I love writing about food, sustainability, and urban agriculture.
Microgreens Business: How and Why to Grow Microgreens
GroAction Greens was started as a part of the GroAction online urban farming course which empowers young farmers to successfully start their own urban farming operation on less than 1/2 an acre of land.
Farming can be done indoors, in your home, and it can take up just a few square feet. My friend Luke, through his one-man urban agriculture operation, GroAction Greens, has turned his indoor microfarm into a profitable business in which he cultivates organic microgreens in his home in Portland, Oregon, and sells them to local restaurants.
What Are Microgreens?
Microgreens are baby vegetables and legumes that are harvested at the seedling stage. In restaurants, they are often served as tasty and nutritious salad dressings and garnishes. Some commonly eaten microgreens are peas, radishes, beets, arugula, cabbage, broccoli, and mustard greens.
Some plants at this seedling stage possess incredible amounts of vitamins and minerals, making them a super-food. (The same is true of sprouts, which are seeds and beans that received just enough moisture to come out of the dormancy stage and send up shoots.) At this intensely energetic stage of the plant’s life, the microgreens can also be at their tastiest. I sampled a few bits of baby arugula that made my eyes water from their spiciness!
When Luke started he didn't have much experience farming but felt that the best way to learn was to plunge ahead. So he built his nursery, ordered some seeds, and started talking to restaurants. After just a few months in operation, he already had a good planting routine and a steady business relationship with a handful of Portland’s high-end restaurants that are eager to include these fresh, local, and organic novelty items on their menu.
Why Grow Microgreens?
When Luke started getting interested in commercial urban farming, he consulted with a few urban growers and did some reading. Microgreens were appealing for several reasons:
- Luke didn’t have very much prior farming experience – but with microgreens you don’t have to raise a plant to maturity, thus cutting your costs and risks by harvesting them less than two weeks after they’ve been planted.
- Microgreens don’t take up as much space as traditional crops, making them ideal for urban operations.
- Microgreens are more lucrative than vegetables and are demanded by high-end restaurants.
- For the restaurants, being able to source microgreens locally is a big plus, since they wilt and do not ship easily.
GroAction's Microgreen Farming Process
Luke has worked out a planting routine based on his initial research. Over time he continues to fine tune the details (including the amount of water, light, the best potting soil, the best time to harvest), and he keeps careful notes on his operation.
1) Preparing the Soil Beds
Multiple trays are filled with Fox Farm organic potting soil. Luke only uses organic products in his operation. Fox Farm he has found makes the greens grow particularly well, perhaps because it uses kelp as its nitrogenous ingredient. "Kelp is all the rage in the microgreen community," he says.
2) Soil Compaction
Taking a piece of cardboard Luke presses down on the soil, compacting it slightly to make it sturdier in structure.
3) Sowing the Seeds
He then sprinkles the seeds thickly on top of the soil. Like the soil his seeds are also organic—currently he's been ordering from Mumm's Sprouting Seeds farm in Saskatchewan.
The difference between sprouts and microgreens is that sprouts are simply soaked in water until the seed germinates, and microgreens are planted in soil and allowed to reach a slightly later stage of growth before harvesting. The entire sprout is eaten whereas only the stalk and leaves of microgreens are eaten.
The exception to this rule are peas: if Luke is planting peas he will soak the pea seeds beforehand. This is because they absorb so much water before germinating that it’s difficult to provide them with enough once in the soil.
4) Laying the Paper Towels
Next he takes several squares of brown paper towel and lays it over the seeds. The towel replaces a top layer of soil, making the seedlings come up cleaner (thus making it easier at the harvesting stage). Once the seedlings poke their heads up the paper towel can be removed.
Taking a hose Luke waters the trays amply, until the paper towels are thoroughly soaked.
6) Growing in the Nursery
Then under the lights they go. The nursery is a large home-made wooden contraption of stacked platforms. The microgreens are essentially resting on bunk beds canopied in flaps of cardboard that cover the sides, creating a shell and keeping the light in. The inside of these flaps are covered in aluminum foil, which reflects the light onto the plants, maximizing his energy inputs. Although, because he uses efficient lightbulbs, Luke says his electricity costs are minimal. The flaps are easily lifted to move the trays in and out for watering.
