What happens when you’re full of expectations when you’re starting out a farm—expectations you were excited about? Setting up and maintaining a farm doesn’t always go as planned. There are ups and downs, victories and defeats. What do you do when things don’t go as planned?
Today we’re joined by farmer John Jarmusz to share his experiences with running a microgreens operation and the challenges and expectations that come with it.
Today’s Guest: John Jarmusz
John Jarmusz is one of the two co-founders of AP Micro Farm. Originally growing microgreens exclusively, John and his partner Brad are now planning to expand their operations and add in field crops to their mix as a way to boost the farm’s revenue.
In this episode of Farm Small, Farm Smart
- Short introduction to the guest, John Jarmusz (00:20)
- Getting into farming and getting into microgreens (01:35)
- Why microgreens were attractive to grow (03:18)
- The experience and challenges of first selling microgreens (05:00)
- The struggles of selling to chefs and other market streams (06:33)
- Selling to wholesale and farmer’s markets (09:42)
- Price to give up when selling at farmer’s markets vs. wholesale (12:00)
- Is the farm scalable enough to support the farmers (13:40)
- Number of trays per week on and off-peak season (14:50)
- The biggest logistic challenge growing microgreens in a basement (15:30)
- The kind of lighting that works in John’s context (17:35)
- Handling live-cut microgreens at farmer’s markets (19:05)
- The logistics behind the pricing (21:37)
- What microgreens most people want to buy and how much the average sales are (23:45)
- Competition in the microgreens space (25:20)
- Metric to hit and revenue per tray (27:10)
- On-farm changes in the following year and why the change (28:30)
- The challenges of bringing in field crops into the farm (31:00)
- Adjusting to a new location after moving (33:15)
- Evaluating the farm’s success in 2018 (36:17)
- What to consider when joining a farmer’s market (38:03)
- How much will adding field crops boost the farm income (40:42)
- Pushing field crops to other market streams (43:15)
- Reevaluating where the farm is and where it was (44:38)
- Where the farm is in terms of holistic expectations (47:55)
- Supporting the rest of life while waiting for “eventually” (49:50)
- Advice for anyone whose expectations don’t match the reality: dial back expectations (50:53)
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Diego: [00:00:00] How do you manage expectations going into farming? And what do you do if reality doesn't match up with those expectations? One of the things that I'm talking to farmer John Jarmusz about in this episode, coming up.
Welcome to the world of farming, small and farming smart. I'm your host Diego today, I'm talking to farmer John Jarmusz. John and his business partner, Brad are going into their third season of farming up until now. They've only done microgreens and that experience has gone pretty well. They're doing over 200 trays a week. They've had it excesses and failures, but this season, they're making some changes. They're adding field crops to the mix.
And they're doing that for a few reasons. One being, they already have customers buying microgreens. So if they're already buying microgreens when I grow something else to sell them. And two, because they need to financially, they're at a point in the farm's evolution where they need to start introducing other crops or find some other way to get the farm to generate more income. Given that, we're going to talk about John defined success and what farming is really like what his reality is and how reality compares interest with his expectations. Let's jump right into it with farmer John Jarvis.
So John you and your partner, Brad you're in your fourth season growing micro greens. How did you get into it? And why did you get into it?
John Jarmusz: [00:01:41] Both Brad and I have been your avid gardeners. We love growing stuff. I started raising quail a few years back because that was the only livestock that I could do on, a very small suburban scale. And, we always talked about being in a farmer's market and being an actual farmers, and there was never really a big option.
We didn't have land. Our family didn't have land. So the constraints were pretty tight as far as, how would we actually be farmers? How would the get into a farmer's market? And, we heard of Ruth Callahan's book when he was talking about microgreens in that, on Jack spiracles podcasts, which actually led me to your podcast.
And we both listened to that episode. And. it's, it was very intriguing. We sound, it sounded like something that we could do. So we, we got the book and we ordered seeds and order frats and soils well and all that. And we gave it a go and, in hindsight, the simplest way that.
anybody could really get into the space. That's what introduced us to microgreens. After we actually started growing them, we realized, Hey, this is an awesome product. If there's a market for this, that we could actually do something with it.
Diego: [00:03:09] When you first heard that podcast, you started looking into him. And even when you started growing them, what was the attraction for microgreens? Was it just the potential to raise a lot of crop in a small space. Was it the attractiveness of the product itself? Maybe you could get a competitive advantage because other people weren't selling it. What drew you to them?
John Jarmusz: [00:03:29] The big draw was the, limited amount of space. we didn't have, we both had gardens in our backyards, but we didn't have, acres or even a third of an acre that we could propagate. To get a product to market and you know what they were talking with micro grains, seeing, very doable that, we could have this very small space, but grow it very intensively and, actually build a revenue that was, able to will support an income.
