's great to hear, and picking up on another thing you said earlier, one of the keys to having fresh product is just cutting it in small batches.
you don't want to have eight or 10 trays where there's something sitting in water. You want to cut a tray, get an in and out of water. If that's what you're doing or get it cut and packaged it into the fridge right away. And that's actually, those are very key things for that longevity. Every time that product warms up at shortening its life, even if it's just for a minute.
So going from growing to like to wet and then drive and colder or whatever the cycle is for the crop, that's a huge factor in ensuring you've got that long shelf life.
Jon Grootveld: [00:21:57] Yeah. Yeah, exactly. and we had the biggest problem with that with sunflowers. I find that they get damaged really easily. Like they turn like noodley, like they get really limp, pretty quick.
And so like when we're cutting a bunch of them, we just have a big pile of sunflowers and we're sorting through them. and that just takes a long time. if we don't get all the holes off and, that's one of the questions that I was really interested in, asking you was how to get better uniformity on my sunflowers.
Because like when I go to cut them, I'll have some that are full length and they'll have others that are about half the size. Like those shells aren't coming off very easily. so I'm just wondering how you were able to get, better uniformity and not have so many shells, when you're cutting.
Chris Thoreau: [00:22:37] so the key thing I found with the sunflower and the uniformity is having the weight on top and the pressure during the germination stage. So are you stocking your trays and putting weight on top for that first three or four days?
Jon Grootveld: [00:22:48] I'm stacking them, but I'm not putting, I'm not putting a lot of weight. Like I have a couple pieces of wood that I put in each tray. but I know I watched a video that you had a couple of weeks ago where you had, I guess you put cement in a tray.
Chris Thoreau: [00:23:00] Yeah. So with sunflower we use, it's like a, it's the perfect, it's like an age bike. 18 block or something. It's a block that fits almost perfectly right into the tray.
And I think a weighs about 12 or 15 pounds. And so what you probably noticed is your uniformity. If you were to take a stack of three trays and then lay them out when it's time to uncover them, You're probably going to notice that the tray on the top is the least uniform and the tray on the bottom is the most uniform.
And what that pressure does is it actually regulates the growth. So nothing gets too far ahead and the stuff that's behind, it just seems to all grow at a more steady pace without the pressure you get more, uneven distribution. Having the block on top and a couple of pieces of wood, all that does is keep that top, like the top tray on you actually need, you need the pressure.
and I actually think depending, so the other factor, your seed source, sometimes you get a mix of seed sizes. Most of the time you should get a fairly uniform seed size. But sometimes I know when we've gotten lots from Italy, I find the seed size varies, and then you're going to get a little bit of variation in size, but the pressure actually helps even that out as well.
And with sunflower, you could put two of those blocks, the cement blocks on top. So just. As perspective, that's 25 to 30 pounds sitting on top of those, a stack of three trays. I never stocked them any higher than that.
Jon Grootveld: [00:24:27] So no more than three trays.
Chris Thoreau: [00:24:28] Yeah. I find it's just, it's easier to manage in groups of three, as the stacks get higher, as they start to grow, they're more likely to tip depending when you, when you uncover them, and I just found it's three, a stack of three just looks or graceful, to be honest, every everything, once it gets into four or five, which I did in the beginning, it just didn't look graceful.
and then we would set, our shelving will be enough specific shelving for germination, and we just do everything in groups of three. We would. So our, all our trays and intervals of three, so we would never do 14 trays. We do either 12 or 15. So we just did everything in multiples of three. Three that way. So yeah, that pressure is a big part of it. We have the uniformity for sure.
Jon Grootveld: [00:25:08] Cause I've been, like when I do it, I do eight trays at a time so maybe I can, rather than stacking all eight start stacking, just the four. I know it might not look as good as the three, but
Chris Thoreau: [00:25:21] totally. And then you could still, yeah, you could still do one or two blocks on that. I think one of the things I found with the bigger stacks is, yeah, there is. There's different pressure, like as you move up and down the stack, so you get a little bit of difference. Though it should be honest in the end things even out pretty good.
But, without the weight on the top, you would always notice that the top tray wouldn't do as well. And we would see this periodically. Cause what would happen is we would do germination or we would do all our sewing and everything. We'd put our cover trays on we'd put the cement blocks on. And then every once in a while you would just forget a cement block on a stock, for whatever reason you get distracted and you, you pull that off and you're like, Oh, this tray kind of sucks.
And why? Whereas the trays underneath which still have the pressure of the tray on top are much better germination. So part of it is like that the pressure does regulate the rate at which everything can push up, but it also pushes the seed down into the soil. So you've got really good contact for absorbing the water. And that makes a big difference in the germination of the seed.
Jon Grootveld: [00:26:23] Okay. Yeah, that'll be good to try and just smaller stacks with more weight. That's a good takeaway.
Chris Thoreau: [00:26:30] Yeah. And they, those blocks, whatever they are, that 10 by 18 or whatever, they're a standard sized block at Home Depot for, six or eight bucks each.
So it's, you can buy a lot of them and it's not a huge investment. And then we just add, we do a sanitation program with them, like we do with everything else. Yeah.
Jon Grootveld: [00:26:48] Right on. Yeah. Just like pavers. Yeah. That's good advice.
Diego: [00:26:52] One thing I'm hearing you guys talk about is quality of product, lasting well, and this is something Chris, I think you and I have talked about a lot. To me, this seems like this is a thing that anybody getting into this would do yet. It seems like a lot of the good growers, this has became a competitive advantage.
What are the people out there who aren't doing this well, doing that, the good people aren't. Are they just trying to move stuff along faster or are they cutting corners? Why is product going off?
Jon Grootveld: [00:27:27] I would think that it's more if, even if grow as like one of those large scale people, like it's going to be more of employees at that point. And since it's like me being an owner, like I put a lot of care into it.