The lights are timed to give the plants 12 to 16 hours of sunlight, depending on how fast he wants them to grow.
To harvest the greens, Luke takes a sharp knife and quickly slices them at the base. You don’t want to use scissors because they will pinch the stalks.
It’s best to harvest right before delivering to the restaurants because microgreens are delicate and wilt easily, though if properly refrigerated they can last for a few days.
8) Recycling Inputs
Finally, he tosses the leftover dirt and plant bits into a big vermiculture bin, where the organic plant matter is decomposed by worms. Eventually Luke will be able to reuse this dirt, cutting down on his input costs.
The Bigger Picture
Luke’s GroAction business is part of a larger urban agriculture movement finding its way onto the rooftops, the backyards, and abandoned city corners of North America. Farmers are not out to get rich quick – the system of ‘cheap food’ works against that. Urban farmers like Luke are generally in the trade for reasons other than money: they want to explore and reinvent our agricultural systems.
For urban growers, their consumers are their neighbors. In such a system, consumers and producers have faces. I accompanied Luke to drop off his microgreens at a bistro. The chefs were in the process of rolling some delicious smelling meatballs, but they looked up to give us a smile. Luke chatted with the owner a bit and handed him the box of greens he had harvested just hours before.
Farm to plate, sprouting tray to plate – it's all part of a new and sustainable foodscape. And it's something you can do yourself at home! Sprouts and microgreens are fairly easy-to-grow, extremely nutritious, and don't require a lot of space. Play with it and experiment - you'll see a major improvement to your diet and will probably have some fun in the process!
Best Microgreens to Grow First
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Frugivore on December 01, 2019:
Thank you very much for this amazing page and all the info you have shared! You can visit our website https://www.frugivore.in/ for Online fresh fruits and vegetables.
Prem Goyal on May 21, 2017:
I have started to grow micro greens at my nursery Prachi organic interesting venture thanks for your further knowledge regards
Justin Little from Clinton, Connecticut on September 23, 2013:
I think everyone should be able to grow their own food in a pinch. It's kind of a forgotten art in the era of the supermarket.
Linda Bryen from United Kingdom on June 29, 2013:
What a good idea about your friend's business growing microgreens. I grew my own vegetables for our own consumption but never thought of harvesting the vegetables when they are young except for mong beans sprouts. Well done for a great hub.
Debby Bruck on September 21, 2012:
Hi Tara ~ Absolutely phenomenal information and inspirational for the health conscious "independent-living" hippy, farmer type person. This fully illustrated Hubpages makes growing your own more accessible. Blessings, Debby
Tara McNerney (author) from Washington, DC on September 06, 2012:
B. Leekey I think that's great if your sister wants to try it. When my friend Luke started he really knew very little, but micro greens are a fairly easy thing to learn how to grow and maintain. More so he says than vegetable gardening. And you get a very fast turnover rate because micro greens are ready to harvest so soon - thus it's more rewarding!
Brian Leekley from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on September 06, 2012:
I'm sending this link to my sister. Now that she's retired, I think she'd like to do more gardening and maybe make money at it.
Kymberly Fergusson from Germany on May 29, 2012:
Fantastic information - I love sprouts and baby greens, and grow what I can on my balcony garden. This article makes growing produce in small spaces feel a lot more achievable! Congrats on the hub of the day!
Tara McNerney (author) from Washington, DC on May 07, 2012:
It's so great to see the number of people that polled/commented that they grow their own food! It's much higher than I would have expected.
Bernard3, Luke is open to email inquiries if you would like to check with him about pricing info. His emails is "luke at groaction.com"
Marlene Bertrand from USA on May 06, 2012:
This is a fabulous hub - very thorough. I am meeting more and more people opting for a more sustainable lifestyle which includes growing our own vegetables. I, for one, have a salad and herb garden. The harvest is shared with neighbors. Thank you for sharing the process of growing micro greens.
Bernard on May 03, 2012:
Would you be willing to share pricing information?
Danette Watt from Illinois on May 01, 2012:
I voted up that I have an outdoor garden but that's just partially true. I belong to a CSA farm and am on its board (you can read several of my hubs about La Vista by going to my profile). Urban gardening is definitely a growing trend (no pun intended). Our current farmer worked with AmeriCorps in St. Louis helping to start urban community farms.