That was probably the biggest factor. And then after we actually got into it, it seems that micro grains are, they're a really great crop and, more senses the one they're a great crop because you can build a lot of revenue on a very small space, but they're actually, they sell themselves.
If you have the right market, they're, they're super nutritious. They're attractive to, the home-based, person that's, worried about, healthy eating and all that. And they're also attracted to chefs, restaurants, and all that other thing, too,
Diego: [00:04:39] Knowing that microgreens have all that going for them. When you actually started growing them and started selling them, what was your experience selling them? Did they go over as well as you thought that they might initially, or did you face some challenges?
John Jarmusz: [00:04:54] There was definitely some challenges, but overall they went over really well. our first market was in the suburbs of Chicago and there was definitely a lot of explaining to do, most people thought we were selling plants that, they would like starter plants that they would.
After they bought them from us, they would plant them in there garden and grow, to a finished scrap. When we had to explain like, no, these are already ready to eat. So as we broadened our market and moved closer into the city, we found that, people are a lot more aware of them. There was a lot less explaining to do, and we still do plenty of explaining, but overall.
The general consensus of micro grains is everybody's becoming more aware of the benefits and they're used to seeing them. So it's yeah. Explain it to one customer that's one customer less. You have to explain it to again. And, even just sitting at the farmer's market table, the one customer that knows what's going on, they'll explain it to another customer that has no idea what's going on.
Diego: [00:06:06] Yeah, I know one of the challenges that you told me in an email that you sent is you've had no luck selling to chefs or very little luck selling to chefs. Can you talk about some of the struggles that you had there and why you think you might be having?
John Jarmusz: [00:06:22] them? So the struggles we've had we've we brought samples, our best products to, a bunch of chefs, a bunch of restaurants, a bunch of grocery stores, and.
We got very little feedback, we, we never got, no really from any of these places, which I know, Luke, the book that we originally started going off from, he says, if you don't get a no, then you know, the door's still open and just keep pressing. And, we found that we would bring samples to a chef and not hear anything back.
And we checked back with them. Not hear anything back. And then we bring more samples and not hear anything back. And, some places we would bring samples to and they'd say, wow, this, the product's great. The price is great. And then, one particular restaurant, my buddy was a sous chef at and he actually came back and asked my partner.
He says, do you guys really know what you're doing? Because we were selling. Are microgreens so much cheaper than they were used to pain, but at the same time, we were growing a superior product and it was better than what they were getting, but, just the price when they were used to paying so much more for these micro grains that, it seemed like that turned them off, that we were selling our greens for cheaper than what they were used to.
Oh, we've had chefs actually come to the farm and, check out what we're doing. And they seem to like everything that was going on. And, we know we have a superior product, we hear that from our customers and the few chefs we serve all the time, I really don't know, what's the big reason of why we have so much trouble sell to the chefs when, a lot of these chefs are buying from.
big distributors where their microgreens are, sitting on a truck or in cold storage for a few days when ours are harvested the same day and, brought to the restaurant, mere hours later. Yes. Still we've had trouble. Securing those accounts where, it's a week after week basis and I've heard other growers saying, they've got three restaurants in their town and they have a, they sold two of them and they've had those customers for years. When, Chicago seems to be this, this massive market where it's just endless restaurants and grocery stores and all that. And, we just, haven't had a whole lot of luck with it.
Diego: [00:09:01] Given that you're not moving a lot to chefs is your main customer base event just selling at farmer's markets and just retail
John Jarmusz: [00:09:09] Wholesale is, makes up about 30% of our markets. And we're trying to build that up just cause it's easy. the farmer's markets, it's a lot of work, but that is the bulk of our sales. And there's, there's a big price on the farmer's markets that you know, is, Nobody really thinks about is the networking part. you're in front of customers, you're in front of people, you're in front of chefs and all that. And, that's worth a lot and itself.
Diego: [00:09:38] When you say wholesale, where's that product going to just a distributor
John Jarmusz: [00:09:41] Some are grocery stores that we sell to on a weekly basis. Our Fridays are big grocery store deliveries. we get up super early. Cut a bunch of pre-packaged greens in clam shells with labels and we, we get those cut by nine o'clock and they're there on the store shelves before new.
Diego: [00:10:02] I've been talking to more and more people who are selling micros to grocery stores. How's the experience been for you?
John Jarmusz: [00:10:10] It's when you compare it to farmer's markets, which is, the basis that we have, it's, it's really easy because they have a set. Order that they're trying to achieve too.
and we're super flexible, if they're not selling, a certain mix or microgreens in general know, we could dial it back, obviously micro greens two week crop. So if they're Oh, over bought, then we can dial it back just two weeks later. And, we can, work with them very well to get them.