Cause I had talked to those customers directly and it's my accountability where I think if it's just a bunch of employees doing it, there's not as much care. And that's where I think the smaller producers can really win. is that you can have a higher quality product and you actually care about the, like the quality of it.
Chris Thoreau: [00:27:58] Yeah. I think that's a pretty good point. I think another thing is, as you get bigger, Or even if you're smaller bet your time is stretched because this is your second job because you've got another job that pays your rent and pays your bills. The idea is you want to get done things as quickly as possible.
we talk about efficiency a lot. And it's easy to cut corners and we sometimes forget the importance of all the little steps that get you to your own product. every step plays a role and the quality of the final product, is your main outcome. and I know over the years, we've had little batches of like disease or just not as good product.
And I can tell it's because somebody has got something going on in their personal life, or yeah. Business is good. And we're a little stretched because someone's on vacation or there's all these factors that just basically come down to cutting corners. And I think it speaks to the importance of having really good systems and then following those systems.
And the challenge with that is you just become an attorney Matan and after a you're like, okay, I'm cutting another tray of microgreens. but it is what needs to happen. Everything needs to be very strict and very routine, an example, a few times we tried different ways of doing sunflower.
And one of the things I found is we've cut the sunflower. It's gone into a cold water bath. It spends one to two minutes in there. And then it comes out and gets spun and that gives us a chance to pick the holes off and whatnot. and we've, for some reason, we're like, we're going to rush.
We're in a rush. We're not going to do the water bath. We're just going to cut them and package them and leave a few of the holes on there. It's fine. And they didn't keep, within four days, we're already seeing some Browning on the cut chips and things like that. And. People noticed the restaurants noticed the customers at the market noticed, and we're just, we just go right away back to, we'll lose those customers very quickly if we don't have that product because we've set the bar so high.
and I think bigger companies, they probably lose customers a lot, but they're. Big enough and they've got enough reach that they're constantly, always gaining customers as well. So I think as a smaller company, risking losing a few customers can actually have a big effect on the business. And so you've got to really have that attention to detail. And I think that's where some people probably just don't go through those steps to make sure that's consistent.
Diego: What have you found Jon so far in terms of being an automaton? How have you found the default monotony that comes with seeding, a bunch of trays harvesting a bunch of trays every week.
Jon Grootveld: [00:30:37] this is a funny subject because I'm bringing, I brought like friends into to help out here and there. And they're like, man, how do you do this? This is like rough, like doing all this. And the thing is, I can listen to podcasts all day. I can be learning and sure.
I can be planting sunflowers. I can be planting peas or cutting whatever, but like I'm constantly learning and figuring out what's going on. so like I enjoy it because it's entertaining to me. Like I like doing like the hand eye coordination stuff. Like I like doing that stuff. And then on top of that, just learning from different people online or having an audio book downloaded and being able to listen to it.
so I enjoy it, to me, like it's funny. Cause people make that comment all the time. man, this is really boring.
Chris Thoreau: [00:31:24] Yeah. it's a funny thing because in general, I can't stand doing that stuff. I need to, I've set up my life and my work. So I'm always doing something different, but for some reason I was able to do the microgreen stuff a really long time.
It's the thing I've done the longest in my life. but I've done a consult with a few people actually, and they've started businesses and they've gone a few months and then they've folded it and gotten in touch and said, that's just. Just not what we do. It's just boring. It's just not interesting. They appreciated the product, but it just never, it never clicked for them. So I'm always really intrigued by that.
Diego: It's really a business. Chris, if you're going to get into this, you got to enjoy being an automaton, cause there's no way around that unless you have partners, employees, or somebody else to do it, But likely at the beginning stages for most people, like you will be an automaton.
Chris Thoreau: Yeah. and the nice thing about if there's anything nice about being an automaton it's that you can you're doing stuff after a point without even thinking about it, we could cut and clean, we could cut and clean trays and trays of sunflower with blindfolds on, we literally could.
So what we did at the food Pedalers a lot is we, Often, all of us has co-op members where there, we would talk about markets. We would talk about clients. We would talk about the product, which is good in a way. And in another way, it's a challenge because when you talk in a meeting, you talk, you make notes, you make plans.
And what would often happen is we would talk, we would make plans. And then we forget about it sometimes as well. So it's important to remember that. You need to go back and revisit those things in those meetings. but Jon, you're doing a similar thing. You're using that time to listen, to podcasts, to listen to audio books.
And so you are actually doing some genuine multitasking there. So it's, if you can make use of that time, either through learning or through social engagement and it becomes a little more valuable. and I've always kept in mind, all that, over the years, every time I'm cutting a tray, it's like, The quality control all the time.
We're getting so look at every single bit of product that leaves here. I know that every single person that buys this is going to appreciate it. I know that the whole business, even though it's mentioned to generate revenue and it's a business it's really built around. health and it was actually a great hearing.
You talk at the beginning, Jon, about, what drew you to this was nutrient density, not dollars per tray, which is what often happens. people, Oh, 20, $30 a tray, they're doing the math. and because it is, it's a really, it's a really fulfilling job because it's more than generating revenue. It's contributing to it to a healthier society.
Jon Grootveld: [00:34:07] Yeah, exactly. And it's really funny. Cause like I tell people like we're not doctors or anything, but like here's a couple of links where you can go and learn this stuff, like pub med articles and stuff like that. And then people come back and they're like, man, I'm excited to eat these now.
Like I learned all this about it and. now we're learning about how we could use this more into our diets, because it's so great. And just to hear that, you're getting people to look into their health more like that's really satisfying. And people coming back to the farmer's market the next week and saying, Oh, have you ever tried using it in A, B and C like whatever kind of dish and they're getting really excited about it.
So that's the stuff that I really value. and I remember listening to your things before, and it was just like, Everyone's looking at 20, $30 a tray. I'm like, yeah, it doesn't work out like that. by the end, like by the amount of time that you're putting into it and everything else, like you're not making a ton per tray, but, you're still making good money, but, it's not what, the craze or some sort of crazes online about a microgreen business.
