Bootstrapping a Microgreens Business with Lily Evans (FSFS259)

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Episode Summary

In this special episode of Farm Small Farm Smart, educator and longtime microgreens grower Chris Thoreau talks to Lily Evans of Short Roots Urban Farm in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Lily shares her experience of how she started her microgreens business by bootstrapping and how she steadily grows her operation.

Today’s Guest: Lily Evans

Lily Evans is the founder and owner of microgreens business Short Roots Urban Farm in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Having dabbled in growing and doing market research for microgreens since 2016, Short Roots established itself in 2019, garnering restaurant clients and monthly subscription customers well into the following years.

            Short Roots Urban Farm – Website | Facebook | Instagram

In this episode of Farm Small, Farm Smart

  • Chris Thoreau introduces the episode and guest Lily Evans (01:23)
  • Running a microgreens business during the pandemic (01:33)
  • Farming as a black woman in America (02:54)
  • Microgreens reception in Southeast Wisconsin (05:08)
  • Staying local to stay fresh (07:23)
  • Lily Evans’ bootstrapped microgreens operation (08:23)
  • A knack for growing food (11:14)
  • Lily Evans’ vision for her microgreens business (13:33)
  • Resources for learning how to grow microgreens (14:50)
  • A tedious thing about the business (17:22)
  • The gradual growth of a bootstrapped business (19:40)
  • Balancing the business with a job and another business (21:30)
  • Flexibility that makes the balancing act possible (24:34)
  • Venturing from a regular nine to five (26:01)
  • A shift in perspective on work and business (29:57)
  • Visualizing the microgreens business trajectory (31:35)
  • What bootstrapping means to Lily Evans (34:12)
  • The biggest challenges with bootstrapping a microgreens business (35:55)
  • Experiencing burnout and overcoming the burnout (39:00)
  • Stepping away from the business (42:28)
  • Businesses are built on good, solid relationships (45:14)
  • Addressing the issue of diversity (46:44)

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FSFS258 - Lily Evans

[00:00:00] Diego Footer: Welcome to farm small farm smart. I'm your host Diego, DIEGO. Today's a special episode. It's a different type of episode because I'm not hosting the episode. What you're gonna hear for this episode in the next few episodes are episodes guest hosted by grower Chris Thoreau. The name may sound familiar because Chris has been on a lot of podcasts in the past, at least 10, where we talked about microgreens.

[00:00:30] While I'm currently focusing on my carrot cash flow podcast, which you can listen to by just searching for carrot cash flow on Spotify, iTunes, or wherever you listen to podcasts, that's a business focused podcast, I'm looking for people to guest host the farm, small farm smart podcast and talk growing.

[00:00:50] Chris is one of those people who's reached out and has agreed to guest host some episodes. If you'd be interested in guest hosting a future episode of farm small farm smart and talk growing, production, harvesting, whatever you want on the field side of farming. Let me know by sending me an email. Hello, paper, I would love to hear your thoughts. But for this episode, it's Chris throw, talking to different micro green growers about their microgreen experience, both the successes and the failures. I hope you enjoy it.

[00:01:23] Chris Thoreau: In this episode, I speak with Lily Evans of short roots, urban farm in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

[00:01:29] Lily talks about bootstrapping her microgreens business and balancing microgreens production with other work and family life. COVID had a variety of impacts on businesses and mm-hmm as I'm sure you know, some businesses. Thrive. Like they've never thrived before. Right. And, and I know microgreens is one of the things that, um, people got into, cuz I think they're like, well I need a side hustle.

[00:01:52] I need to do something at home. And so for some people it ended up working out well and for others as you know, uh, restaurants and other things they've been hit hard and, and still like, I don't know how it is there, but you know, we had recovered pretty well here in British Columbia. And then we hit this fourth wave.

[00:02:10] You know, our numbers are now they're coming back down again. But for a while, they were back up at peak and this is with 70 to 80% fully vaccinated. So it's been really interesting here in that regard as well.

[00:02:21] Lily Evans: Oh yeah, they are. As far as COVID. Yeah, it's, it's been a flu, like, you know, dealing with a couple of restaurants. I've actually grew for a restaurant that's now closed now, but I've been able to make new relationships with other restaurants as well. What's been really interesting here, people have been doing a lot of ghost kitchens and a lot of catering. So I've been tapping into that market as well as food trucks now.

[00:02:47] So, you know, you just gotta kind of pivot. So I'm kind of pivoting with the market right now.

[00:02:54] Chris Thoreau: You know, we have a lot of food trucks here and they've never really occurred to me. And now I'm like food trucks, of course, food trucks. Uh, so, so we might come back to that actually. Um, as we get into. So you're very obviously a black woman and I'm just being blunt.

[00:03:09] And the reason being, as I've been, as I've been putting this series together, you know, this other theme that's coming up for me is called like all shapes and sizes. Like microgreens is pretty interesting that I've talked to a lot of people in a lot of different situations that are doing microgreens.

[00:03:25] And my experience in looking at like what's going on in social media and stuff and the courses and all that stuff is there's a lot of white men doing this and I'm one of those white men and whatever, but it's, it's a perspective that's, uh, overrepresented. And so in terms of, you know, I'm hoping with some of these podcasts, they're inspiring for other people like, Hey, no.