So where they're not wasting product, but overall, once the customers recognize that they're there and they understand the product, they seem to move really well. And, most of our accounts have up their order, whether it's rather than decreased it or stopped ordering altogether.
Diego: [00:11:08] When you look at selling them at the farmer's market versus selling them wholesale, how much. Price do you have to give up on the wholesale route versus at the farmer's market?
John Jarmusz: [00:11:17] the greens at $3, an ounce, which is, the common consensus for micro greens. we sell two ounce mixes in the grocery stores and the wholesale price for that is three 75. it's almost half what we're getting for our microgreens wholesale versus retail.
But there's, there's a whole day worth of a employee, selling then being there and S farmer's market, you gotta set up a whole store, within a half hour and then work that store for the whole day and then break it down. honestly it probably works out to about even when, really break it down, really.
Diego: [00:11:57] Now when you're going to start growing some field crops, you've just been primarily a microgreen farm, correct?
John Jarmusz: [00:12:05] 100% microgreens. I started raising quail a couple of years before we got into microgreens. So that was�quail eggs, they�re not a huge part of our business, but it is a big part of, when we're getting into farmer's markets, things like that, it's a niche product that nobody else is selling. And, it's just a benefit in that way that, we have something that nobody else has.
Diego: [00:12:35] So if you think about your farm situation, both you and Brad, you're both doing the farm as your main income source, you have off farm income being just a microgreen farm in that market without moving a lot to chefs between just wholesale and farmer's markets. Can you grow it enough? Do you think to support both of you?
John Jarmusz: [00:13:00] Absolutely. I think we can, we've been doing it for three years now or just with the micro grains and it's substantially increased, every single year, not just, the market markets we've acquired, but there are, our revenue per market.
So I think with adding field crops, mostly greens, just spring mixes, spicy mixes, things like that. That, we can get it to a point where, it's definitely over a six figure income for the farm, just on grains, that's micro grains and field greens.
Diego: [00:13:38] And to give people some context right now, how many are not necessarily right now, but at the peak of the season, how many trays of micros are you doing a week?
John Jarmusz: [00:13:47] We're doing over 200 trays during the peak season. Right now in the off season, we're maintaining our, grocery store accounts, our wholesales, and you've got one winter market that we, that goes pretty much all winter. So our off season, we're dealing with about 75 80, and then on season, at least last year, we were doing, 200 plus trays a week. This year, we're planning on adding some extra markets. that number will increase. Yeah, somewhat significantly.
Diego: [00:14:19] Originally, and up until now, you've been operating in a relatively small space, about 200 square feet and a basement set up, I think is one of the setups that a lot of people getting into micros go towards because there's just open space down there. It's practical from that standpoint, how is it worked out for you? And what have been some of the logistical challenges of growing in a basement?
John Jarmusz: [00:14:46] Logistically the stairs is probably the biggest setback. we have to bring down soil every week and then we then put that soil into trays with seeds and then add water to it.
And then we have to bring those. Trays full of soil, pull the seed up the stairs, racks to get them into the market. Now, for the wholesale accounts, we cut those Springs in the basement in a separate space. We have, dedicated for processing packing, but overall it's a lot of stairs and, a new place we got just over the border in Michigan, not far from Chicago.
It's the package, you said the greenhouses everything's going to be on God's level. So we won't have to deal with that, which I'm, sounds very attractive cause we've been doing it this way for a few years. Otherwise the basement conditions really ideal for, growing anything.
We have lights, dehumidifiers, heaters, fans, all of that. And, the thermal mass, it's, it's conducive to growing anything really, it stays a pretty constant temperature, not to say that we don't deal with, outside factors, but a basement's actually a really great place to grow things.
Diego: [00:16:12] What are you using for lighting? Because that's a common question that. I get emailed about it, LEDs or fluorescent tubes. How many tubes portray, what have you found works for you?
John Jarmusz: [00:16:24] We're using fluorescent tubes and these are, just normal shop lights you get for 20 bucks, say your home Depot, Menards, and then the, the tubes we're using they're, tailored more for, vegetative growth.
Which is, what micro grains would be, but they're more of the blue light than the warmer, fluorescent tubes you can get. So we're using a T five bulbs and we use one, two bulb, light fixture per shelf. So we grow a five trays per shelf, and we have one, two bulb fluorescent light about 12 inches over those.
And. We've played around where we've used two of those fixtures per shelf. And haven't noticed a huge difference between the two. So if you can get away with using one light fixture, as opposed to two, that comes down on your initial cost of setting up your grow room. And obviously the electricity's a big cost too.
