Microgreens and Intentional Social Impact from Day 1 with Michael Quinn (FSFS260)

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Episode Summary

In this special episode of Farm Small Farm Smart, educator and longtime microgreens grower Chris Thoreau welcomes guest Michael Quinn. Michael talks about his experience starting a microgreens business in Northern Ireland, the regional differences that can come with a startup business, and how a startup can be intentional with creating social impact right from the get-go.

Today’s Guest: Michael Quinn

Michael Quinn is the owner of the quickly evolving microgreens business, Mourne Microgreens based in Kilkeel, Northern Ireland. While microgreens are a relatively new concept in their location, Michael aims to provide organically grown, nutrient-dense, affordable microgreens, all while making a social impact from day one.

            Mourne Microgreens – Website | Facebook | Instagram

In this episode of Farm Small, Farm Smart

  • Chris Thoreau introduces the episode’s guest Michael Quinn (01:24)
  • How Michael Quinn got into growing microgreens (02:18)
  • Learning about microgreens in Northern Ireland (03:14)
  • The whole challenge of marketing (04:36)
  • Michael Quinn’s microgreen setup (05:46)
  • Learning to grow microgreens with the regional differences (08:25)
  • How Michael Quinn is marketing his products (10:56)
  • Why messaging is very important for Mourne Microgreens (12:58)
  • Finding the goldilocks price point in Northern Ireland (14:40)
  • The tricky balance of a sustainable price point (16:29)
  • Looking at pricing from a profitability standpoint (18:11)
  • Reality check with the hours, the price point, and the profit (20:58)
  • Intentional social impact aspect from day 1 (24:44)
  • Why put emphasis on social impact right at the start? (26:23)
  • The ecological impact of Michael’s microgreens business (29:55)
  • On selling live trays and packaging alternatives (33:22)
  • Regional differences in getting a microgreen operation set up in Northern Ireland (35:05)
  • Michael Quinn’s thoughts on starting up a microgreens business (38:32)
  • Microgreens, independence, and lots of work to do (42:35)
  • The number of missed vacations before the business is shut down (43:31)
  • An unconventional approach to taking care of customers and going on vacation (45:22)

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FSFS260 - Michael Quinn

[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 and 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. While I'm currently focusing on my Carrot Cashflow 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.

[00:00:41] I'm looking for people to guest host the farm, small farm smart podcast and talk growing. 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.

[00:01:04] Let me know by sending me an email. Hello@paperpot.co. I would love to hear your thoughts. But for this episode, it's Chris Thoreau, talking to different microgreen growers about their microgreen experience, both the successes and the failures. I hope you enjoy it.

[00:01:24] Chris Thoreau: In this episode, I speak with Michael Quinn of Mourne microgreens based in Northern Ireland. Although early in his microgreens business, Michael is doing a great job of bringing skills from previous careers into his microgreens production. And talks about the importance of incorporating a social impact element into your business model right from the beginning. This week, I'm talking with Michael Quinn of Mourne Microgreens.

[00:01:50] Michael is based in Northern Ireland. And Michael is very much in the startup phase of his microgreens business. And while we tend to talk to a lot of experts over the years, the goal of this podcast series is to look at and speak with the non-experts while they're deep into their startup, deep into new things, and so you're getting that real time perspective. So thanks for joining me on this podcast, Michael.

[00:02:15] Michael Quinn: Oh, thanks for having me.

[00:02:18] Chris Thoreau: Yeah. So what I'd like to start out with is just getting a little bit of background information about our growers and their growing setup. So the thing I'm always most curious about though is, is what got you interested in microgreens in the first place.

[00:02:32] Michael Quinn: Yeah. So I started growing vegetables a couple years back and then started with a few patches in the garden, and I bought a poly tunnel and then another poly tunnel. Um, but then I had a, sort of a barren phase of winter. Didn't have a lot of food coming in. So I started to play around with microgreens.

[00:02:48] Um, and at the same time, a friend of mine owned a vegan shop nearby, and he was starting to buy in microgreens from a now competitor, so he was basically encouraging me to sort of try growing these as well home. And I started growing so on and that sort of started as a couple of a couple of trays on Amazon to eventually turn into a semi-professional setup I have now.

[00:03:14] Chris Thoreau: Right. So I hear contrasting experiences from people. One is, you know, I'd known about microgreens for a while then decided I could do it. And for other people, it's like, oh, I heard about these and I just had to do it. So it sounds like it's something maybe you were a bit aware of and then were able to sort of move in that direction or what was it like learning about microgreens in Northern Ireland?

[00:03:37] Michael Quinn: Yeah. So we're always a few years behind in the US. Um, I lived in the us for a number of years and I would come back here and a few years later, things would land I'd been doing in there for years. Um, so it's not a very well-known thing here. So there's a big education curve in, in all the marketing and fields we do.

[00:03:54] But I say I definitely tiptoed into it. Um, both growing on the growing side. Just because of that. I just didn't know if there was a market for what basically is like a premium sort of vegetable for food product. So it was with yeah, with toe in, I went and I was fortunate in the way that my friend that owns the cafe.