[00:03:46] Oh yeah. Like, you know, Lily did this or PI did this and I'm looking, you know, it can be gender, it can be race, it can be age. It can be financial capacity. Like there's all these things that, that play into what we think we can and cannot do. And so we don't need to get deep into that. Um, or maybe we do, but yeah, I think, uh, you know, as long as you're okay with that, that's an important aspect of what you do. I think.

[00:04:11] Lily Evans: Yeah, I'm, I'm pretty cool with it. Like, I'm just happy to be able to do something and it sticks. like I've always been in the dirt gardening. I always wanted to start my own business, but you know, As a black person in America, gaining access to funds for a traditional farm was far out of reach for me.

[00:04:35] So discovering channels like yourself, be able putter credit stone was like a light bulb just went off. Like I can do that. Like I can do that. And it's scalable. It's workable, you know, you just go with what you have and you move up from there. I do feel like, you know, representation is very important across the board with any market, but yeah, I'm just so excited to be able to be doing this and be a new face for the microgreens business.

[00:05:08] Chris Thoreau: So in that regard, so you are in Southeast Wisconsin. What is the world like there in terms of market for microgreens, uh, receptiveness for microgreens. And, and in that regard, like as a black woman running a business there, how is that? Um, I, I watched one of your, uh, YouTube videos that you spoke at the, uh, Kenosha Kenosha women's network.

[00:05:29] And I saw some of your stuff at the farmer's market. And so it seems to me like, wow, there's some very cool stuff happening here. So what is that like for you in terms of having a business and doing that in, in Southeast Wisconsin?

[00:05:41] Lily Evans: It has been an educational loop. microgreens. People are like, wait, what is microgreens?

[00:05:48] What's that I haven't heard of this, it just sprouts. And then having to educate, you know, the public and be able to do that successfully has helped me be successful and gaining relationships. Like during the pandemic, people needed a distraction. People needed something to think about and talk about other than what was going on.

[00:06:10] So me just talking about what I'm doing and what my hopes were, people are like, oh, really got on board with it. And was really excited. Like, Hey, can I do this too? And I'm like, yeah, I can see you. How and like, wait, how did you learn about this? I said, I learned from some Canadians

[00:06:32] So yeah. Um, the market here is really fresh right now. Um, it was like probably only, maybe in my neck of the woods, maybe two, three other businesses doing. But not really like in the, uh, markets that I'm at. So I was one of the first, so that helped me with, you know, my success so far. So yeah. Um, like I said, they've been really, Kenosha has really been open to what I'm doing and wanting to know more. And so I'm, I have been really grateful.

[00:07:06] Chris Thoreau: That's great to hear. I know, I have a, an interview set up for next week with somebody in Ireland. And he's like, people here just don't know about microgreens at all. And so I'm really curious to see what that perspective is like when you maybe don't have a market or you don't think you do.

[00:07:23] I did spend some time on the map, and I see you're sort of sandwiched in between Milwaukee and Chicago there as well. Yep. But it sounds, it sounds like most of your business and stuff is happening right in Kenosha, correct? Yeah.

[00:07:35] Lily Evans: I try to stay local for the simple reason that, you know, people have reached out to me in Milwaukee and north Chicago, but I feel like being local allows me to provide those fresh cuz that's the whole reason why I got into it.

[00:07:49] Cuz I wanted to provide a service of delivering fresh greens on spot. So I didn't wanna have to freeze anything or ship anything. I wanna have that one-on-one connection with my customers. So I, you know, I want to, you know, see my customer's faces and, you know, talk about microgreens and see how they're doing. And talk about different recipes that they used it for, you know? So I think that is why I just stay within Kenosha. So, yeah.

[00:08:18] Chris Thoreau: Nice. Um, okay. So let's get into your operation and your system. So can you tell me a little bit about your growing space and where you produce your microgreens?

[00:08:28] Lily Evans: Okay. Yeah, so I started off, like I stated in our email, um, with a one, three tier shelf with a couple of basic Home Depot LEDs. And I had three varieties of micrograms. I had the sunflower shoots, the radishes and the P shoots. I grew them for friends, family, just, Hey guys, try this out, you know, see what you think. And they're like, oh, okay. This is pretty cool. I like it. Then I started, you know, intro taking it to work, introducing it to coworkers.

[00:09:02] They're like, Hey, what's that? I don't know what that is. And then, so I was like, Hey, I'm thinking about, you know, making this a business. And they're like, oh, let me know. And so, um, fast forward during when the pandemic first hit, I was really pivoting on like, like what to do as far as, should I make this more scalable now?

[00:09:22] Or should I wait? And I just decided to, you know, just go for it. it worked out in my favorite because I ended up getting my first restaurant deal and, you know, I scaled up from there. They were so kind, they, you know, to tell people about me, other restaurants about me. So I started getting calls and especially from caterers.

[00:09:44] So yeah, since then now I have, I converted one of my spare bedrooms into a grow room. Where right now I have four, six tier shelves with lighting with fan systems dehumidifier. Um, I've also included which I've started this year, started growing mushrooms as well. So I have a tension in there as well with its own ecosphere, with its own timer, with it, with its own little setup.

[00:10:13] So that's what I've been using. Um, that's kind of my indoor setup. I also grow other seasonal crops as well. I rent here, so my landlord was gracious enough to let me utilize his whole space in the backyard. So I feed that whole backyard into a grow area. So I've been growing, you know, various other crops as well for the season.