Diego: [00:17:33] Yeah, I'm assuming the trays are running perpendicular to the light lights running long ways on the shelf and,
John Jarmusz: [00:17:39] yep. Yep. You got it. One
Diego: [00:17:41] Thing that you're doing that came up in a recent episode that I did with Chris and he talked about selling live microgreens you sell you transport, live uncut micros to the farmer's market and you cut them there. Can you talk about how. You get them there and then how you handle it at the market, selling those to customers.
John Jarmusz: [00:18:03] we built trays and these are know about the size of the 10 by 20 tray, a little bit bigger with an height, just to compensate for the micros that are growing on them. So we have trays that hold five or six, flats per rack and, We load those up in the morning, we bring those to market and then we'll display those on tables at the market.
The benefits of doing that, obviously it's a lot more work instead of cutting the micro grains and packaging them and bringing those packages to market. We're bringing, the soil and the trays and everything that comes along with growing the micros to the market. But. While it's a lot more work.
Yeah. It expands your niche. there's a lot of people growing microgreens now. And when we got into farmer's markets, there were people, existing vendors that were selling micro grains, but nobody was doing it on a, a specified scale. Like we were. So when we apply to markets and we send the, the market manager, a picture of our tent, and we've got all these flats of different colors, different Heights, different grains, all this good stuff is, it's very attractive to them and it's very attractive to people as they're walking up.
Now, granted, there is some explaining to do when people think that, we're selling plants for them to plant in their garden, but. As long as they realize that, we're actually selling grains to eat that. people get very interested and they're intrigued by the fact that they can customize their own mix.
Whether, in the store they're used to buying, six bucks of this kind or two ounces of this time and not the, mix that into their daily routine. However, they would.
Diego: [00:20:04] For logistics. How do you manage pricing with a variety of crops? Do you just have a standard price? Everything is never announced and you just cut it all, mix it all in the same bag, weigh it. And then they just get, build off that. Or do you have tiered where, stuff in this section is this stuff in this section is a different price.
John Jarmusz: [00:20:26] We have two categories. We have micro grains and micro herbs. Now the herbs that we grow every week and, granted these are necessarily herbs, but we classify them as micro herbs. So our micro herbs would be red garnet amaranth, onion and cilantro. And sometimes we'll play with, like a basil. And a couple others we've toyed with, but so the everything else, sunflower, pea, broccoli, kale, all those things fall into the microgreen category.
And those are $3 an ounce. Now, if somebody wants to make a mix, they'll mix up a little bit of sunflower, a little bit of this little bit of that. If they want to top it with some onion or some amaranth to get some color or some flavor, we don't charge anything extra for that. If somebody wants to get, an ounce of amaranth, typically that takes up no, a third of a tray of, amaranth growing. So we'll charge $4 an ounce for that.
It's a very small markup just to cover our costs because those trays obviously don't yield as much. The seed is typically more expensive. we'll make up our costs a little bit that way. But really the herbs it's, it's a selling point, regardless, the amaranth after we cut the tray, we'll leave the tray sitting on the table.
And, even though there's nothing there to sell people, walk up and the last, what's that, can I taste that? Can I buy that? we'll know, there's not anything left to buy, we can get you a taste out of it. And, it's not a grab
Diego: [00:22:04] what do you find that most people shoot for it, the market, are they getting just a blend or are they saying, you pick and you just cut up a mix for them. Are there certain crops that are just better sellers than others?
John Jarmusz: [00:22:18] I'm pretty even keel when you really, spread it out. some people will come up and say, I want two offices, some flour. but most folks will make a mix. They'll allow, they want a little bit of this, a little bit of that.
Our big question is, do you want the spice in there? And that will, delegate if they're going to get a new radish or rubella or onion in there, but most folks will make their own mix. it's usually dominated by one or two microgreens, but that seems to be a big factor in why people appreciate get us, that they can customize their mix and you'll get exactly what they want.
Diego: [00:22:58] I want a good market, how many dollars in micros are you moving?
John Jarmusz: [00:23:02] It depends on the market. we've had markets that, we don't do any more, but we put up on a sad day, 80, a hundred dollars, which, without paying ourselves, it costs us, that much to bring, so many trays to market and pay the market fee and all that, on a good market between four and $700 is, a decent day.
Diego: [00:23:26] you mentioned that micros are becoming more popular. Are you facing competition in the microgreen space at any of the markets that you're operating at?
John Jarmusz: [00:23:34] Absolutely. when we started just three, four years ago, it was, we've had other farmers come up to us and accident, what's actually going on here.
they don't even understand what we're selling. If we're selling, starter plants or. Per vegetables ready to eat. So as time has gone on, and it seems like a long time ago, but it really hasn't been that long that, a lot of other growers, whether that's, they are supplementing their income with, some package micro range on the side, or, of the biggest market we have, we've had this guy and he was asking us, Where do you buy your seeds?