Chris Thoreau: [00:35:08] Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And it's good to see, you're seeing that in the beginning, like there's money to be made, but boy it sure takes a lot of time and money in for everything to make that money. yeah, it's not a, it's not free money.
Jon Grootveld: [00:35:19] no, not at all.
Diego: [00:35:22] As you�re growing the business, Jon, where do you feel like you need to be in terms of trays per week to make this thing work for you? You just mentioned, Hey, it's not a lot of portray and I don't know if you're doing this as a full-time business. It has to provide a quote full time income, or this is side income it's bonus income to get the business to where you want it to be for your goals. How many trays do you need to do a week?
Jon Grootveld: [00:35:50] from this summer? I want to be up to 200 trays a week. That's my aim. And we're right around a hundred, a hundred a week right now. so we're about halfway there and, like it's only been four months and now since it's, getting into the summertime, we're going to have a couple more because they get into, so I don't think we'll have too big of a problem getting up to there.
But it's just going to be able to. Maintain the same kind of stuff that we're talking about before with product integrity, with doing double the amount of work. I think it's going to be a challenge in that way, and I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to do it all by myself. So I think that's kinda the next step too, is having that extra help, with the other markets. And then also, with the extra workload that it's going to be to do double the amount of trays.
Chris Thoreau: [00:36:36] Yeah, that's a good thing to keep in mind is, knowing what your capacity is. If you're not, if you're working beyond capacity, you're going to burn yourself out and then it ceases to be fun. And I know I've gone through stages over the years where it is too much work or I'm trying to do more marketing or something else, or I'm just doing stuff in the other parts of my life.
And it gets exhausting because even though it's not. Super physically demanding. It's actually very physical work. You're always moving and you're, you've always got things to think about with your production, with your harvesting, with your sales, but you're collecting money from invoices. There's always lots of stuff going on.
So be prepared as quickly as you can to bring somebody on who's who is basically your go to automaton, or you bring on a business partner or an equal, there's lots of different ways you can do it. But, Cause that person hopefully brings other skills. That'll fill some of your gaps as well and strengthen you, strengthen your approach overall.
But if you try to take on too much and you burn out, then it gets really harder to maintain that sort of equanimity.
Jon Grootveld: [00:37:43] Yeah, for sure. And like the guys that are upstairs, like the one guy he's partnered with us, so he's, I've been teaching him for the last. I'd say three weeks because I'm actually getting married in a month and, 14 days.
So I'm like, I've got to have him set it up, that he could run it for that week to week and a half gap where I might not be around.
Diego: At 200 trays a week. What do you think you're going to have to be putting in terms of hours too.
Chris Thoreau: [00:38:13] Produce those trays and then sell the product off of those trays, because this is another thing that I don't think comes up when people think about this.
It's, there's a lot of hours into those 200 trays, which your estimate of where you're going to be at come summer. I think I'm going to be like right now, I'm probably around 30 to 36 hours doing what I'm doing. We're doing a hundred trays, but that's also doing other stuff too. like for direct production, probably between planting, harvesting, and maintaining maybe doing 16 to 20 hours, depending on the week and depending on how much help I have.
So I think that I'll be up to the 40 hours a week, in the summertime plus, the extra hours that I'd have to put in for any marketing stuff. so it's definitely going to be busy and I'm looking to get some more help. I've got a couple of people interested, but it's more or less figuring out how they fit in, and what their goals are with it.
If they're just looking to help for a summer or they want to be able to do this longer term. Cause I'd love to find people that, really value this and want to help take it. Take it to a, another level, double what we're doing now and eventually, even farther than that. so it's about finding the right people that want to do it, I think.
And, and I think I'm getting there, it's just a matter of sitting down and being like, okay, so you're going to do this. Yes. Okay. it's just finalizing everything.
Diego: [00:39:41] What are your thoughts, Chris, here in that you've raised, or you've been in production with over 200 trays a week in the past for one person, you hear 200 trays a week. What do you think the time commitment is in there?
Chris Thoreau: I'm trying to recall hours. So I guess the question is that over one harvest or two harvest, Jon?
Jon Grootveld: [00:40:03] that's been the issue for the last couple of weeks is that it's all over one harvest. So I've been doing everything on a Friday.
And my Fridays are pretty big. Like I'm doing about 10 hours on the Friday of like cutting and packaging and washing and everything.
Chris Thoreau: [00:40:17] Yeah. I can't remember ours off the top of my head, but one of the things is how those hours are distributed. And that's a perfect example. I remember my first year, my Friday was eight in the morning.
Ill midnight. Cause that was, I had to go to the site, which was 45 minutes away. Do my production, bring it back home. I had a newborn, so there was a little gap where I could do nothing. And then when he was asleep, I would do all the packing at night and get it ready for the markets.
So Fridays were we're right off, literally. Okay. Saturday you're at the market. So you're basically you're up, maybe at six, the market starts at nine. you do all that. You come back, you pack up by the time you're done. It's, six in the evening, five in the evening, maybe. So those two days are gone.
depending how the system is set up, then you've got to think, okay, then you've got to do your sewing. And generally your sewing days are a little easier because you're not doing all the other stuff. And then there's cleanup, you've got to wash trays, you've got to wash your equipment.
There's certain things. And there's certain things that. Ideally or washed right away. And that's one of the things that can lengthen your harvest days and other things that can wait. So maybe you push, washing your trays back to a different day to a, to an off day or on a day. That's not as intense. So one of the things that one of the approaches is there's a hierarchy of tasks.
washing trays is a trivial. Task. And within 15 minutes, anybody is an expert and then there's filling trays with soil. So there's all these things. And one of the approaches is to find somebody who kinda like yourself can just do it. Repetitive tasks is happy to listen to music.