[00:04:16] Like I knew I pretty much had some guaranteed sales there, even if it only gonna be a small amount to get started. Um, so I knew I had some sales, so I started growing this and I knew he'd be a great marketing outlet. Um, he was in the community that I would want to get involved in. And so I was kind of fortunate there.

[00:04:36] Chris Thoreau: Right. And that sounds really very serendipitous because the one thing I see in a lot of the microgreens forums is people hesitant over marketing their product. They can do the setup and they can grow it. But marketing seems to be a big barrier for a lot of people.

[00:04:50] Michael Quinn: Yeah, I definitely. And we are, we're still trying to figure this one. I like I'm only six, six weeks old at the stage of actual selling. But the whole social media world, especially on the marketing side is just being completely new to me. Like I was not a, I did not have Instagram on my phone. I was not an Instagram user. I barely used Facebook in years. So like having to go into that world daily.

[00:05:15] And drew with a lot of effort, again was, is still a shock to the system. And thankfully my, my wife helps a lot with that better things. But like, yeah. Getting, getting your messaging, right. Getting your content. Right. Um, thinking about all the channels. Around marketing. Um, it there's a lot there. And my previous corporate job before I joined this was working for a marketing technology firm.

[00:05:40] So thankfully I had a bit of an understanding over what's involved, but it is definitely a learning curve.

[00:05:46] Chris Thoreau: Right, yes. I've experienced that very much in a similar way. So can you tell me a little bit about your growth space then? I know there's lots of different setups. Uh, what are you, how are you growing? And what's your space like.

[00:05:58] Michael Quinn: Yeah. So I'm growing in� I bounced around a few, a few different rooms in my house. I started in the summertime in a room that had lots of natural light in the heat. Um, and then sort of the last six weeks since I started properly trading, I moved my, my space into my own little small office here.

[00:06:17] Oh man. It's probably three meters by three meters. I've got two racks and each rack will hold about 20, 20, 10 by 20 trays. And so the traditional coco coir soil, I've got my overhead fluorescent light and dehumidifier fan sort of the traditional YouTube setup, if you would.

[00:06:42] Chris Thoreau: Okay. So, so you say you've been six weeks in basically, you know, in your selling phase, what was your sort of startup from the time, your length of time from, okay. I guess I can do this. Let's go to that beginning of that six weeks. How long was your sort of initial getting to know microgreens phase?

[00:07:00] Michael Quinn: I'd say about two months started growing the usual, like standard first four of sunflower broccoli, radish fee and then taking it from there. So he is growing those, making mistakes, learning, figuring out what trays are not very good, ordering different equipment.

[00:07:20] And scaling up, getting different packaging in, and during that, the, as I was sort of selling just to this, the, my friend in the cafe and he was taking like a few boxes every week. So I, I was getting. Some early feedback on even like packaging and labeling and playing things for that figuring insurance and all of that stuff at the same time.

[00:07:40] So there's probably like a two month ramp up phase. And I knew I was going to the us on vacation for a week at the end of August. So I kind of just put like a red line saying when I come back, that's it like, I didn't wanna start trading and then have, Hey, new customers, I'm leaving for a week, 10 days. You're not gonna get, you're not gonna get any microgreens.

[00:08:01] Chris Thoreau: So that's good to know that two months� timeline is really interesting, cuz I've talked to a grower on the weekend. Who's been like an eight, eight months, eight months� timeline. I know for me it was about yeah. From deciding to do it to first sale was probably about 10 months many, many years ago.

[00:08:19] So, it's interesting to see what that spectrum of timelines looks like. So you, you, you make this decision, you become aware of microgreens. You're gonna try this business. How did you learn to grow? Microgreens you talked about the typical setup. I know the setup. Well we see it all over the place, but what was your approach to learning the microgreens craft?

[00:08:39] Michael Quinn: So I started out the, probably the usual rights. It's a mixture of YouTube podcasts and then getting the BI there and then going into the courses like I did, I think I bought two courses, to be honest. One of the very popular ones. And then another one with actual, an Irish guy who started a microgreens pod or podcast, and course over here.

[00:08:58] And I just, I liked his style and I knew he, he would be able to really help with the local suppliers local climate, all of the sort of conditions that are different. Um, most of the content out there is us focused. It's in ounces, all of that. So I did all of that and I got a little bit frustrated over that. Then I went with my so I done two courses. A lot of podcasts and then yeah, a lot of the YouTube stuff.

[00:09:22] Chris Thoreau: So it sounds like, and, and I'm glad you brought this topic up. It sounds like that being able to do a course and get some information that was regional was really, really important for you because yeah.

[00:09:33] A lot of the courses can be very focused on. You know, instructors experience or their region, but it sounds like having somebody in, in Ireland of all places having a course was really important.

[00:09:44] Michael Quinn: Yeah. Um, definitely not just from, for the basic things right down to metric versus Imperial, very grounds versus ounces.

[00:09:52] Um, and knowing what density to do rather than having to like, do the conversions all. To the suppliers, where to get good soil, where to get your seeds from particularly in our post Brexit world, where you're not allowed to post seeds around anymore. It's a whole new difficulty. Um, so yeah, and the climate like getting it by listening to.

[00:10:14] Some of your podcasts. I'm listening to other people are like talking to people who are growing in Southern, in California, completely different challenges versus like wet Ireland.