[00:10:37] If the restaurant's like, Hey, could you grow this? And I'm like, yeah, but it's gonna take you this time. And if they're willing to wait for it, I'll grow it. Also, I, I try to go for, you know, my community here because you know, what had happened with the Jacob Blake thing and then with all the fires and riots that went on, um, literally was like, all the fires really happened, like a block from where I stay.

[00:10:58] Wow. So like in the thick of all of that, so really reaching out to the community and let them know like, Hey, if you ever need like some fresh crops, don't feel like you, you can't come back here and grab whatever you. So as that as well.

[00:11:14] Chris Thoreau: So does your family have a farming background? It sounds like you've got a bit of a nap for growing food.

[00:11:20] Lily Evans: Um, yeah, it skipped a lot of generations. My grandpa, he was a farmer, traditional farmer up in Appleton. He had about 40 acres. He hunted like, I, I remember he had the chickens, the pigs, the ducks, like he had everything. And I was just like, you know, remembering during that time, when I was used to stay with him, like that was the perfect life to me, cuz it was simple, but it was hard.

[00:11:47] Like he was a hard worker. And I was just like, I really would love to do that. You know, unfortunately he couldn't keep the farm because he got older. None, you know, none of his children wanted to be a armor and unfortunately I was too young at the time, so I could it over. So he ended up selling it. But then, you know, I just thinking back on that, it's like, I see where I get it from. I get it from him and just remembering his values and all of what he does.

[00:12:13] Chris Thoreau: So nice. I see that I don't have any farming in my family. And so when I talk to some people, you can just see, they know what to do and, and, you know, and I, I see it on your Instagram. I saw some photos of mushrooms and I was like, should expand it into mushroom growth.

[00:12:28] So yeah, I can see there's a real sort of draw to that. That's that's great. So you mentioned a four, six tier shelf. So what's your like tray capacity per week?

[00:12:37] Lily Evans: I can grow up to 58 trays really right now. I only grow for my subscribers, but during my market season, I rotate. So I do two trays. For one week and then the start on the new tray, the other two rack for the following week.

[00:12:55] So I kind of rotated off that way because it's only me and I get a couple volunteers, I would like to scale up more, but that's kind of where I'm at as far as ity grow goes. So yeah. And it's been working out pretty well. It hasn't, you know, I, I think I've only ran into only one issue where I had to, you know, kind of find extra growth space for really ridiculous order that I had. But other than that, it's been working out pretty

[00:13:22] Chris Thoreau: good. Yeah. I I've experienced that before and been in the situation. Like, even though there's no space, I'm gonna find some space and right.

[00:13:30] Lily Evans: You always space somewhere.

[00:13:33] Chris Thoreau: and, um, so do you have some microgreens goals? Uh, you know, you know, for some people it's a side hustle for some people it's a full on business.

[00:13:44] It often transitions from one into the other, I guess maybe in the short, mid, long term, whatever perspective makes most sense to you. Like what, where do you envision going with.

[00:13:55] Lily Evans: I envision going with us, having my own set of lands and having a community garden slash farming operation within the city.

[00:14:05] That's kind of where my heart is going at right now because food scarcity here is really rampant right now. And I feel like I have an obligation to call to that issue. So yeah, that's kind of where I. Shifting I'm actually right now looking for a couple of empty lots, like I said, within the area where the rights and the fires took place.

[00:14:27] So I'm working with the city now to get that something underway. So yeah, that's kinda, I'm gonna know for.

[00:14:34] Chris Thoreau: You know, is microgreens in many ways a gateway to getting into the ground?

[00:14:39] Lily Evans: Yeah. Yeah. And I, I will always keep growing. Microgreens like, that's never gonna stop.

[00:14:46] Chris Thoreau: I've never thought of microgreens as a gateway drug before, but now it's just so obvious.

[00:14:50] So okay. So this is, this is good. So a couple like logistical questions. Um, so you talked about, you've been at some of my webinars and, and I know you've, you've used other folks as resources. What has it been like building, uh, micro green skills and, and getting familiar with it. What was that process like? And what kind of resources did you use all, all around?

[00:15:13] Lily Evans: I'm more hands on. So I've basically binge watched all your guys' YouTube videos. I started really getting my hands into it in 2016.

[00:15:27] Chris Thoreau: Okay. So that goes back. Yeah. Good. Five years. Yeah. So

[00:15:27] Lily Evans: I did, yeah, I did a lot of trial runs cuz I really wanted to streamline it. Find the best method for me. Really see, as far as cost, what medium, what lighting is the best for me? That's within my budget. Yeah. Just checking out the markets, seeing if, you know, there was a market here for this. So yeah, I really kind of took my time before really pulling the trigger.

[00:15:53] Chris Thoreau: And so it sounds, you're balancing a lot. How do you keep things organized with your micro green system to stay on top of things?

[00:16:00] Lily Evans: Um, that has been challenge I'm not gonna lie. Um, but I think once I just get in the groove of growing, like the grow periods is, is only did a market every other weekend. And then I have my subscribers.

[00:16:14] So I think if I did all of that at one time, then yeah, it would be very overwhelming, but because everything kind of, okay, Wednesday, I'm doing deliveries and then harvesting Friday for Saturday's market. So it kind of balanced in with what all the other things that I'm doing.

[00:16:34] So it really wasn't that bad. It was just making sure that, Hey, I checked this or I, oh, I gotta clean trays this week, you know, it's just those little things that I have to remember to do.

[00:16:50] Chris Thoreau: yeah. It's, it's a very good point. And, and I have these memories of my early years of it being like dark, like 8 30, 9 o'clock at night on a Sunday and going, oh my God, I have to so seed.