We'll take a lower wage to maybe it's a high school, well students or something, and that's what they're doing. And then if they're really into that, and they're curious some they're, they're really engaging. And then. You build them up. It's okay, now I'm gonna to, if you're doing some of the sewing, now I'm going to get you doing some of the crop maintenance.
And so if you find somebody, they often work their way up. Yeah. And we've had that where somebody works, we've brought them in. It's just, slave labor, basically. It just do what we tell you to do to working their way, all the way up to becoming a co op partner. And so it really depends on how much they engage.
And ideally, you're trying to figure that out from the beginning through interviews or whatever, but sometimes you just got lucky and sometimes you don't. And so what I found was important just is passing off those tasks that you don't need to do. it's great when you're at the market and you're the face of the business.
It's great. When you're doing the restaurant deliveries. It's even great when you're doing the harvesting and packing, you're the final quality control, but the other things, like maybe somebody else's sewing and you're just checking the trays quickly before they cover them up. Someone else is washing the trays, filling the trays with soil.
So that's the stuff that frees up your time to a rest. or have another life, cause that is important, or B to do more marketing, to keep your books in order, do it to expand, add more shelving, tweak other things, the stuff that you need to do. But by the end of a Friday or Saturday, you don't have the energy Sunday, you're patching up Monday.
You've got your other job Tuesday. So things can get out of control. So passing some of that stuff on to somebody else, goes a long way. So I look at it as a hierarchy of tasks, basically.
Jon Grootveld: [00:43:30] No, that's good advice because, yeah, like I leave those trays and everything to be washed. I get my, the guy who's who lives in the town where my, I'm about 40 minutes away from my, production as well.
So I get him to soak my, my peas and my son or my peas and my, wheat grass on Sunday. So then they're ready to plant on the Monday and then, Like I'm working part time, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, that's all at night. So it's not a big deal, like it's not during the day. but then I've got to split everything up between washing my trays, being able to plant them and everything else, like on those two days, plus go to work at night.
So that's where I'm running into issues. So that's a good call of finding someone to replace those tasks. And we're definitely gonna need that in the summertime. because those days are crazy. Just, like being able to do all that and really rushing to get those washed. And then maybe I get a couple calls and then I'm falling behind and then, I gotta be home at a certain time.
So then if I don't get something done, it gets passed on to the next day. And, that's like the long thing. Like the Monday to just Tuesdays can be a little bit hectic.
Chris Thoreau: [00:44:38] Yeah. And to be honest, starting a business like this, ruined a marriage though. No, keep in mind, like that's obviously a priority for you and starting a business, no matter what it is always takes a ton of time.
And so you want to make sure your time that goes into the business is the most important stuff and cleaning trays and filling them a soil is important, but anybody can do that. And so that's that stuff. If you get that stuff off very quickly, you're freeing up that time. So you do have family time.
You need, you have recreation time. you do have a life cause it can be all encompassing. And that kind of wears thin after awhile.
Jon Grootveld: [00:45:14] Yeah. Yeah. And I've got some, I've got some, some nudges saying you gotta be more.
Chris Thoreau: [00:45:20] Yeah, exactly.
Jon Grootveld: [00:45:22] Yeah. especially coming in this close to her wedding too.
Diego: [00:45:26] Yeah, I'm totally on board there with Chris. life in many ways in most ways is more important than businesses and a business can be a quick way to really destroy a life. But I also get the challenges of being a new business owner where resources are strapped time, money. And you think about, yes, it would be nice to hire out for these tasks, but that has challenges. Can I trust this person? Are they reliable? Can I afford to pay them as a new business owner or a younger business owner? How do you view. Being able to take some of these more monotonous tasks and find somebody to do them. Do you feel that as a challenge or is that a no brainer? that's easy. It's not even a second consideration at the Sage or out with the business.
Jon Grootveld: [00:46:23] I think it's it's a difficult thing. Like I haven't hired anyone really for anything before for a consistent position. Like I've paid some people to come out for a day and help me get some stuff done. not just for this like other things that I've done before too, but not like consistently, paying them as their jobs.
So that's a big step. And then just trying to figure out like, how much am I paying them? And how much am I not putting back into other things and what might I have to sacrifice to be able to pay them to be able to breathe. So it's like a bit of a juggle and trying to figure that out.
and I've been able to manage like the production mostly by myself now, but yeah, you're definitely right. it'd be good to scale back some of those tasks. so that's what I think after this conversation would be good thing to figure out for myself, especially coming into this next month.
Chris Thoreau: [00:47:08] Yeah, and then there's other strategies. So one of the things, I remember in the beginning is I bought way more trays than I tech technically needed. For some reason I didn't have the time or energy to wash trays. I just had backups ready to go. So I could fill these trays, the soil. So there's, you're spending a bit more capital up front, but those trays for a lifetime. So you're, it's, you're spending more money now you're giving yourself a bit of a buffer and you're going to spend less money later if you've got that fund, the funds to put out, other things like, you may not wash your trays right away, but at least you're soaking them.
So when you do go to Washington, you're washing them quicker. So just little things like that along the way as you go, w make the tasks easier. You're setting yourself up for easy tasks later.
Jon Grootveld: [00:47:54] Yeah. And that's a good point with the trays because I'm like at the capacity. I think I need to buy my next bit of trays is because like I have to have those wash, then I'm getting like just the right amount of trees that have what I'm washing.
I think that's a good idea and that's where I could start even like this week, or like next week is being able to get more trays and having them already ready to go, come Monday morning so I can start planting.
Chris Thoreau: [00:48:17] Yeah. And obviously you're going to need those. if you're, if you're right, like you need to wash those trays in order to do your next planting, you're already beyond your trade capacity.
So if you're looking to double, your production, you're going to need more than double the trays. So I think I worked it out. I figured you actually need. Five times as many trays as the number of trades you want to produce in a week, you've got to keep in mind, especially if you're doing too harvests a week because you've essentially got, three crops going at a time.