[00:10:23] Chris Thoreau: Yeah. And I think it's, it's interesting, cuz well, I lived in the UK for many years and now I'm on the south coast of, or the west coast of Canada.

[00:10:30] And it's a, it's a very similar climate. And I'm often noticing, you know, people in like here in Florida posting about, you know, the humidity and the heat. I'm like what . Yeah. And this is something that applies to all, all scales of farming. You know, how you grow tomatoes in California is very different than how you grow them in the Pacific Northwest.

[00:10:49] So, yeah. So that's good. It's really great to hear that aspect of your experience. Okay. So you're six weeks in, you've got your friends' place as, as a market. How else are you marketing your product?

[00:11:02] Michael Quinn: So social media is probably our, our, me and out outlet. Just getting posting all the time, doing all the, the traditional ways trying to get into that community sort of healthy, vegetarian, so on. Um, we've done one farmer's market a few weeks ago. We're doing another one now this, this Saturday that's a good marketing out there. Definitely getting sort of word of mouth out there. The sort of the people that come to farmer's markets generally are a little bit more interested and are, are willing to pay a little bit more for a local sort of premium product.

[00:11:35] I am knocking on doors, to be honest, just looking at any quality restaurants in the area and just messaging them directly on, on Facebook or on Instagram and saying, Hey, I've started this business. Do you want to check out some free examples if I come in? Um, so that's the restaurant, right? Just doing that.

[00:11:55] Yeah, I'd say that's probably where we are now. I haven't really dived into the paid advertising yet and that's intentional. I wanna really like, get my messaging perfect. Before I start to pay, be it through social or even like local newspapers or things like that. I wanna just get the message in down and make sure that's connecting with people and people are understanding what the product is, how to use it, what the benefits are, all of that.

[00:12:22] And then we'll probably do a bit more of a push. Um, and I'm also holding back a little bit and doing any mass marketing, cause it's still gonna be very localized, but I'm holding back because I wanna be sure that I'm ready to scale and take the orders. Cause at the minute, My racks are full. I've got my Thursday harvest and then I've got the Saturday harvest for the farmer's market and like I'm full.

[00:12:43] Uh and I don't want to disappoint people especially like, as there is a, like a life or a brew cycle here. So I always wanna have a bit of spare product where I can give them something straight away.

[00:12:58] Chris Thoreau: Right. Now, can you talk a little bit about getting your messaging down? It seems to me the messaging is very clear. They're local and they're nutritious. , I'm wondering what's, you know, and I know it's being mildly facetious, but it's the messaging you see? I wonder what is particular about messaging? That's important to you?

[00:13:17] Michael Quinn: Yeah. I think everyone, I'm not sure if this is a, a local thing or just as they sort of mentioned earlier, be lack of education of what microgreens are.

[00:13:27] So maybe in the US, or in certain different places, like they have a, a foundational knowledge. They've seen these things before. Like most of the people I go to here, just think it's watercress. It's the only experience they've ever had with like a mini vegetable. So you have to explain what this is.

[00:13:42] This is available in a multitude of flavor profiles. Um, it's explain the nutritional benefits versus an adult vegetable. Explain why like this is a premium. So I think there's a whole, you have to put an article around all of that, even like the UR thing around broccoli and explaining, it's just going into those details for people and.

[00:14:08] It's not just a small packet, a small, expensive packet of solid leaves. You're selling them like, and also how do, how to use it at a customer. A few weeks ago, we just took a mixed box, which had like spicy radish. And I had sun floor and P and broccoli, and she put it all in the smoothie blender and mix it up.

[00:14:24] And she says, my stomach wasn't right after it. And I was like, yeah, radish will probably do that to you. So now I've got a section of my. Getting right. How to use this product.

[00:14:35] Chris Thoreau: Nice one. That's a good, that's a great story. Um, so the other thing you touched on there actually is, you know, the, this expensive little box of greens, how has it been for you finding the price point for your market?

[00:14:49] There's a range of prices out there. I noticed that prices are on the very high side. I, I would not buy microgreens. They are very expensive, but very inexpensive to grow for ourselves. So, what has that been like finding what's that point is for you in Northern Ireland?

[00:15:07] Michael Quinn: I completely connect with that statement. Like I was not buying the microgreens that my friend was selling um, I was like, no way, this does not make sense. So I, I actually listened to you and Diego a lot, I listen a bunch of podcasts, but you were probably the only one out there who said, I want to make microgreens affordable. And I definitely want, I'm trying to hit the right price.

[00:15:31] Between being affordable for everyone and providing, so I'm at least earning a minimum wage, to be honest. Um, so I price myself. Like we are all all organic. Um, we have a donation thing which will become to later, but I'm trying to price myself as the cheapest in Northern Ireland. Um, by a little bit, at least.

[00:15:54] So it's affordable for everyone, but I'm still like, I have it's too early for me to figure out if people aren't buying because they don't know I exist. They don't like the price. Um, so we're still trying to figure out what that is, the optimum price point and like, like the farmer's market and having conversations with people is good for.

[00:16:15] I get a mixture I've had, I've had some customers who say, no, you're pricing too cheap. I've had others who say like, no way, why would I buy that? Like, it's that's I can go to like the local supermarket and get like 10 times out for the same price. Yeah. It's typical.