[00:17:02] And I remember like I'm already in my pajamas and I'm getting up and going out and, and my was somewhere else. And it's like, because if you don't sew that crop, you don't have a crop to harvest. No, you don't. It's very tight, uh, window, so, okay, good to know. And this sort of one last question on this is, is there something.

[00:17:23] And you actually don't have to answer this . Is, is there something with your business that you are unsatisfied with? Like just something you just can't get to flow or to work or to just, you know, it just it's tedious. Like, I'm, I'm curious where there's just a part of your business where you're like, eh, hate that thing.

[00:17:41] Lily Evans: I guess really honing in on this right now. The help aspect. Like right now I have family that comes when they want to. And volunteers that come in and really just, you know, being accommodating because they are volunteers and trying to scale everything to where I'm able to get the help for the bigger things that, you know, I absolutely need help with.

[00:18:05] So that way I can continue doing my other tests as. That has been the biggest challenge and the biggest, like, Ugh, like , but hopefully here I will have a, a plan set in place and to be able to address that and streamline that better.

[00:18:24] Chris Thoreau: And so is, is your system, whatever this means, profitable, is it worth continuing to do from a financial perspective?

[00:18:32] Lily Evans: Oh yes. Most, definitely. The first year I was like, I was just grateful to make anything. Yeah, but now. I'm starting to see like, oh, okay. Like all I'm making some money here. It's not a lot, but I'm happy. I'm satisfied. And it's keeping me afloat and it's been really helpful during the pandemic. So, you know, when I really wasn't working at the time, but just doing the microgreens business that really carried me right through.

[00:19:01] Chris Thoreau: And is it that, and I had a situation when I started out. It was just me and same thing. And I was at a point where hiring somebody wasn't possible, cuz then I wouldn't make any money, but I wasn't selling. And I, I knew I had to scale up. Like, it sounds like it's a similar situation. If you had to hire somebody, all your wage would basically go to them. And so that would mean really scaling up to make it viable in that regards. Is that a similar situation with you?

[00:19:27] Lily Evans: See, that is, that is, that's kind of where I'm at right now and seeing, you know, how I can do this budget wise without really hurting anything else that I got going on.

[00:19:38] Chris Thoreau: Yeah. Well, it was interesting.

[00:19:40] You talking about your, your trajectory, you started off with your one shelf, you scaled up and I did, you know, I went through your Instagram and I could see that I there's the first picture of an early shelf. I'm like, oh, that's cute. And then I'm kind of going through the photos and time. And then all of a sudden, there's these beautiful shelves.

[00:19:56] I'm like, oh yeah, that's the setup. And so that trajectory becomes very, very clear, and I think that's actually really useful for people to see, because sometimes you're like, well, I can't get this cool shelf, so I can't start. And seems like you kind of just went with the, uh, the cool shelf would be nice. But let's just get a shelf and some lights and, and get at it.

[00:20:18] Lily Evans: your practical. And really, I was just saying, if this was even a thing I could do here, you know, seeing if there was a market for seeing, if people are excited about this, I was like, why spend thousands of dollars? Not even knowing if it's gonna work, you know?

[00:20:32] And I think that's where a lot of people kind of get it mixed up. Like everybody in the world, like you guys are in Canada. I'm like, okay, well, what you're guys doing in Canada? Will it work here in Wisconsin. Or how will this, like, will I be making $200,000 a year or would I be good with just making $25,000 a year? Asking those questions and really being realistic about it? I think is really important when coming into this business.

[00:20:59] Chris Thoreau: Yeah, well, and it's good. Obviously, if you've got less investment in a smaller market and it's, it's a smaller scale, there's a lot less risk, you know, at $200,000 a year, that's your full time job. And if say a pandemic hits, then that could, you know, maybe it helps, but chances are, it's gonna be difficult.

[00:21:18] So, um, Yeah. So I can already see though your, your potential growth trajectory here. So we're gonna do another one of these in a couple of years. for sure. Okay. So let's talk a little bit about multiple jobs balancing this idea of. Having a microgreens business that you're growing, you're not yet going all in. And so you're, you're doing multiple things. So can you talk a little bit about the many things you are doing at the same time as producing microgreens?

[00:21:52] Lily Evans: Yeah. Um, I'm working now as an accountant assistant or a friend of mine who has a business and assistant living. I also have another small business, which is pretty, it's mostly out ag built and.

[00:22:05] Purple bowels temperatures, ointment. And then I ship it out. I have a partner in Atlanta and he sells it all. and I also have some clientele here as well, but I basically just make it and just ship it out. right. So, so that's not too bad as far as the time that, you know, I could squeeze that in on a Sunday afternoon, just make a bulk and.

[00:22:30] Get ready for shipment Monday or Tuesday. so that's really more of my passive type of business, which is going very well. But then, like I said, I am doing working full time and it's funny how, you know, I met my friend who I'm working for. We met at this women's networking where we basically all entrepreneurs get together.

[00:22:54] And, you know, that's when I was talking about, you know, my microgreens business and you know, what I was doing before, and she just loved the aspect that I am an entrepreneur and she understands what it takes. And she really was like, been really supportive of me, and she was just like, are you looking to get back in the job force?