So you basically have 300 trays in production, then you've got 200 ready to go.
Jon Grootveld: [00:48:53] some germinating, some that are few days ahead. And some of you.
Chris Thoreau: [00:48:57] Yep. And when you just start getting into two harvests a week, you're doing two sewings a week. You're splitting up. So you've got your numbers are smaller, but then you've got these rotations.
So yeah, you do need, and it's a funny thing. I, I always struggle with this and my basic thing in the beginning was if I pay somebody else to do work, then I don't get that money. But what it does is it gives you time. And time, and I don't want to be cliched and say time is money, but time is used to do the tasks that can generate more revenue.
they allow you to do more outreach with restaurants, but more than that, like going back to the family imbalance things, it allows you to stay connected to your social network. It allows you to do. Recreational activities. And about four years ago, I was working a lot. I was burning out a lot and then I started really rethinking about how I was doing things.
And in the beginning, to backtrack a bit in the beginning, you've got to expect to put that time in. You do have to put in those long hours, The mid model just can be based on that in the longterm, any business, whether it's a microgreens operation or a restaurant or a retail store, there's always that time to be put in, but you've got to ideally quickly, you get to a point of equilibrium where you can step back a bit and things can run themselves.
And what I've found, I found as I was doing more recreational stuff, which was that a much bigger. Use of calories and energy. but because it was so invigorating and it was engaging, engaging with world. Again, it actually gave me more energy when I went back to work because I wasn't resentful of being at work because it wasn't there all the time.
And when you're doing work and then you're coming home and you're spending a bit of time with your partner and then 10 o'clock, they go to sleep and you're at the computer doing your numbers after a while. You're like, I just, I don't want to do that this anymore. I'm tired there. the payoff isn't soon enough.
you spending that money, even though it seems like a loss, it's an investment and it's an investment in many ways in your mental and emotional health. And if you don't have that building a business, there's really no point running your in a home business. So I like to stray away from the production efficiencies and the methods of bitches to remind people that, cause I've seen plenty of people burn out and I've done it many times myself and I always struggle with that balance.
And yeah, as I've matured in my perspective, on these things, really what it comes down to. you said it well, Diego is like life isn't about work. Life is about life and if you don't have a life, then it's very difficult. Correct me if I'm wrong and you might've said this, sorry.
Diego: If I missed it, Jon, this is a full time thing for you now, or that you're doing this in addition to another job.
Jon Grootveld: [00:51:40] Yeah, the other job, I'm only like I get paid pretty well to do it. I'm only working 12 hours a week doing that one, but that still pays like pretty much most of my bills. So everything else on top of that is it's either, being able to reinvest it back into growing or, being able to cover some of the costs, like travel costs and stuff like that.
You're going down there. so it's pretty much full time right now. Just trying to get everything going and start growing like our production and being able to be a little bit more efficient. Like I'm just spending a lot of time there to be able to, sink myself into the business and the process.
Diego: [00:52:17] And how do you find life at this stage? And you're coming up on marriage. And you're working part time, even if it's only 12 hours a week, you're running a business it's full time and a full time business can easily become a hundred hour week. If you let it, how do you find balancing it all?
Jon Grootveld: [00:52:36] like today on Thursdays, I like to take up the whole day. and like my fiance, she works shift work, like depending on the week, there'll be one day or the other, like a Monday, Tuesday, she'll be off a Wednesday, Thursday. So I try and match up day, to be able to spend a full day and then like we can spend the day with the dogs or, go and do something that we want to do.
and just have that kind of quality time. but she also works a lot too, which is good and she's doing really well with her career. but it's more or less taking. Like I finally taking a full day. I might put a couple hours in, answering some emails or something like that, but more or less like shutting off and experiencing more in that full day.
And then coming back to it, especially when it's on a Thursday, like today I get to come back and tomorrow for work and, reinvigorated and go out my harvest day.
Diego: [00:53:23] And with everything that you have going on right now. we've talked a lot on life. We've talked some production, Chris is on the line here. Are there any big questions you have in terms of production or sales or balancing things out that are problems for you now, or problems that you foresee coming in the next few months?
Jon Grootveld: [00:53:40] The one thing that Chris, I really wanted to talk to you about, just because it's in the same, like I've looked into the business model, but like the co-op and how it works for you.
And how, what the benefits are of studying it up as a co op, like this business model. I was really interested in how you guys have been doing that. just going forward, like being able to share ownership. So then you have other people that are caring as much about the product and the process and everything else.
but not doing as much as the share structure. Just figuring out how you guys have been doing it and how it's working for you and what, like the benefits are of doing it.
Chris Thoreau: [00:54:15] Yeah. So I don't know that the co-op model is always the best model. and it might make sense in the short term to be a sole proprietor, to get things going and then form a co-op later, which is what I did.
Though, when I started, I was very much, my mindset was I can do this, I can do this. I can be in charge and I could be in control because that's just how I was and that's what I needed in my life. And so I thought, but as the business grew, I saw that. I didn't want to do everything. I didn't want to be the grower of the market or the bookkeeper, the delivery person, the market person.
It gets trying. And by bringing in more people who are as invested as you are, you bring, yeah. As you mentioned, you bring people who are going to put as much effort into it as you hopefully are passionate. And what they're going to do is they're going to bring new skill sets. And the thing I push in the co op model is you own this business.
You're also a, you're also an employee or you're a worker. So you have a direct sort of impact on how much money you make. And if you put the time and energy into the marketing or. Making production efficient. then, you really have that kind of control. Whereas if, when you're working for someone else, it's literally, you just go to work.
you do your work. Often you come home, maybe you get a chance for bonuses or whatever, the status job, doesn't give you those opportunities. So I like that about it. there's a couple of things. So running a co-op it's another being a cop is another thing to manage. It's Keeping or collecting invoices, you've got to have regular meetings.