[00:16:29] Chris Thoreau: That's always a tricky balance. And I, I still struggle with it. The question, and I don't know if you've asked this, the question I have is. Well, it's a two-part question. It's what is the price point? That makes sense for the customer and for my bottom line, and then the second one is how long is that price point valid for customers might buy your product for a while and then be like, oh, this is quite expensive.

[00:16:54] Like a good part of my budget is going into this. So. Can you maintain sales over the long term? You know, not just a year or two, which in business terms is, is a very short period of time, but as a business model. So, yeah, I'd be curious to hear how that ends up working out for you in terms of how long that price point can sustain itself.

[00:17:12] Am I priced too low? I'm not making enough money. Damn. I need to put prices up. Or I'm priced too high. I'm not selling enough product. Where is that sweet spot that allows you to maintain that business and growth trajectory?

[00:17:24] Michael Quinn: Yeah. And yeah, and we're, we're definitely still trying to figure that out. And at multiple levels, like, do we, like I started with a different price list for direct to consumer versus retail versus CA or restaurants and cafe.

[00:17:38] Um, honestly, I'm now trying to rationalize that on just one flat price for everyone, because I find that restaurants really don't buy that much more involved. They won maybe a couple of little tons of, for, or another, a direct customer. Also want that. Um, so yeah. I probably undercut myself, but too much.

[00:17:59] My wife's constantly telling me, like, we need to increase the prices more, but like, I I'm number one, I'm just nervous that they're price too high. I wouldn't buy them and they're not going to be affordable for people.

[00:18:11] Chris Thoreau: Yeah. So this brings me to maybe leading into another sort of set of questions here and that that's great. Like really, I love hearing people's experience. What they're doing. Uh, so right now, like, even though you're building this business, you know, you kind of define it as a side venture. And a lot of people are doing microgreens as a side venture or, or a side hustle as, as I often call it. So how much does that play into this pricing and the profitability of it?

[00:18:42] I mean, if you're gonna start this business and that's gonna be your career. You know, you'd need a certain pricing. You need a certain scale, but if it's a side hustle, maybe you can be a little more flexible on that. You know, what is that profitability or salary point that makes sense for you considering you may or may not have other work in the future that balances this out.

[00:19:05] Michael Quinn: That's a, a really good question. Um, , I'm still trying to backtrack into what the, like, I know what the Mo or the sort of the weekly revenue I would like, and I know they ares, I, I wanna work every week. Like I don't, I'm not trying to turn this into a full-time job. Um, so it is just trying to find that sweet spot say, and I wanna spend like, say 20 hours a week doing this.

[00:19:28] What, how much can I purchase? And realistically for that 20 yards, like you've got doing the growing side of the business and then the business side of the business and the delivery and the harvesting and so on. You quickly realize, like, I think this is a pretty hard thing to do as a side hustle, unless like you're going to stay pretty small and you've maybe got your selling a lot to a coupler or a few customers, a very small customer base.

[00:19:55] If you have like 20 different customers that you're delivering to every. Just add up that delivery time, the driving time, the harvesting time packing all those up. And like your 20 yards is really gonna get cut into never mind doing your bookkeeping and your admin. And then you add through on your marketing.

[00:20:12] So that it's, there's a whole breadth of work here that I probably didn't appreciate before I started, like, I saw the normal YouTube videos side hustle to earn five grand a week or whatever, whatever they are. Like, it's definitely a false promise. There's a whole breadth of work here. Like you're running a business essentially.

[00:20:32] Um, now that's sad. You can obviously try to do like the MVP of everything. Like you can skip the website. You can have a really minimal social media. You can like your bookkeeping could be a Google doc, but I think it depends who you are. Like if you wanna do everything right. Everything is a deep pool of, of trying to get sort of perfect, not perfect, but in a, the way you want it.

[00:20:58] Chris Thoreau: Yeah, well, one of the themes I'm trying to touch on a little bit in these podcasts as well is what I'm calling reality check. And it's come up a few times where people say courses, don't tell you about this. That is another topic, which I won't get into now. Being someone who offers an online course and.

[00:21:15] You know, I feel like a good portion of the course is telling you how hard it's going to be, which is not the general approach, but it is important for people to know that it's not just all this money coming in. And, you know, when do you put in the order for the luxury car, it is a challenge. Um, so I, I wonder about that, thinking about that, does that start to push your price point to the higher end?

[00:21:38] You're at a smaller scale and in order to make that 20 hours. Well at $4 per hundred grams, it doesn't work very well, but it's $6 per hundred grams. Now we're getting there, but then you've got this conflict between your values of making this, you know, available and accessible to people and balancing out your profitability and, and making a somewhat of a living doing it.

[00:22:01] Michael Quinn: Yeah. I, I don't know if I have much room to go to a higher price points or that customers would accept it. Like as I mentioned some already push back thinking like this is a premium product. I think the only way in my mind, like a hundred percent could be wrong here. The only way I could do that is if I get a good customer base on my current price point, get like loyal customers.

[00:22:29] And then in six months time or whatever I say, Hey guys, like, this is not like, I can't continue. Like. So my options are, I increase every packet by like 50 P or like, I'm going to have to like do something or I shut this down or whatever. But at the minute I just, don't, I'm kind of just accepting, this is the price.