[00:23:13] And I'm like, yeah, I, I really am looking to get back in the job force to help continue, you know, my business and to help continue on my path where I would wanna go. And she was like, come work for me. You know, she was like, we're gonna be very flexible. You let me know you need anything. Basically Tasha was like, are you sure you can handle this?

[00:23:31] And she's just like, and I think that helps as well. Like getting it into with someone that is an entrepreneur and that I met on that level to understand and support what I'm doing, made it all bit easier to balance all of these.

[00:23:46] Chris Thoreau: Yeah. And, and you covered like nine questions there, which is, is great because one of the challenges often in having multiple jobs is balancing those things with each other. And it sounds like you've got some flexibility to be able to do that. Like, Hey, I need this half day off to do this. I need, you know, I need a bit more time here. So it sounds like that flexibility is what makes this all possible.

[00:24:12] Lily Evans: Yeah. And I think just communicating that with your employer, whatever is, you know, most people will be understanding of what you're doing nine times outta 10.

[00:24:22] They want you to succeed in whatever you're doing. It's just communicating that in an effective way. So that way you're not only helping yourself, but you're helping them as well. And I think that's the key.

[00:24:34] Chris Thoreau: Yeah. I know some people, some people I've talked to is like, I, you know, my job isn't flexible enough or maybe they don't think it's flexible enough, but they haven't really pushed those boundaries.

[00:24:45] So it's interesting. So, because it sounds like this, you know, again, just seeing your flow in social media and, and some of the other, your talk at the Kenosha women's network, it's like, seems these things came to you in many ways. I don't know how to phrase it without sounding too wishy washy, but you put out a call to the universe and the universe said, yeah, here you go.

[00:25:08] Lily Evans: Oh, for sure. For sure.

[00:25:08] Chris Thoreau: Now, is that kind of how it happened? Like, did you set an intention to be able to have this flexible lifestyle? Like, imagine you work your ass off, but you also have this flexibility that allows you to sort of shape shift between these different jobs to keep balance in your life.

[00:25:27] Lily Evans: Right. It was very important to me to be able to do what I love. And to set goals for myself and to really focus on what it is I wanna do and what I wanna accomplish. So with that, it all entails, like everything has been a, a blessing, like, because I had that and I was like sick with this. And with this idea of, yes, I wanna be more flexible with my schedule.

[00:25:52] I wanna take on things that are moving both to me and just go with it. So that has been the motivation in driving force to all of.

[00:26:01] Chris Thoreau: So previous to that, then did you have more of a rigid, flexible nine to five, 10 to four work schedule sort of thing, like is that sort of the world you're coming from, which a lot of people are in, like you work these hours and that's that, is that where you were coming from?

[00:26:18] Lily Evans: Yeah, that's exactly where I was coming from. It was. I loved the work that I was doing before. Cuz I worked as a victim advocate for domestically abused women. But that line of work you're dedicating everything. You got to that. And there's like really no room for anything else. And I basically really had to make a really hard decision.

[00:26:39] Do I wanna continue doing this or do I wanna venture off with everything else that I really want? And the goals that I have set for myself? Well, when the pandemic hit, I was let go. So that was kind of like my door opening. And so like, okay, is this now the time. Is this gonna be now or never, or is this, you know, is just so many things running through my mind.

[00:27:00] Cause I'm like, is this appropriate right now? Is this, you know? And I was just like, you know what? I was talking to my mom and she was like, just go for it and just see what happened. Cause like, if it doesn't work out fine, then at least you'll know it didn't work out. Or you might have to do this later down the line when all this goes.

[00:27:18] And then I'm glad I had her for that support. Cause everybody else is like, you're crazy. why would you do this right now?

[00:27:28] Chris Thoreau: and, and so the, the loss of your previous job was that pandemic related. Yes. Right. You know, it's a good example where your, that position has gone. You need to pivot. And so did you have some of the stuff in mind before then?

[00:27:40] Or did you just, did you have to brainstorm, I guess you said you started thinking about microgreens in 2016. So was, was it just sort of there waiting for, for this

[00:27:49] Lily Evans: opportunity? It was just more of a, when I'm gonna jump off, like when, when is this now? Is this now like I was looking at, I actually got established in 2019, December of 2019. I'm like by March, April, I'll be ready for the world. And then I to it in March and I'm like, oh no. So yeah, it was this, it was really crazy. It was a whirlwind, but I, I started with $500 of equipment. And then I just scaled up from there with using a lot of the money that I had from taxes and savings.

[00:28:28] And all of what you see is approximately $4,000 set up. So. So, yeah, it is very possible to start off with a shoer budget and really scale up.

[00:28:42] Chris Thoreau: Yeah. And one of the things I really like about microgreens, cuz I remember my early days as well is what I call the seed to sale cycle, you know, mm-hmm, , you know, you can spend a lot of time getting set up, but within eight days, mm-hmm of your first crop, you can be collecting revenue.

[00:28:58] So exactly. There's not a big delay where some businesses, you spend two years in a startup phase before money comes in and then you're like, oh exactly. So here's a question then. Had you not been, let go of your position because of COVID do you think you could have, like, would you have made the leap and.

[00:29:15] I need to give notice, I'm gonna go do this thing. Like, it seems that's a scarier thing to do cause you don't have to do it exactly. Will I willingly give up this secure thing to do this? Eh, maybe questionable thing that would make me feel real good.

[00:29:32] Lily Evans: Yeah. For me, I probably wouldn't have been brave enough to do this. In all honesty. Because I loved the women. I loved the job because it was very meaningful. It was just like, it was more of an emotional tie to their position, which made it even harder. So yeah, if it hadn't been for the pandemic, then yeah, it probably wouldn't have happened.