What kind of soil do you use? How much did you use it? All of this. And, we were always, apt to share knowledge and, we want people to, grow their own grains as much as we want them to buy them from us. it turns out this guy had a Stan, the following year selling exactly what we sold at our best market.
And while that's, it's a little uncomfortable. But, competition is good for everybody, but it, we didn't see that coming, that specific ones. And he, he took a different angle from it where he was making, fresh cut salads, where he was cutting the microgreens onsite.
And then, adding this, and that to, to make a fresh salad. When, we could've been pretty much doing the same thing. If we just, added a little olive oil and gave him a fork. But, it's definitely becoming more mainstream.
Diego: [00:25:05] It comes time to pricing them. What are you trying to make on a tray on average? Are you trying to double more than double what's your metric you're trying to hit.
John Jarmusz: [00:25:15] It costs us about three bucks on average, two plants, a tray of micro grains, and we don't reuse any of our soil. We, we buy fresh soil, FOXFIRE motion. Forest is primarily what we use to grow. we have used like roots organics and things like that, but, like a seven to eight ounce tray of micro grains is, definitely the numbers we're trying to hit.
we can clear 20 bucks on a tray. We know that, we're covering our costs or covering our labor. And we're making up for the trays of, things like amaranth Coval and getting, two, three ounces, even though we're charging $4 an ounce on the, the skin of your micro greens, we're making that up.
we're some flowers, we'll buy over a pound broccoli, you might wait eight ounces, Hamra and cilantro will only be, two or three ounces. So average and out we'd love to hit $20 per tray.
Diego: [00:26:13] So given that you've only grown microgreens in the past, you're changing, coming up here in 2018. You're not only moving out of the basement and getting rid of the steps which you talked about, but you're going to start growing field crops. Can you talk about, what's changing on the farm in 2018 and why you've made some of the changes that you're making?
John Jarmusz: [00:26:33] Yeah, we've got a lot of changes coming up, Growing live trays and selling live trays doesn't require any cold storage. So we're going to have to build a walking cooler to accommodate the, the grains. and that will be beneficial to when we're growing micros as well, just cause slowing down growth and things like that. on the other end, the field crops it's it's really.
On an insurance policy. we have these customer bases that we've built up through our farmer's markets and other individuals that we sell to. And everybody loves our product. They love us. We just, a person can only eat so many micro grace and, we're in the same boat, when we go home at the end of the week with, four trays of micro grains.
My partner, Brad and I, we might go through a tray each, there's only really, there's only so many micro greens you can eat. We really need to expand our products so we can serve our customers that love us, but we just need a little bit more to sell them. So we think adding fields, grains, a spicy mix, a spring mix, things like that.
We'll up our revenues to the point where we can really make this a full time income without, really changing what we're doing. If we, if we went all in on the micro grains, we would really need a lot more markets to. Contact a lot more people, or if we had a lot more chefs and restaurants in that coming in, that's not something that, we found easy to do. So a logical next step for us is to offer more products with the same quality in the same realm to our existing customers. And that's, the angle we're trying to tackle this year.
Diego: [00:28:33] When you look at what you're doing, going from. A micro farm to a more diversified farm doing over 200 trays a week. That's a lot of trays, it's a lot of work. It's two of you and you're both doing this full time. How do you find the room to add the field crops and how challenging do you think that's going to be too? Now do the field crops. And when email me, you mentioned everything else that goes with field crops, building beds, putting in irrigation, into plaintiffs, putting infrastructure in place, all that type of stuff. How do you think that's going to go?
John Jarmusz: [00:29:08] I think because I have a partnership with, a very dedicated, very genuine, awesome person. That's the biggest thing that makes it possible. when, I had some personal problems last year that took me off the farm and that Slack was immediately picked up.
There was no, there wasn't, we didn't lose a step because. Brad was all over it. I think that either of us could have done this by ourselves, it wouldn't have been easy. And especially for me with, I had a business prior to last year, I sold it to go full time on the farm. There was no way I could have, build the customer base and, built the farm the way that we did.
Without having bread to back me up, he has a little bit more time on the sands. He probably could have done it by himself, but it, it wouldn't have been easy and having, two heads to tackle things like marketing and accounting and all the things like that. it's a, it's really beneficial.
So when. We talked about adding things, it's all split up and if I need to go out of town for a few days for family or recreation, I know Brad's got my back and they'll take care of it. And, likewise on the other.
Diego: [00:30:34] So you guys have a strong partnership and the ability to take on this extra workload, you guys get up absorb that. What about moving? Out of a dial then set up like you have in the basement. you've done that for a few years. You know how it works. You're not optimum in terms of the stairs, but you understand the conditions to now moving somewhere else where you're going to be growing the micros and what, like a hoop house. Do you think you're going to face a big learning curve, changing that up?