[00:22:49] This is the way I'm gonna make money is just more skill. And I need to get to this sweet point of skill and based on all the equipment I. Based on the time that I want to put in it. I'm trying to find that nice point where I can sell at the current price and I am still making money. And hopefully my time that I need to put in goes done over time.

[00:23:13] Like if I get a bunch of recurring customers, I don't have to maybe worry about the marketing and the sales side of things so much, a lot of. The things we kind of touched on earlier around like getting the messaging, right. Getting leaflets made all of that stuff is like one time work. And I'm hoping it goes into more of a, sort of a business as usual mode. That is my possibly unrealistic dream right now.

[00:23:37] Chris Thoreau: Well, you're right. In a lot of ways that, you know, starting a business, the work is front loaded. You're doing a bunch of stuff that you don't need to do as routine. So all the stuff you talked about, even just getting your domains, setting up your website, doing website, copy that stuff that once it's done, it's, it's pretty much done and you revisit it now.

[00:23:54] And then often not like I can't sleep might as well check the. Yeah, but there's also, the other thing is you're gonna become a much more efficient producer as well. You know, a harvest task that maybe takes you three hours is gonna come two and a half to two hours. So that trajectory may be that you're reducing the number of tasks because they're done. And you're just a much more efficient operation because you're getting so good at.

[00:24:20] Michael Quinn: Yeah, that is definitely the hope that I wouldn't need to individually cut my sunflower shoots to make sure I avoid the, the bad ones and the ones of the holes. And I can just do a nice full chop and put in like 30 grams into a box. That'll be fantastic. Um, so yeah, I there's definitely room for speeding up the whole day. The planting, the harvesting process.

[00:24:40] Chris Thoreau: Yeah, for sure. So the other thing that makes me think about scale in your case is, you know, you're early in the model, and you've really built like a social impact component into the business. So I wonder, first of all, if you can, just, if you can talk a little bit about that.

[00:24:55] Michael Quinn: Yeah. So my last job the last four years before I started, this was running a social impact department for sort of a mid-sized tech firm in the us. And there I was very focused on, we didn't have a, a massive budget, but we really tried to make an impact.

[00:25:13] And we, we zoomed in on the sort of this concept of high impact philanthropy or effective altruism. Some may know it. So really charities in the world that are addressing very high priority causes, but can make a big impact at a low cost. Um, so whatever I did next, I wanted to integrate that into the business from day one.

[00:25:32] So yeah, I took that across. So basically our, the model I have starting out is for every large mix box I sell, we Don need a year's worth of micronutrients through a charity called project healthy children. And it's sort of very low cost. Good fortification scheme that they run across certain low income countries.

[00:25:54] And yeah, I just like the concepts. It's not, I feel like buy one, give one, but it's like, you're getting your nutrients. You're given nutrients to people in need. So, yeah, I just wanted to get that in from day one, both just from our values and wanting a social impact point of view. And then also, I see the impact it can have on sort of your marketing as well, and sort of trying to connect with people who share the sort of your philosophy and the same values.

[00:26:23] Chris Thoreau: Right. So I'm noticing as I get older, I become more and more risk averse. And so I do things very incrementally and I wonder, so. It's a great component of your business. Is there a risk of incorporating it into the business model too soon, as opposed to like getting things down, you know, reducing the number of hours you need to do in the startup phase.

[00:26:44] So it's not so stressful, you know, and then adding that as profit comes in your more stable, like that would be my approach just in terms of mitigating risks for the business overall, but it sounds like it was really important for you to have that there, right at the startup. Could you talk a little bit about that?

[00:27:00] Michael Quinn: Yeah. And I'll, I'll probably answer that from, from the perspective of my old job. Um, it's very important. Any corporate, any business, I feel it's so much easier to do this at the. Um, rather than waiting down the line when you know what your profit margins are, and you're gonna have to make that decision go, wow, do I cut my, do I cut down my profit here?

[00:27:22] Do I want to do this? Is this extra work? Whereas if he's just there from day one, like the choice is done it's made, you know, you have to dance to the profit on top of that. Um, this is all based on a group called pledge 1%. So what it does is try to get tech startups to go in and pledge 1% of their equity, 1% of their profit and 1% employee time from day one, and Salesforce start at this huge companies.

[00:27:47] That did this on day one. And then down the line, when the IPO cetera were able to throw like basically billions of dollars into their, their charity fund, because they made that decision. Um, and I just mentioned that because companies that came to talk to us about that had the exact same question you did, like, can we afford to do this now?

[00:28:06] Is it a distraction, et cetera, etc. It's not really. You make the commitment. I make a donation like once a month, I'll go in and check how many, how many large boxes I've sold and I'll make the donation. That's it like, there's no real effort here. It's a cost overhead on dial gate, like just on the line item cost, but time wise that it doesn't take any more time.

[00:28:27] Chris Thoreau: Right. And I really like that approach that. So when you, when I'm doing a business plan and I'm looking at my thing, I'm like, okay, well, I'm gonna have labor. I'm gonna have insurance. I'm gonna have rent and electricity, and I'm gonna have my 1% of donations. What's my profit? So it's like, you're just building it into your core operating costs.