[00:29:57] Chris Thoreau: Right. You know, has your perspective on work in general changed now that you've shifted from this, you know, steady job to these multiple things and balancing things out?

[00:30:08] Lily Evans: Oh yeah, for sure. Like you, you say so many things I've been learning so much. It's like, The biggest thing that I've learned so far is you are in control of your outcome. Like you're the driving force. If you, you wanna make money, you have to get up at four o'clock in the morning and really. Yeah. There's been times where I had to get up at four o'clock in the morning and get those trays started.

[00:30:36] And, and while I'm soaking trays and like, you have to be motivated to be a self-starter, like you have to have to have to. And that's what my biggest takeaway is. Like, you can't procrastinate, you can't relax cuz soon as you do, you're like you're behind.

[00:31:00] Chris Thoreau: And it has, it happens. It happens. Yes. Yes, it does. So it sounds like you've got a good balance and I can kind of visualize like, you know, going to the accountant's office and say, Hey, can I go from five days a week to four days a week? Or. Saying to your partner in Atlanta, Hey, can we shift this day to this day, just for this week and stuff like that?

[00:31:16] Like I, what I'm thinking about is this idea of, it seems like that that is a possible trajectory. You go from accounting from five days to four days, four days to three days, three days to two days. Oh, can I go back to the four days for a while? Um, as things go, like, do, do you, do you imagine that or how do you imagine.

[00:31:35] You know, because it seems you're on a trajectory. Mm-hmm how do you imagine the next, you know, two to three years playing out as you continue to build your microgreens business, you've got now this, this mushroom cultivation happening as well. And it seems like maybe the other partnership you have could be something that grows also. So what does your trajectory look like?

[00:31:56] Lily Evans: Um, really good question. I'm just, I'm just happy with any growth. And I'm just really going with the flow at this time and just seeing where I land. But my biggest goal right now is to have that piece of land, to have that community garden going for the community. Like that is my main focus and where everything else ties in.

[00:32:24] That's what it's gonna be in the nutshell. Like nice. But I do like, I'm not because of the pace and everything is starting to like settle down somewhat post-pandemic. Now it's like, I can really hone in. Some of my skill and now I'm learning to grow other crop varieties.

[00:32:41] So certain things that I, I really, you know, couldn't do because I was just like, okay, I just need get this product out here. I just need get this product out here. Now. I'm like, okay, I can take my time now and really, you know, explore other things which the mushrooms came about because nobody here was growing mushrooms and people was like, are, you know, we had a mushroom guy.

[00:33:03] Show up. Could he, could he do mic mushroom? And I'm like, uh, I think I can so let's see, like, if I can do this and if I can tie it with the microgreens, then we'll see. And that has been really surprising even to myself, like how each one goes hand in hand because mushrooms take no longer than eight days as well.

[00:33:28] It depends on the variety, the strand that you're growing right now. But yes, if I need to cultivate some for a couple weeks out, then the growth time after that is like 8 to 9 days, right. In mind with the microgram. So I was like, yeah. Why not? Like that's great.

[00:33:45] Chris Thoreau: Yeah. Finding things that fit in really, uh, almost seamlessly with what you're doing. That�s awesome. Okay. So let's shift over a little bit here and talk about bootstrapping. Now. I was thinking about this a little bit this morning, and I have this idea of what bootstrapping is. And then I thought maybe I should check what Google thinks bootstrapping is. And I'm like, oh, this is what bootstrapping is. And it was a piece of what I was thinking. So I'm gonna ask you, this is what is bootstrapping to you?

[00:34:17] Lily Evans: To me, it is just taking whatever you have and making it work for yourself and being able to turn over a profit or expand your business, or start a business. It's really just saying like, Hey, this is what I have available.

[00:34:34] And it may not be starting off at a corporate level of funds or whether it's, I don't have all this fancy equipment or it's utilizing what you have, working within your means and finding a plan and using that plan and pushing forward. I think that that is the core pieces of bootstrapping, in my opinion. At least that's what it's been like for me.

[00:35:00] Chris Thoreau: this, this is good, cuz that's my idea of bootstrapping as well is very much, I wrote it down as like less than typical solutions and using what is on hand. Yes. Um, and sometimes using what is on hand is a step towards the, this is what you should do or this is maybe the optimum system, but um, not having the optimum system doesn't seem like a very good reason to not try or to not start.

[00:35:25] Lily Evans: Exactly. Exactly because you then you'll never know if it'll work.

[00:35:29] Chris Thoreau: So, you know, one of my questions is why did you take this approach? And, and from, from our talking, I think often the bootstrapping approach is like either you don't have a whole ton of money to just buy everything outright, or you're not willing to go to investors, right?

[00:35:47] You're not willing to get a loan, or it just seems like. Uh, there's, I don't know. There's something about that. That always makes me feel a little bit, uh, not quite right. So I'm curious about what the biggest challenges were for you with this bootstrapping approach.

[00:36:02] Lily Evans: Well, for me, it was time. And seeing it was basically all of the above, which you had mentioned it was okay. I don't have a lot of funds. Okay. At the time, cuz I was still working my full-time position as a victim advocate. So it was like, okay, am I gonna invest all this money up front? And it does not work? Is there a market for this? Will I have any customers? It was, it was a lot of factors that played into this and I'm just like, you know, just start small.