Congratulations on Hub of the Day and I voted this up and interesting.
Patty Inglish MS from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on April 30, 2012:
Microgreens make a big culinary trend right now with new restaurants and on TV chef shows, so it's going to be a lucrative business. Thanks for writing this Hub and Congratulations on HOTD.
Liz Rayen from California on April 29, 2012:
I have never grown micro greens, however, love them when they are served with my salad. I really enjoyed this hub and will be trying my hand (on a smaller scale) at growing a tray or two. Beautifully done! voted up and shared. Lisa
Susette Horspool from Pasadena CA on April 29, 2012:
Just forwarded this hub to members of the sustainability group I met with today. One of them is volunteering with another acquaintance to expand the community gardens of a local high school. Another has a sustainable home with her own composting, worm cultivation, and food garden. Another has a rain garden in her backyard and is looking for ways to make money. And the last has been talking about growing food in her backyard, so I'm hoping this article will motivate them all. Thanks again for writing it.
Imran khan on April 29, 2012:
Thanks for the writeup! with all the chemicals used in modern agriculture i'had stopped eating greens Now i look forward to grow my own micro-greens
Nancy Forger on April 28, 2012:
I learned so much! A great and inspiring article.
Tara McNerney (author) from Washington, DC on April 28, 2012:
Thank you everyone! I had a lot of fun writing this. Luke and I actually co-wrote our Master's thesis on Urban Agriculture together, so it was great to visit him in Portland and see how he's been putting it into practice and making a living out of it!
My Nurse Says from Philippines on April 28, 2012:
This is quite new to me. I have been considering a backyard or home garden to help spruce up our "green home". This thing about microgreens is quite an interesting thing to start with and I'm glad you posted it with much information and instruction. thanks for that!
Thelma Alberts from Germany on April 28, 2012:
Congratulations on the Hub Of the Day! I have grown sprouts in my kitchen for my own use but I never heard of growing micro greens. Thanks for sharing. Voted up and useful.
Jenny Stub from Missouri, US on April 27, 2012:
Wow this was well deserved. I had not a clue about micro farming. It's sounds really interesting, something I would like to do, like everyone else! This hub may very well inspire a whole new generation of micro farmers! Ha ha!
aJaguarinRed from Colorado on April 27, 2012:
That is the most fascinating I've heard about in a long while! I would love to do this!
Wesley Meacham from Wuhan, China on April 27, 2012:
This is the kind of thing that I would do. If and when I ever go home to America I would set up my own micro-green farm.
Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on April 27, 2012:
I am glad to learn about Luke and the micro-greens, I just love new gardening techniques. This is a great Hub and well deserving to be called Hub Of The Day. Congratulations!
Dan Reed on April 27, 2012:
Wow! Congrats on a well deserved HOTD!
prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on April 27, 2012:
Very inspiring hub and I learn many things here. I love gardening and I hope I can practice your tips above. Thanks for writing and share with us. Rated up and useful! Have a nice weekend :-)
Cynthia Zirkwitz from Vancouver Island, Canada on April 27, 2012:
Wow, since I first commented this hub was voted Hub of the Day and I just came back to say: "Well done!" Keep up the great writing about a worthy subject!
susanm23b on April 27, 2012:
What an interesting article! This is a fascinating subject--your hub really sparked my interest in this! Voted up! Congrats on Hub of the Day!
Eric Newland from Dayton, Ohio on April 27, 2012:
This is fascinating stuff. I'm a big fan of flavorful sprouts and baby greens in salads and whatnot. I don't have the time or the resources to try this myself, but it sure was a good read.
Congrats on getting Hub of the Day! This hub deserves it!
Susette Horspool from Pasadena CA on April 27, 2012:
Fascinating article. I know some people who grow an organic garden in their backyard locally and sell to high-end restaurants. (They harvest their own seeds, too.) After your explanation here, I can see how practical that kind of business is and how restaurants could also be interested in obtaining micro-greens locally.
Imagine what our world will be like when more and more people start doing this sort of thing - using their ingenuity and skills to make or grow things locally that are not available or feasible long distance.
Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on April 27, 2012:
Congratulations on hub of the day. Remarkably detailed account of the how to for growing these tender little greens. My cousin will probably get started right away as soon as I send her this info. Voted up and passed along.