[00:28:46] Michael Quinn: Exactly, yeah.

[00:28:48] Chris Thoreau: I like that approach. It really puts a strong emphasis on like essentially redistribution of wealth built into this neoliberal capitalist economic model. Yes. All right. So what I'm gonna do later today is modify the urban micro crop planner. So there is a page that specifically allows you to allocate a certain amount of your, and you can decide whether it's revenue or profit towards a cost, and then you can adjust the percent you wanna donate.

[00:29:18] Michael Quinn: Oh, fantastic. Yeah. And, and there there's a lot of great charities out there. Like, I could send you some notes afterwards that you can include, that'll have very high impact for low cost. Yeah. Your money really goes far. If you, you do a little bit of homework and you direct it in the right places, basically.

[00:29:34] Chris Thoreau: Yeah. So, here's another topic that I hadn't really thought about discussing here, but I'll bring it up because you are in this phase where you need to start making this decision or decisions like this, you know? So we've talked about a little bit about financial viability. We're talking here a little bit about social, and then the third component, when we look at a triple bottom line is, is the ecological component.

[00:29:55] Now you talked about growing organically, which is I think a strong value that almost every microgreen grower in the world has, which is, which is quite amazing, a few hydroponic growers using chemical systems, but they're still very basic. So I love that aspect of things. But we are using different soils that are coming from around the world.

[00:30:14] You said you're using coir, I've used like a peak based soil and there's issues with, with all these, with these products there's some ecological issues and some social issues. Uh, and then there's the packaging, we're putting stuff often in plastic clam shells and things like that. So, thinking again about where you are in the startup phase, what kind of process are you working with or looking at for dealing with ecological aspects of what you're doing?

[00:30:42] Michael Quinn: That's a good one. I'm wrestling with that one. So I did deep dive into packaging and. So I compost a lot here because I've got a poly tunnel right at the back. All of our, all of our waste pretty much goes into the compost and then into the soil next year. And I was getting compostable packages from various cafes restaurants, taking them home thing. And this is great. I was spend them in my compost pile. Nothing was happening with them. I was like, what is going on here?

[00:31:11] Yeah. Then I start, I started doing my research and last stage I had already bought. The similar products to package my, my stuff in. Um, I did the research and basically it says commercially compostable. So if you own a commercial facility, they'll break down in six to 12 months. That's that is a zero use to most people.

[00:31:29] Um, so I'm really stuck on, on this one. Um, I try to buy my packaging. It's PLA or Mead from plant waste. So it's not oil based made from, but regards to whether where it goes next, if it's compostable or it's just recyclable. I'm not sold on the compostable thing right now. And that could be a lack of education on my side, but, and then I'd say probably another element of that is I need to make a decision whether I spend an extra, whether it is five KP, a packet on compostable or I direct that to this donation program.

[00:32:10] Right. Where do I, where do I see the better impact there? Um, and for me, just, I think just with my background, I know I can make a bigger impact directing the incremental five, 10 PA week to the donation to like helping people versus avoiding one plastic packaging that may not compost. Like even if people do actually compost it, , it still may not break down. So I, I still, I think I wanna dive deeper on this, to be honest.

[00:32:40] Chris Thoreau: It's a good point. And this is another regional issue because some of those commercial systems don't want that material. In fact, they are not actually in, in our commercial system here, you cannot put compostable packaging into the system because it takes too long to break down in that system as well.

[00:32:57] So it does biodegrade, however, I think the, for some companies it's actually biodegrading in a landfill. Yes. So we went, we went through a similar thing and and I can't remember what we decided on packaging wise, but what we were really pushing is these are definitely recyclable and you could reuse them in your own home.

[00:33:17] So because we couldn't the same way. We couldn't find that balance in that regard. Have you looked at selling, you know, the way people really try to avoid packaging is by selling a live product. And is that something you've explored as well?

[00:33:31] Michael Quinn: Uh, no. Um, based on just various learning throughout, like going with live trays and soil into kitchens and all of that, I I've tried to avoid one thing in the future.

[00:33:46] I may look up if I got a good steady customer. I could talk about let's buy plus, and then refill these every week. That would be the only way I could see myself going. I don't see myself going down the live tray route even just like delivery. Um, I just. I, I can't comprehend. your package? Um, all like six different varieties of 25 grams each into life trays for people.

[00:34:16] Chris Thoreau: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. There's some logistical challenges there for sure. Uh, a lot of people try it and I don't know that it lasts, but I know some people have found ways to do it. So again, it seems like a really regional thing and what's gonna work for someone else may not work for you. And I like the idea of using, you know, a container that's reusable that maybe you have a deposit on it and people are returning it, you're washing it. And that way you've got something really in circulation for a very long time.

[00:34:41] Michael Quinn: Yeah. Uh, hopefully we can, we can revisit that one in a few months, one place, or I guess, steady, steady customer base. And I think people would be, would be up for that as well. Like it's, it's pretty, it can be pretty inexpensive to buy a bunch of glass jars from sort of large Swedish furniture manufacturers. Yeah, so hopefully we we'll talk a lot one.