You want to document those meetings. You've got an annual general meeting. You need to do, you need to file things. there's this responsibility that comes up and there's these co-op principles. I think, ideally you want to adhere to. So it does bring another logistical piece. The other thing is you need to choose the right people and the cooperative way of doing things isn't intuitive.
at least it's not on the West coast. I'm going to assume it's a North American thing. cause I don't see a lot of really successful co-ops and in the beginning, I don't know that I chose the right co-op partners, over time. Things evolved and it got better, but there's certain, there's a certain drive that you need to be successful at this, which I don't see a lot of people having, that entrepreneurial drive that sense of.
If I don't do it's not going to get done. often as an employee, if you don't do something, either, it just doesn't get done or somebody else does it. And that's not an option when you run your own business. And so if you've got a good functioning co-op with members who are engaged and involved and believe in that print those principles, then you're laughing, things work well.
People know the roles and responsibilities they, you fill each other's gaps. So I think it's worth considering, it's just a matter of keeping in mind, the logistics, and choosing the right people and understanding whether or not you're one of the right people. if you're a, if you're a control freak or you need to, if you're a micromanager, whatever you might be like.
Ah, yeah, I don't think I want to be in a co op. So those are some good things to check in on. Yeah,
Jon Grootveld: [00:57:30] no, that's a good point. Now that's a lot of information. no, that's good. cause even I've seen like a few people like, and they want to start their own thing, but like they, they want to be the entrepreneur that does everything.
And I get that. Cause that's the same attitude that I had. But it would be so much better if everyone just got of teamed up a little bit, the two or three people that are wanting to split off and do all these little things. It's if we were to be able to have a structure where we can all be together on it and grow as one group, we could be a lot more successful in the area.
Chris Thoreau: [00:58:02] Yeah, definitely most definitely. I, there is this idea of, yeah, I do it and I'm going to prove I can do it. you can move, you can do it by doing it with other people as well. it depends, I think it depends every year buddies under a different place in their life. And I think for me, I went from a point of wanting to start this, wanting to die.
I went straight to myself that I could do this. it really was something started from an idea. I remember the idea and I remember it cultivating into my head and I remember that, okay. I decided to go ahead with it. And it was difficult and stressful and I fought through it.
Boy, it sure would have been easier to have somebody else there to talk through some of these things with. I, over the years now, it's great cause no, there wasn't a lot of resources out there for microgreens and I think I was able to contribute to a lot of that, but a lot of people around the world were simultaneously getting into microgreens production.
And so now, as you've done, you've really had resources to utilize in order to be successful and you got successful way faster than I did. and so that's great. You've got that sort of. Community, you've got that kind of advantage, but having a team in place that you can be successful and build with, that's gonna, that's gonna probably really, it's more likely to guarantee you success in the mid and short and longterm.
So I actually asked her going. So I'm flipping through the pictures here, Jon, that you had sent to, Diego in. It's a great looking setup. There's one thing that always stands out for me. And because I just sent a message to someone else on Facebook yesterday, about the same thing I see your lowest shelf of production is very good.
Close to the floor. and that low shelf is very susceptible to combination. little things that you can kick up from your feet. it's where everything that falls is going to end up. So I would suggest eliminating that. Bottom shelf. And I've always had the rule of my lowest shelf is at about knee level.
And so you lose a bit of production space there, but hopefully it's not so much that it, that it changes everything for you. I'm as I'm sure you've heard in our previous podcast is I'm overly neurotic about hygiene and sanitation and seeing that stuff close to the ground because the ground is where.
A lot of contaminants come in. we're bringing stuff from the outside, through our shoes and through our boots and whatnot. And as we move around, we're always really close to those, trays. So my suggestion is to bring those up and leave that bottom shelf. You can use it for storage.
You can use it for other things, but I wouldn't do production down. There would not even like stacking those other trays. That wouldn't be a good thing either.
Chris Thoreau: [01:00:35] so that is, that's a potential option. And what you could actually do, you do is you could put a guard in front of them. You put something in front of them because they're still there and stuff could still bounce up and get on the edge.
And once a passage or something, isn't a train, it can spread whether they're covered or not. the risk in doing that, if you put a guard or something, it's another thing that potentially reduces the airflow. And that's going to be your coldest point in the room. if you put your hands in the air and then you put them down on the ground, you'll feel the temperature difference.
And the germination stage of production is super crucial. And so you want to make sure that the temperature is still optimum for germination, because if they get off to a slow start, It's harder for them to recover. Whereas if they got off to a really good start and the conditions aren't great afterwards, they tend to do better.
So it may not necessarily be the best place for germination either. They'll try it. And if that works and you can keep them contained, then that's a good use of that space. What we would use as far as we put our trays down there, we would put our, our cleaning brush and stuff down there. That was our storage for stuff that we used. so we did make use of that space.
Jon Grootveld: [01:01:42] Yeah. You guys are in a bit tighter of a space. Like we've got a lot of room to play with and I've got more racks too. So like eliminating that bottom row, won't be a big deal. Cause I still have a couple of racks that I'm not utilizing right now.
So that won't be the big issue and yeah, like we've been, we, I do my germinating, like right beside the furnace that's in the basement there. So that kind of keeps everything pretty warm.
Chris Thoreau: [01:02:04] Yeah, that's great. The other thing is, one of my goals behind designing the original system that I did was I wanted to bend over as little as possible, and that's a long way down actually. And so the less you have to bend over, bending over as you get older, becomes more and more difficult. So it's one of those things that it's just like it's eliminating a workplace hazard is what it's doing actually.
Jon Grootveld: [01:02:26] That's a good point.
Chris Thoreau: [01:02:27] I don't know. I don't know how old you are, but I'm in my, getting into my mid-forties. So I'm starting to, I feel what I'm bending over a lot in a day, so yeah. I'm 24. So you gotta look, you've got a lot of bending over left to do. Yeah.