John Jarmusz: [00:31:07] Yeah, we've been doing this long enough where I know that there's going to be a huge learning curve and it's definitely uncomfortable, thinking about going from a system that we've dialed in and it's treated us really well to, the complete unknown, coming up in April, we have a break from the farmer's markets, no winter markets, no summer markets.
So we'll have some time to get a thousand cause the. The temperature will be apt to let us do that. We still gotta fulfill wholesale markets. So when we shut down this grow room, which is coming up in just a couple of weeks, we're going to have to grow, a ton of extra stuff. We're going to have to start it way earlier than we would have started it just to, negate.
All the challenges that's going to come with that because even growing in a basement grow room, whether it's barometric pressure or, just, general temperature changes outside, we see drastic yeah. Changes and you know what we're growing just from, one week to another, we could see, what two day difference.
And, how long, we'd take to, for our micros to an optimal length. we, we get surprises, when the temperature hits and it gets real cold or temperature hits and it gets, a little bit warmer, we have to adapt to that, each and every week when we plant our microgreens, We're planting it on a Tuesday to harvest it on a Friday.
we want to harvest it on Saturday. We're going to plant it on Wednesday. So the smallest variable can throw that off. By a day or two. And when we're used to getting eight ounces out of a tray of broccoli, we might get five because it got a little colder outside. that can throw you for a loop.
So we imagine that there's going to be some serious growing pains going from, controlled environment, underground indoors, too. the great outdoors, even though it's undercover.
Diego: [00:33:22] Given those growing pains and the fact that I think you're a realist and just having this conversation with you and you're past the honeymoon stage of starting a business and getting into farming with moving to a new property and getting into new markets and dealing with these growing pains. How do you evaluate how you measure success in 2018? Is it. This is how much the farmers, or is it something different than that?
John Jarmusz: [00:33:53] It comes down to, know, this is our full-time business. Now it's a full time income for both me and my partner, Brad. that dollar amount is very significant to us.
There's a lot of other factors that come into that, this year will be, we purchased a hydro who costs last year. Use that we'll be putting up this year. We're gonna install, about a third of an acre in a new field crops. We helped to put up a farm stand we're building a produce, packing shed for reclaim clean and pack everything.
And all of those are milestones that, we're checking off checking the box on, but at the same time, we need to put up the numbers where we're at least making, what we did last year, which, we don't see that being a problem because we're keeping all the markets we had last year.
We have all the wholesale accounts we have last year. we plan to add to, both of those fronts. So really being a success is it's, it's doing more than we did last year.
Diego: [00:34:59] And part of that success is going to come from farmer's markets. You did four or five in the past. You're looking to add a few this year. You�re really experienced with farmer's markets, doing that many, seeing that many, when you evaluate a farmer's market or decide if you're going to commit to doing one, what are you looking for in a market?
John Jarmusz: [00:35:21] demographics is a big thing. we've done markets where the traffic is great. they're seeing six, 7,000 visitors per market.
But they might be, situated in a mall where, a lot of that traffic is going to be there anyway. They're just passing through, or it's more of a, like a carnival atmosphere where they're looking for the guys that are making many donuts and, the guy selling tamales rather than he actually picking up their vege. And we've even gotten to markets that seem like the exact fit where we did really well in this town to be the same thing, but we get there and yeah, that's just not the case.
So yeah, what we've found to be very beneficial is, like customer awareness. We, we started going in the suburbs and it was maybe 10% of our customers even knew what a microgreen was and, they're familiar with it. They understood, why it was so awesome. And then we went from doing that for a couple of years and we got our first market, in the city and we went down there and, folks would come up and they'd look at us crazy and we'd be like, these are microgreens.
And they'd say, I know. You know, give me two ounces. So it's, it comes down to a lot where, it's people in the know and whether that's, just a city thing that, people are more aware of micros, their benefits, and they're used to seeing them on their plates at restaurants, things like that.
It's at the same time, You can educate your market too. Like those markets that, every time you explain what you're doing to someone, that's one less person, you have to explain it to the next time. So that's not saying that you can't build your market out of a, a market that's completely, unbeknownst to microgreens or what you're doing
Diego: [00:37:26] When you look at increasing the number of farmer's markets that you're doing, that's one way to add income is just more market streams or more outlets for your product. And at some point you can only push so many micros to those outlets, but another way to add income to the farm is sell those same customers, something else, and I'm assuming that's why you're looking to add greens and field crops to the mix because they're already by a microgreens. Why not sell them something else while they're there?