[00:35:05] Chris Thoreau: Yeah. So I wanted to go quickly back to your setup and getting set up. Now we joked around a little bit at the beginning about the typical setup. You know, when you see the YouTube and internet, you know, path, there's some pretty specific setups that people suggest, and they make a lot of sense.

[00:35:24] And I wonder about what it was like, getting that set up happening, where you are, you know, were there particular things that were very, very difficult to procure? And I'm thinking this about this in two perspectives, one which is universal and that we have gone and are going through a pandemic which really disrupted supply chains.

[00:35:43] That's something that people are experiencing universally. but also, you know, being in Northern Ireland, like what was easy to source and what was difficult to, to bring into your, in terms of getting set up?

[00:35:58] Michael Quinn: Yeah, it was definitely definitely different. So I I'd be watching all the usual resources and seeing all the supplies and under the YouTube videos in gone, this is completely irrelevant to me.

[00:36:09] Um, first thing is trays pan 20 trays don't really exist over here until a few months ago. So I actually was in, so we have like five, 19 garden. So I was groaning in them, but no one publishes seed density for those. So you're like doing a translation of square of your area and trying to backtrack that from your 10 20.

[00:36:28] So that was the first thing. So I started in all these five nineteens that are really deep but smaller. I then bought a bunch of trays when I was on vacation in the us and like had a full sous of like Biro farmer trays,

[00:36:45] sort of UK started selling 10 twenties. So that, that was one thing I'd say I was great at finally at 10 twenties and I can just copy dens. No, and then seeds, this is very specific, but we obviously have Brexit over here. Northern Ireland is in a strange limbo of arguments between the EU and the UK.

[00:37:05] But basically we aren't allowed to buy seeds from the UK. So all seeds now I have to buy, have to come from Ireland, which are great. Like there's some great manufacturers and I get all my stuff now from the south of Ireland, but there is like a higher price point and there are just. Smaller amount of choice, just because Ireland's like a very small country um, UK's 30, a million earnings, 5 million.

[00:37:27] There's just, there's more manufacturers in the UK. Um, so I think they are two things that were very local to me that were difficult and still like posed problems. Like there's, if I see manufacturer seat supplier, doesn't have a, a variety. Like that's it. I can't buy it anywhere else. It just doesn't exist. Like, a chef asked for a lemon balm and I last for. Another couple of things today and I'm like, I can't get those.

[00:37:52] Chris Thoreau: Wow. Like I, I know in, in north America, the, you know, we're lucky here in Canada, we've got this seed supplier that's been operating for decades. They specialize in microgreens and spouting seeds. It's this gift. And we, I can see lots more of these companies popping up in the United States, but without seed, you don't really have much of a business.

[00:38:13] Michael Quinn: Yeah. Yeah, definitely.

[00:38:15] Chris Thoreau: That is a definitely, yeah. I hope you are able to find some solutions to that over time. And let's just not talk about Brexit because it sounds particularly complicated in Northern Ireland.

[00:38:26] Yes. So we've covered a lot of stuff that I wanted to cover there. And I think I think we've covered a good range of things. I wonder if there is something about startup that you're experiencing that you think is important to share with others? One in terms of maybe the regionality of startup or two, just, you know, just this thing that you know, that you've drawn and you've talked about this you've drawn from your past career quite a bit.

[00:38:52] Uh, stuff that you're bringing over, that's really elucidating some of the challenges that might help other people in the startup phase that they're not getting from the sort of typical online content that's being shared at the moment.

[00:39:04] Michael Quinn: Yeah, I would say one thing that in retrospect, I think it's a good idea. It could be a bad. Is having a partner. And I say this for multiple reasons, like you're coming in with certain skill sets based on what you've done before you could be great at the business side, you could be great at the sort of the farming growing side could be introverted, extroverted good at seals, not good at seals.

[00:39:29] So having a couple of different people to basically specialize in different aspects of it, I think would be really useful. And the second part, the second reason, and the main reason I'm saying that is the commitment needed to do this is it may not be full time job as in a nine to five. It's an everyday job.

[00:39:52] Like you have to get up every day and water your stuff and plant your stuff and get all that you can't, you don't get to go away for two or three nights. On vacation, I find . Um, so having another person who can just step in and take it over, like can be trusted to take over the watering and the looking after everything is priceless, I think, and that's one of my challenges right now, as I realize.

[00:40:18] I've just like cheered myself down here. Like I don't see how I can now step away. Like I was meant to, I was gonna go to court food for three nights this weekend from a holiday mid COVID and got delayed multiple times. Uh, myself and my wife had to go away and I had to cancel it because I am getting these new customers.

[00:40:38] I don't want to have to number one, I'd be missing a harvest and delivery. I'd also be missing the next week because I wouldn't be able to plant the stuff and grow the stuff for the next week. So you're almost taking like a double hit. Um, and maybe down the line, I'd be able to go to some customer and say, look, I'm going away.

[00:40:55] You're not gonna get anything. I can double down a week's order or I can do this, but I'm not at that stage yet where I can do that to people, so I think someone else to step in will be good a partner.

[00:41:08] Chris Thoreau: so that's an interesting point because when we think of the idea of a side venture or a side hustle, The idea is like, it's maybe something that's fulfilling, but it's bringing in some extra money, which in essence is often meant to give us more opportunity because maybe we have a higher income, but here we're talking about a side venture that can really limit what you can do because of its regular, the, the regular needs of production.