[00:36:32] And if it doesn't work, then you just have food for yourself and friends of family . And that was more of my attitude coming into this, like, just get my feet wet just a little bit and just see where it goes. But also. Just being more frugal and saying like, Hey, do I really need that fancy shelf? Or really do I need that $600 lighting system?

[00:36:58] Do I really need you know, and that's what said, no, you don't need it. It'd be nice to have all those things because you know, it would probably make your life a lot easier, but. No, you don't need that. And that was basically the, the approach that I took.

[00:37:13] Chris Thoreau: Right. Uh, are there some, like particular challenges you found with that approach? Like one thing that comes to mind in my early days of production is this isn't quite how I wanna be doing things. And with microgreens, for me, it's always about like hygiene and sanitation, like, ah, like, and I had to be very particular about doing some things because I mm-hmm equipment. so like, I wonder, you know, where you found the biggest challenges in that were.

[00:37:41] Lily Evans: Usually in the spring and summer, I can go right outside and do everything. Have all my tables lined up all the trays, just lined up and just boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. Just down the road. And I don't have to worry about mess. I don't have to worry about too much of a sanitation, some, but not as much. But then during the fall and winter, it's like, oh no, I am in a 900 square foot, upper unit without a live space.

[00:38:10] I have to be real smart about this. And how am I gonna do this? Time wise, how long is this gonna take? And yeah, it, it has been challenging, you know, navigating through those things. But I think now I've found a system that actually works for me.

[00:38:26] Chris Thoreau: So that's, that's good. Cause I know for me in the past, sometimes one of the consequences of bootstrapping is an activity takes much longer than if you have more space, if you have, you know, a different setup, exactly. That really plays in. You've already got a limited amount of time.

[00:38:47] And so if you're taking a half hour task and turning it into two hours, then you get this risk of burnout and burnout. You can experience even when you just have one job. So is that something you have experienced? Like how close have you come to burnout at this point?

[00:39:05] Lily Evans: Well, I've burned out. I think I've burned out during the first year. It was July and August were my biggest months. Like. So happy blissful, cuz I'm like ki I'm making money. Orders are coming in, but I'm like, oh shoot, I don't have time to do all this.

[00:39:26] And everything was just happening back-to-back to back. And it was just like, I need help. Like I need help. And then that's when I started reaching out to other organizations and saying, Hey, you know, you got any college kids, horticulture students, you got anybody be willing, you know, do a couple of hours, reached out to family.

[00:39:45] You know, my family has been so supporter of me and really have come through like my brothers and sisters, like they helped me and, and that alleviated a lot of stress. Just having an actual team helping from just cleaning trays. Cause you know how cleaning trays can be just, oh yeah. If I, if I can do is never touch a tray, have to clean a tray ever again.

[00:40:12] I would be happy, that is success to me. Just assigning that task to somebody else. I would be so happy, but yeah, I have experience burned out and just realizing like, Hey, okay, things are going well, but now it's time to get some help and get a team together. So that way I can continue because your health is very important and can't be burnt out.

[00:40:40] Continue cuz that's when you start making mistakes. And I learned that early on, like it's okay to, you know, ask for help. Cause usually I won't ask, I'll be like, uh, I dunno, and having to learn, like it's okay to ask. You have to ask and be real about your situation. I think that's another thing too, cuz as much as I would love to.

[00:41:01] It's just at that time, it wasn't realistic for me and my setup. Like I, I couldn't afford to pay anyone a salary. And, and if you explain that to people nine times at the time, they're an understanding and wanna help and just wanna learn, you know what you're doing anyway. So the trade off is you learn a new skill and you make new connections and then Hey down.

[00:41:23] And if you find really good people, when you are able to hire, you know, like, you'll think, Hey, this person did a really good job. Why don't you come on back? Like I can, I can give you a little salary, you know, so it's things like that. And I always say like, it's important to be transparent, be real about where you're at in this journey and you'll be, like I said, you'll be very surprised at how many people are understanding and will support you.

[00:41:52] Chris Thoreau: Yeah. I remember the first time we hired a summer student to just clean trays. It was so satisfying in some ways. And then other other times I'm like, I feel so bad for that kid, having to clean all those trays.

[00:42:03] Um, But having cleaned, you know, I figure I've cleaned about, uh, 50,000 trays at this point in my life. So I'm. Okay. So one thing that came to mind there was, and, and I'm just thinking a little bit about wrapping things up here is you've got your solid partnership. You've got your accountant assistant work.

[00:42:22] You've got your microgreens. All that can lead to burnout, even though a lot of it's very satisfying. Do you also have something that can take you away from that? You know? Um, I know for many years microgreens was all I did and I started to resent it and then I, I was like, oh yeah, I can go trail running or skiing or just do anything else. So have you got some mechanisms like that in your life to avoid that burnout and enjoy other things?

[00:42:52] Lily Evans: Oh yeah, which is why I decided to change the backyard into a garden, because that has always been my therapy, gardening, just getting in the dirt barefoot and I never wanted to lose that and I never wanted to turn this business into something that I hated down the line.

[00:43:11] So I always was like wanting to always have that connection to the ground, always wanting to always have it as a peace and enjoyable thing, because that has always been my therapy. And I also take time with my son, and we go on little trips and do things. I do a lot of things with him, one on one, or if it's just me.