How much do you think adding the field crops is going to increase your farm income? Because what I'm thinking here is. If I feel like you're in this transitional phase, you've been doing this a few years, it's working well, but it's not fully there yet. And there's, a few different levers. You can try and push to get it all the way there. So when you look at field crops, what's your hope there in terms of what they can add to the operation.
John Jarmusz: [00:38:28] I'm pretty optimistic about the field crops for a couple reasons. One. our existing customers, they already love us. They know we produce a good product. if they're buying those grains or whatever was selling somewhere else, they'd be happy, honored to buy them from us. So that's, our existing customer base, that's a lock almost now the other customer base that people that walk by and don't know what we're doing.
they see the live trays on the table and they assume they're, these are seedlings for planting or they don't know what is going on. Really. So when customers walk by and you'll say we're engaged with another customer, we don't have a chance to engage these people. If they see, a spring mix, in a package on the table with a price tag on it, I think there'll be a lot more apt to buy that.
we don't have to answer questions about it. We don't have to explain it. They understand, they've seen that the store is see it on our table and whether what we're doing over here with all these live trays, they still get it, that this is a spring mix. And I'm used to buying that in the store.
I'd like to buy it from a local farmer, so it'll taste better and last longer. So they'll grab that. And now that we have them coming up to pay us our five bucks or whatever it is, The spring mix, we can engage them and, one of these other things you've got going on here and that's our opening to, open them up to the micro grains as well.
Diego: [00:39:57] Yeah. I like that. It's something they recognize they're familiar with. What about a different market stream that you already have an in with, your wholesale customers. Do you have the ability to potentially move field greens into those markets as well?
John Jarmusz: [00:40:13] Yeah, I'd imagine. we're, we're pretty tight with a couple of produce managers and, especially on the smaller stores, it seems maybe very apt to, get a product that, will have twice the shelf life of what they're used to.
And they're, it's coming from a farm that they're already used to dealing with. As far as the bigger stores. I can't tell you Diego, how many restaurants we've gone into and hi, we want to drop off some free samples. We buy from Chuck. We buy from Charlotte, they don't even want to look at what we have, they just, it was set in their ways, which, you can't blame them.
obviously they're not, an establishment that's into, local foods are super. nutritious foods and all that. So we just kinda gotta, find our niche and exploit it.
Diego: [00:41:01] You think about where you're at in terms of farming right now, how do you feel about things you've been doing this a few years and you're looking to ultimately get paid more because this is your full time thing right now. When you started this, do you think you would have been further ahead now than you actually are?
John Jarmusz: [00:41:21] No, that's a good question. And, I think, at least with me, you always think you'd be further along, everything you do takes time, it takes money and it usually takes more of both of those than you originally anticipate.
establishing a grow room and grow with some trays of microgreens that stuff's pretty cut and dry, but as far as. establishing a market, you getting into farmer's markets is a big thing. we're in Chicago market, which, obviously is a huge market. there's gotta be over a hundred farmer's markets, within, 30, 40 square miles.
And, the big thing is I'm a niche, as far as getting into the markets and. Selling the live trays at the market is a niche. people already have prepackaged microgreens and little clamshells shells, a little bag. And, it's not a big sale, a big seller for them because they're not, it's not a dedicated product.
a vendor that's selling honey and nothing, but honey is going to sell more honey than a vendor. That's got a bunch of vege and a cooler full of me. And they've also got a little table full of honey. So coming into a market with a niche products and exploiting that niche product, and then building off of it is, it's.
That's how you grow a small farm in a second traded market? yeah, the quail eggs was another, it's, I don't want to say it's a law loss leader, but. the amount of queries we sell was laughable in the scale of, a farm income, in the off season, we might do, eight dozen quail eggs per week, which we sell at five bucks a dozen.
40 bucks, split between two people in, take out your feed costs and you're clearly cartons and all that, it's, it's laughable as far as income, but it adds to the income in a little way, but it adds to the, the farm acceptance in a bigger way. So when we apply to these markets that already have a micro grain seller and they have chicken, egg sellers.
When we come up and say, this is what we do. We give them pictures of our farm stand with all these beautiful trays of different colors and varieties and flavors. And then we have quail eggs too, which pretty much nobody sells. that's a big benefit as far as selling ourselves to these already full markets.
Diego: [00:44:00] Where would you say you're at in terms of where you want to be with the farm? Holistically, both in terms of the farm's reputation, how much income you can earn from the farm, the quality of product that the farms putting out. if you think of this as a scale where you're there on the right, and you're just starting out on the left, where are you?
John Jarmusz: [00:44:20] We're, I'm retina. I think we're exactly where we want to be. holistically, we're running the farm. You know exactly how we want to run the farm. We haven't taken on any debt. We've grown. It completely organically, meaning, we boost strapped it in our first year.