[00:41:34] Michael Quinn: Yeah. That, and that's it. Like I, I left my corporate job cause I wanted more freedom in my life. Ultimately I wanted my time. And I've somehow managed. And this was one of the reasons I sort of tiptoed into this. This was a factor like how much commitment is this going to be? This isn't like an online business where you can go away for a few weeks and let it earn money while you sleep.

[00:41:54] And all of that, this is a full time business you're you're getting into and you need to go into that with eye open or else. You need to create some very nice workarounds or have very some understanding customers that you wanna go. For a week's vacation or two weeks vacation once or twice a year.

[00:42:11] Chris Thoreau: Yeah. And I experienced the same thing and ended up turning my business into a cooperative in order to bring more people in for that very reason. And our model was we had five people running a business that two or three people could have run easily, but it gave everybody flexibility to come and go and take time off.

[00:42:29] And it was a, you know, on the bottom line, it was a challenge. But in terms of flexibility, it was key. So do you feel like the content that exists now that it's pushing microgreens as this way of being independent? Like this is something you can do on your own, which you can do, but then you can't do anything else.

[00:42:46] Michael Quinn: Absolutely. Like there's no one ever mentioned yeah. This on any, any in any course or podcast or anything I've done, I should, like, you should have known like here, you've got a task at us every day and you go away for days. It's not gonna get done, but I feel like, yeah, this is not really covered. Um, what are the sacrifices on the downsides of being a microgreen grower? You gotta factor these things in.

[00:43:11] Chris Thoreau: Well, the other thing that comes to mind here is, you know, this is not a go to work job. This is a work in your home job. And so there's, there's a couple things as well. Like you're always in your workspace. Mm-hmm essentially, and I guess here's the loaded question, which we maybe can edit out of the podcast. How many vacations are you going to be able to cancel before your wife says sorry, sorry, Michael. You're done with microgreens?

[00:43:38] Michael Quinn: That's a good question. My wife actually well only again what she doing, but she's been asked to go and travel to Iceland in December on the angle to New York for work. And elsewhere three months ago, I'd be like, fantastic. I'm coming with you, free hotels. I'm gonna just going, go on holidays basically. Now I'm like, I gotta stay here. I can't go away. So this is a tough one. I've got, I've got tickets to the rugby world cup in France in September 2023.

[00:44:07] So on that that's a month long event with multiple games. I have. So I'm, I'm saying like, in my mind, honestly, I'm saying like two years, I've gotta figure this. This business has got to evolve to a stage by then where someone can come in and take. For it. And this is just like me very early thinking like either like, do I sell by that stage?

[00:44:31] Do I bring someone else by that stage? What are the options by then? But that's in my mind, I said three years, I'm willing to forego the vacations. I'll maybe like a night away. I'll be all right. I'll get watering, but like vacations, nothing for two years. but yeah, I need to figure that. Sorry, like, is this a long term? It doesn't look like to me right now. This is the, the long term, next 10 years of my life business, unless I pivoted in some way. Yeah.

[00:45:00] Chris Thoreau: And I know we've and we may even have done a podcast episode about this, about the idea of having a team. And this is exactly why one reason is you have people with different skill sets that can fill your gap.

[00:45:13] And two, you can go away and somebody else takes over operations and that can start off as somebody you hire and that person can eventually even become a partner. So,

[00:45:22] Michael Quinn: Yeah, I, I let's actually listen to my greens podcast yesterday by another person. And they, they had a guest on who had just went on a month's vacation and she told our customers in advance.

[00:45:33] She was going away. She contacted their, her competitor. Put them in contact with her. They supplied her customers while she was away and her knowing the risk involved. And she said like, if, when I come back, you can come back to me. If not, you can continue with them. But yeah, I thought that was an interesting and unique way to tackle the problem. Maybe the competitor would do the sea when they go on vacation.

[00:45:58] Chris Thoreau: This is true. And maybe we need to get away from the idea of competitors and be more cooperators as well.

[00:46:03] Michael Quinn: That, that is yeah. Saying competitor. I was thinking, I shouldn't say that.

[00:46:08] Chris Thoreau: Yeah, so that's great, Michael. I really love the stuff we've covered there. It was a real pleasure hearing about your setup and your growth trajectory. Too bad you're not going to Iceland later in the year, but I'm sure your wife will send you a lovely postcards and will be missing you very much. So yeah. Thanks. Thanks so much for your time and sharing your experience with us.

[00:46:31] Michael Quinn: No, thank you. And thanks for doing these podcasts and all the content and material you put out there. It makes it easier, impossible for the rest of us to get started.

[00:46:43] Chris Thoreau: Well, that was a fun interview with Michael, and we went on to talk quite a while longer. That was really great. Be sure to check out his very quickly evolving business on Instagram at Mourne Microgreens, that's MOURNE microgreens.

[00:46:59] 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 out@urbanmicro.ca and check out his great crop planning software for micro ring growers at seed.

[00:47:21] Dot co seedle is crop planning software for microgreen growers optimized to help you save time, money, and make things easier. Learn more about the software@seedleaf.co 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.

[00:47:45] At paper, pot.co. 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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