Jon Grootveld: [01:02:40] Yeah, exactly. that's why I like getting into the pharmacy stuff too. Cause like I like being able to be productive and the farming stuff is something that's really tangible of how you can, see how your productivity is happening and especially with the microgreens. Because it's so fast. so that's why I got into it. So it getting the hands dirty and being productive for society, you could
Chris Thoreau: [01:03:00] No, absolutely. It's fulfilling work. And that makes it easier for sure.
Jon Grootveld: [01:03:06]Another question that I had a few, What about, questions, but I'll go with this one first. Is that is there anything that you're doing to educate people on microgreens that don't understand them as well? Like I've been working on like a couple of different pitches that help people, but is there any like kind of tricks that you've found that are able to get people, more interested or more willing to start adopting them?
Chris Thoreau: [01:03:30] to be honest, the basic approach like it is with a lot of stuff is you just get people to eat them. So when you go to a restaurant, you go in with samples and say, Hey, try these. and you can describe them. These sunflower are crunchy and nutty, these peas are tender and sweet.
These radish, I have a spicy Tang. I used to go in and say, you could do this and that, but I'm not a chef. And I actually think it was the best. Patronizing. but I might say, a lot of people use these as garnish, some of our chefs use them as a solid base. And so I try to push them as a core in a recipe, as opposed to a, like a dainty, a dainty garnish and same thing at the farmer's market.
you just got to get people eating them. and when they try something like a nice tender peashooter, you see the reaction and I'm sure you've seen it already. They're just like, wow, that's great. I had no idea. And people are interested. I think in this day and age when they eat something that they've never even seen before.
And they like it, you know what we're often introduced to new, exotic food that is really weird, crazy dragon fruit or, whatever. Yes. And so something that. People can eat that they've never had before, but it's familiar, can go a long way. And then the other thing which you're already on top of is just the level of nutrient density within them.
the hyper localness of them, the hyper freshness. We've always Try to group all the things we do in a spiel, we're local, we're organic, it's nutrient dense. They store really well. and in our case, we deliver by bike the same day we harvest. So we would hit all those points.
and people with the feedback we would get from people is like the, one of the reasons they like our product is because it offers so many things and you're already well on that track in the same way. So I think a lot of it is giving them a. A sense of the holistic approach you're taking, but it needs to be coupled with them eating it.
you've got a, a favorite salad or something you do. You could make up a little recipe cards and have them at the market. Here's my, a sunflower sprout blue cheese and cranberry salad. It's my favorite thing. Here's my, a stir fried, She shoots with garlic and butter recipe, here's my, a mixed salad with radish shoots.
So there's different ways of just getting people doing it. And recipes is another great way because then there's no figuring stuff out. So yeah, those are a few of the things we've done over the years. Maybe not even as much as we could have. We talked about recipe cards and stuff, lots. And then it's just one of those things nobody had the energy to do.
Jon Grootveld: [01:06:07] Yeah, I haven't done that yet,
Chris Thoreau: [01:06:09] but often pays off. And this is the thing is if you don't do something, then nothing happens. If you at least try something, it has C as the possibility of making an impact. The other thing is to be it's interesting. Is, you've got to be doing constant outreach.
cause what you'll do I noticed over time is micro greens customers come and go. No, people are always going to buy beets and carrots and spinach and broccoli and potatoes and things like that. But they tend to go through microgreens phases. And so I think that the constant marketing is important.
And what you'll find over time is customers you're getting now, or people you talked to two years ago. and they're just like, I just couldn't use them then, but, now I'm at a new restaurant. We have a different menu and yeah. And microgreens came up cause it fits in well with what we're doing.
And you're the first people that came to mind and that's happened to us so many times just from talking to people at events, having a good social media presence. So when people. Think microgreens in Vancouver, they think of the food Pedalers and sometimes that stuff doesn't pay off for one, two or three years, over time, if you're looking at a longterm business, you want to establish that name and that brand and that reputation.
So you've got to have longterm thinking on that sort of stuff.
Jon Grootveld: [01:07:26] No, that's good advice. another question that I had, and this is like the next, the thing that I want to start implementing the Springer, how to do, a CSA program for the microgreens. and I was just wondering if you've done that where people pay either monthly or quarterly or yearly, and just so that you have that guarantee of the sale.
and then that helps you also predict, like with production. because it's hard to always predict with, with the farmer's market, because even two weeks ago we had a big ice storm and it was really bad farmer's market. But if I could, those consistent customers, that's yeah, what's, it's gonna be able to keep me afloat in those kinds of times. So I was wondering if you've done the CSA type of program with the microgreens specifically.
Chris Thoreau: [01:08:11] So I haven't, and I've talked to a number of people over the years who have talked about doing it as well. So I think there's some validity in the CSA microgreens model. I think there's a few things to take into consideration.
One is, as I just mentioned, people tend to do microgreens and phases. So instead of doing a six or eight month or 12 month program, yeah, you would split it into say quarterly or monthly or bimonthly. so people are paying for a certain period, but they're not. Cause if they sign up for too long, a period of the not for three months, they're like, I'm sick of microgreens.
Then you're going to get people either dropping out or whatever. So you do it in phases, same thing. You're always marketing to get people to for the next sort of iteration. or you could set it up so people can join at any time. Yeah. And then they're prepaying basically. and the, those are guaranteed sales.
So the way we do that in a way is we do have home delivery customers. and if they want home delivery, it's a minimum depending where they live, if one or two pounds per delivery and they have to prepay for the month. And that's just because it's just too hard to collect every week. over time we stopped dealing with cash and just moved to all electronic payments.
Cause it's just easier to track. It's easier for everybody. it means you're reporting more of it to the government, but in reality, as you get to be a bigger business, you got to do that anyways. and so that was the kind of model. The other thing is if you're doing it over a longer period of time, The general CSA model is people come and pick up their CSA at a pickup point.