All we did was dump money into it and we realized, no, that was, the course of action we were going to have to take the second year. We still didn't pay ourselves, but we, everything that, was a farm output. came from the farm bank account. So this past year, our third year we actually paid ourselves and everything that was a farm expense came from the farm.
as far as how we're looking for this next year, hopefully we'll give ourselves a raise, but, holistically, we're doing exactly what we plan to do. it took us longer to do it than expected. But, that's not a big surprise coming from, I owned a business before, we started the farm and that's just a cost of doing business.
You're going to dedicate a lot of your time and money to something that you want to build that will eventually pay off and give you everything you're open for. while
Diego: [00:45:43] you're waiting for eventually and working towards eventually, how do you. Support the rest of life when the income isn't fully there yet? How have you made that work? That's a struggle. A lot of people have.
John Jarmusz: [00:45:57] I had a business that I started when I was 19. I'm 36 now, and I just sold this business last year to an employee of mine to go full time on the farm. my partner, Brad, he, He takes care of his kids full time. His wife has a full time job and, on the side he buys and sells final records.
So we both had a little bit of all farm income coming into this, but it, it's not a whole lot. So that's a, quite a bit of incentive to, Do what you love and get your numbers up so you can continue doing what you love to, make it a full time business,
Diego: [00:46:40] given that, and be in where you are on your curve a few years into this, what would you tell somebody who's starting out that has big expectations from your four year one, but year one, doesn't go as well as planned.
John Jarmusz: [00:46:56] You gotta dial back. Yes. it's, I've learned this, owning my own business for a long time that, a few figure something's going to take X amount of hours. you get pretty much double that. And then to be super realistic, you could pretty much double that number.
So you really got 'em. you don't know what you're getting into until you get into it. and it's the same thing with, revenue, as far as, tasks, getting things done on the farm, when you have, a wife and kids and an off farm job. A job that you might think will take, you can knock it out in four hours a day for a couple of days, you get that done in a weekend.
that thing actually ends up taking, three weeks and you've got to bring it into your buddy. Who's an electrician and whatever else you got to do to get it done. The big thing with starting out is, keep your head down, stay focused. Try and, focus on, certain tasks.
the, a lot of people get overwhelmed with, the health department and, dealing with counties and things like that. And all these tasks as a whole are very overwhelming. But if you take small bites, okay, I have to deal with this County for this farmer's market.
you put your head down and you fill out your forms and you contact who you need to contact and you get that one knocked out and then you have to deal with, getting this hoop house set up. you put all your energy towards that. at the same time, you've still got to manage, your accounting and employees or, however big your farm is.
But, the biggest thing is, keeps your expectations low so that you, you exceed them easily and then you get wins, wins are, Not the most often thing you get on the farm, you get your ass kicked pretty. You're good here and there. like today I spent, I've had a weasel, that's been killing my quails and chickens over the last few days have put the dog yeah.
There. And even while I was there, we're still getting killed. today I spent the entire day. Moving all my birds into my garage and I'm, rebuilding their water system, which was leaking, it's you just gotta, you gotta focus on one thing and get that thing done and then move on to the next thing.
Diego: [00:49:30] Yeah. I love that advice. I love the approach that you're taking to things, and I think it's a realistic approach. I think this is the journey that most people. Getting into farming or starting a business are going to have, this is the middle of the bell curve of grinding it out over a few years, trying things, seeing what works versus having instant access right away.
It's just going to take time. So I want to thank you for coming on and sharing your story for people that want to follow along with your farm. See the field crops going into the ground, where the best places that they can go to follow you.
John Jarmusz: [00:50:09] On Instagram, AP micro farm is probably the best spot. And then, the same thing for Facebook, AP American pride, AP micro farm, that's us.
Diego: [00:50:25] there. You have it. John Jarmus of AP micro farm. If you want to learn more about John, be sure to check him firstname.lastname@example.org or you can check them out on social at the links below in the show description for this one. I want to thank John for coming on the show today and sharing his story. If you want to hear more stories from other farmers, just like John, be sure to go back and check out the show archives.
I'm continually adding more and more the original episodes to this feed. And if you're somebody who's looking for even more content, we should check out my YouTube channel or I'll be continuing to post more and more interviews with farmers. A lot of them being vege farmers. And if you're a paper pot user, be sure to check out our new paper, pot, YouTube channel, where we have all sorts of videos that we're hosting to help educate people on how to use it better.
Use the paper pot transplanter. That's all for this one. Thanks for listening today. Next week, I'll be back with another small scale farmer making a go of it between now and then keep hustling and crushing it. And stay tuned for another episode where it's all about farming, small and farming smart.
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