[00:43:34] Binge watching a Netflix for a day. Like, you know, you do have to learn to turn off and learning that it's okay to take some time off for yourself is very important. And that's a good thing. Like I never wanted to be to a point where it's like, Ugh, I love this, but now I'm hating it. Cuz of this. You know, incorporating things that you love about it, and always having that reminder of why you love it is very important to have while you're in this business.

[00:44:05] Because like, for instance, like anytime I'm doing a task that I cannot stand, I'll just go in my little garden and just sit and whoaw for a couple of minutes and be like, okay, this is why , this is why I'm doing this. And then get right back to the task at hand. Nice. So I think it's always incorporating little reminders, like why you're doing this and why you love it is important and never losing sight of that.

[00:44:35] Cause I know it can be very easy to lose sight of why or, you know, fall out of love with something that you're doing. I see that happening. And because, you know, you're getting so frustrated, you so caught up in the business aspect of it and you kind of forget the passion side of it. And it's just very important. It take time out as well for yourself to give yourself a reminder.

[00:44:59] Chris Thoreau: Absolutely. And one thing that's, as I'm reflecting on some of the things you've said and. There's always a bigger picture and, and it's really easy to get caught up in the business. Mm-hmm but one thing thing you talked about a lot here was relationships.

[00:45:14] You know, you had a good relationship with your business partner in Atlanta, your accountant, employer, your landlord, the people at the farmer's market. And so it sounds like you've done a really good job of not forgetting about the and your family. You mentioned like mm-hmm, not forgetting the people around you and trying to do this thing that you really want to do, but rather integrating them into it.

[00:45:36] Lily Evans: Exactly, exactly. And it takes a multitude of people to run a business. And that's another key takeaway is like, you have to have good, solid relationships is very important. Otherwise you're not gonna thrive. You're not gonna survive.

[00:45:52] Chris Thoreau: Yeah, that's definitely the truth. Um, could you pass on tray washing to your son?

[00:45:59] Lily Evans: I have, but he's the boss. He's like, mom, I'm not doing that. I'm doing this over here. He's the boss. That's the boss.

[00:46:11] Chris Thoreau: My son was born like my first year of production. And for like seven or eight years, he was like, you know, filling trays with soil and doing things. And now I think if he ever has to wash another tray or look at another tray, he's going to, um, do something to me in my sleep. So backfired trying to get him into the farming mindset.

[00:46:33] Lily Evans: Right, right. Yeah. I think I created a little entrepreneur, so he thinks he's just the boss of everybody. He just likes telling everybody what to do.

[00:46:44] Chris Thoreau: Nice. That's a good start. yeah. Um, so we've covered a lot of stuff there in terms of wrapping things up. Is there something that you wanted to add about, you know, is there something you wanna sort of throw in there about what you're doing and how you're doing it?

[00:46:56] Lily Evans: Um, I know you had mentioned, you know, diversity and me being a black woman in a more male white male dominant business. And I just, I don't know. I guess my biggest thing is how could we bridge the gap more? Like, I mean, I know this platform right here will open a lot of doors. But what do you, what do you think like for yourself, like how we can get more? Cause like I said, I, I just watched you guys on YouTube�

[00:47:26] Chris Thoreau: you know, I think there's some responsibility I say on my part, you know, um, I think. When I reach out to talk to people, I wanna be reaching out to a diversity of people. And I was thinking about this and looking at the interviews I've set up. I have a lot of interviews set up with white men and it's because like when I go through my list of contacts, that's who they are. And so I think there's that aspect.

[00:47:51] But there's also like, it's more than that. For me, it's a lot of reflection and I follow and Canadians follow very closely what's happening in the us. There's, you know, the past couple years has been very intense, but here in Canada, you know, our relationship with it is with the indigenous populations.

[00:48:09] And it's as problematic and there's these deeply embedded ideas in us, in me. And I feel them and I put a good amount of time into really reflecting on what, what, what I believe and, and my perspective on life. And. Having some, uh, a heightened awareness of the privilege that I have. And so through that, I hope, you know, it's part of the process.

[00:48:34] But the other thing for me is like hearing a diversity of stories and, you know, your story is very similar to my story. My bootstrapping was a credit card. And, you know, it took years to pay that off and I'm sure people have differences, but there's so much that we have in common. And that's something that I really try to focus on because it makes it harder to, to discriminate.

[00:48:56] It makes it harder to place somebody in a bubble in some sort of category when you can find commonality, right? I. So hopefully that's a step to moving forward and there's a lot of work to do.

[00:49:10] Lily Evans: Oh yeah, for sure.

[00:49:14] Chris Thoreau: I really enjoyed talking with Lily. If you want to learn more about what Lilly is up to check her out on Instagram at short roots urban farms.

[00:49:22] Diego Footer: There you have it. That was grower educator and entrepreneur. Chris throw guest hosting an episode of farm, small farm smart. I hope you enjoyed this one. If you wanna learn more about the great work that Chris is doing, check him and check out his great crop planning software for micro ring growers at seed.

[00:49:44] Dot co seed leaf is crop planning software for micro green growers optimized to help you save time, money, and make things easier. Learn more about the or use the link below after hearing this. If you are interested in hosting an episode of farm small farm smart, reach out to me via email at hello.

[00:50:07] At paper, And let me know what you'd like to do for an episode. I'm looking for some guest hosts to create new episodes in the future. And I would love to hear from you if you're interested in taking this opportunity and running with it. Thanks for listening until next time. Be nice. Be thankful and do the work.


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