And if they're just coming up, coming into pick $15 of microgreens up a week, that's not a compelling case. if you're going to pick up your vape GCSA and it's your veggies for the week. I'll be honest. That's not even a particularly compelling case for me. I've never been part of a CSA program cause veggies, I eat more than NECs say would probably give me, and I'm going to do all this other shopping anyway.
So I'd actually much rather go to the farmer's market where I can pick up my veggies, jeez. And some bread and some pesto and, the chocolate banana loaf. and what you, CSA programs is high turnover. A lot of growers, I know they don't get 90 or a hundred percent return rate. Everybody every year is new.
And I think it's because that effort of going to pick up, a small portion of your food every week in a very tight window, that's based on the farmer schedule and not your schedule. I think people find, they're probably not that committed to local food and it's not a very practical system.
So when it's smaller volumes of microgreens, that could be a challenge, but if you can do deliveries at people's homes, and that you can do that cost factor, then that might make more sense. so we do that in Vancouver, by bike. And what we do is when people inquire or, then we say, okay, You're honor route.
And so we're happy to do with that at a pound a week, and because we're always going to pass your place anyway. So it's easy to add you if you're a little offer out, we'll say. Yeah. Okay. But you have to have a two pound minimum delivery and if you're way off route, we basically say, no, we say you can come get it at the farmer's market.
And then what we've done, that's worked pretty well. Is we actually made an arrangement with a local, Sort of cafe and grocer that's family owned that we had been selling to for many years and still do. and so what we do is we take our product there and we drop it off there and people come and pick it up when it works for them.
So it's be held in a fridge. And what we do is we give the grocery, we just give them free. Clamshells. So we don't charge them for the clamshells that we bring in. So it works out quite well, and it brings people, they come in and they pick up their stuff and then they stay for a coffee or they, they get to know it.
So that has actually seems to work pretty well. And then it takes away that idea of this time limited pickup window, which I really like it. It's bothered me for a very long time, but that CSA model. so yeah, you need to either drop off at home or have a wide range of pickup times for people, if you want the CSA to work.
Jon Grootveld: [01:12:07] Yeah. One of our restaurants that just offered to be able to be a pickup point, because I know they're a newer restaurant too, so they wanted people to start coming in. so that's a good option. The other thing, what about, if you were to do that type of option every two weeks since we're getting like good shelf life, Like even doing like a, an amount for every two weeks.
Chris Thoreau: [01:12:25] Yup. Yeah. And we've had customers that are weekly, biweekly once a month and every two weeks works. You'll notice with some stuff, like I'd say radish is 10 days on a day 11. You notice the difference right away. but some people are okay to go a few days without their microbes as well. So the more.
Different options you offer. It makes the logistics a little more challenging, a psychosis and, or an off week for Darryl's delivery. And so over time we've been like it's like in the beginning, we were very flexible, very custom. My ex had different prices for different people based on volume. And now it's just.
One pound two pounds every week or not. And if you don't fit into our model, then too bad, come get it from us at the farmer's market. As a small business, you can only be accommodating to a certain point and then logistically it just becomes too easy to make mistakes. and then in your efforts to do good, you end up being the bad guy because you're screwing up orders.
Cause you can't remember, no matter how good your system is. There's going to be a mistake. So yeah. Watch with the customizing orders. Cause that can be a challenge. Yeah,
Jon Grootveld: [01:13:30] that's a good point.
Diego: [01:13:32] It's been a lot of great stuff in here. Jon Love what you're doing in Ontario for people that want to follow along with the progress of your farm, where are the best places?
Jon Grootveld: [01:13:43] Best place is Instagram and that's @vertagrosystems. and vertigo, spell vert and agro. So now on the end of that, and then the website just vertagro.ca but yeah, mostly stuff's on Instagram. and it'd be great to connect with other people too, and have those conversations.
Like this has been super valuable for me. And, yeah, I want to thank you guys for setting it up. Cause I've got a lot out of the conversation and like really specific questions and it's been good to talk to you, Chris. Who've been doing it for a long time and I respect you guys for creating that content for the song and being able to listen to it and help me be successful in the business so far.
Diego: For sure. And you're one of the people that reached out to me based off of a shout out. Yeah, I did it one of the episodes saying if you want to do an episode like this email me, so I'm putting that offer out there again, if you want to be like Jon, do an episode like Jon did feel free to shoot me an email and we'll get you on.
But thanks for reaching out Jon and taking the time to come on today and share your story. And thanks as always Chris, for coming on to share your experience and your knowledge.
Diego: Yeah, my pleasure. And Jon, yeah, you're off to a great start. So keep up the good work and keep us posted on how things go.
Jon Grootveld: [01:14:56] Awesome. Thanks. Yeah. I'll connect with you, Chris as well. And, yeah, hopefully you can talk to you guys again.
Diego: [01:15:03] There you have a grower Jon Grootveld. If you want to learn more about Jon and his business, be sure to check them out in the link listed in the show description for this episode. I want to thank Jon for taking some time to come on the show today and share his experience.
If you listen to this podcast and you'd be interested in doing an episode to share your story, send me an email. Diego@permaculturevoices.com. I'm always looking for new voices to talk to about their farming journey. If you want to learn more from Chris, you can do so in his growing your micro business course, that courses firstname.lastname@example.org slash migraines.
There's also a link to that in the description for this episode. The course is a six hour comprehensive workshop talking about everything you need to start your microgreens business from sanitation hygiene to growing to harvesting. Chris covers a lot in there. It's 10 years of his growing experience.
Distilled down into a nice package to help you get started growing micro greens on the right foot. Once again, learn more about that. Visit permaculture voices.com/microgreens. Thanks for listening to this one today. Next week, I'll be back with another small scale farmer making a go of it between now and then keep a hustling in crushing it and stay tuned for another episode where it's all about farming, small and farming smart.
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