Mary Wickison from Brazil on April 27, 2012:
Very interesting article. This past week I had a local restaurateur asking me if I knew where he could get fresh herbs and specialty veg. He has now decided to do this behind his restaurant and make a feature of it.
I wish your friend every success I think he is onto a winner.
Great idea for a page, nicely laid out and interesting photos.
chspublish from Ireland on April 27, 2012:
It's incredible what your friend Luke has achieved and it's great that you wrote about him to encourage others!
Just a thought, though, has he considered harvesting his own seeds - saving money etc?
Amber White from New Glarus, WI on April 27, 2012:
I have friends who are organic farmers and they were recently telling me about how nutritious micro-greens are. I was blown away by the nutrition content. I just bought some radish micro-greens and added them to my spinach salad. They gave it such a great taste. Wonderfully written hub with some great pictures. Good to see some publicity around micro-greens. Voted up and shared!
Amelia Walker from Idaho on April 27, 2012:
Terrific info. This is something I've considered doing, but didn't know how to get started. Your article makes it sound really doable and I have a good idea where to start now. Thanks.
Peter V from At the Beach in Florida on April 27, 2012:
Well done and thanks for the info!
artrush73 on April 27, 2012:
This is very interesting hub thanks for sharing it with us :), I have never grew one of my own at home, not really much room :)
Charles James from Between New York and London on April 27, 2012:
Yummy. Thoroughly enjoyed using micro-greens during my career as a chef. Such interesting flavors, from such little things.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 27, 2012:
I have sprouted seeds in the past but have never tried growing micro greens. Terrific hub! True HOTD material and an award well deserved. Thanks for the information. Up votes and SHARED.
dbuddhika on April 27, 2012:
Congratulations!!!! wonderful idea. voted up....
Milli from USA on April 27, 2012:
Fantastic idea to go green. Thanks for sharing it. Voted up! Congrats on HOTD!
Mrs. Menagerie from The Zoo on April 27, 2012:
Wow...this is really cool! I may try it!
megni on April 27, 2012:
What a wonderful idea. A great hub.
Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on April 27, 2012:
Great topic for a hub! Well laid out with excellent pictures and information. This is a wonderful resource. Congrats on getting Hub of the Day!
Michael S from Danville, VA on April 27, 2012:
A wonderful article! I'm excited about doing this myself. It is a well-deserved Hub of the Day!
Claudia Tello from Mexico on April 27, 2012:
Congratulations!!!! Great Hub of the Day and very well deserved. I am happy for you :)
RTalloni on April 27, 2012:
Thanks for posting this information on Luke's micro-farming operation. Would love to see a video of how he slices the greens for harvest. Congrats on your Hub of the Day Award for this interesting read. Enjoyed learning about GroAction.
Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on April 27, 2012:
This is very interesting. The first time I have heard of micro green and I think an excellent business your friend has ventured into and successfully at that.
I have sprouted wheat grains for wheatgrass and pulses for sprouts off and on and they sure taste good. I think the micro greens should be bettertasting than the sprouts as they have the added sweetness of the chlorophyll.
This novel hub and idea sure deserved the Hub of the Day. Congrats.
Voted up, awesome and interesting.
Kristin Trapp from Illinois on April 27, 2012:
I am unfamiliar with micro greens so I found this Hub to be extremely fascinating. I was also captivated by Luke's entrepreneurial spirit. What a terrific business idea. Congratulations on Hub of the Day.
Sushmita from Kolkata, India on April 27, 2012:
Tara, both your Hub and its subject Luke are wonderful. I read it with lot of interest as I am planning on 'growing my own greens' more and more. It is wonderful to learn the details of this successful venture and even better to know that it is part of a larger movement. Voted up, useful and interesting.
Joan Veronica Robertson from Concepcion, Chile on April 27, 2012:
This is an excellent Hub, well presented, clear, and so, so interesting. I had experimented with sprouts, even taught about them at some time, but no experience with microgreens, this is wonderful. Congratulations!
cattleboyz on April 27, 2012:
Thank you Peg, I am new and I need all the help I can get. I printed the information so I can read and follow better.
Snigdha Shahi from India,mumbai on April 27, 2012:
Voted up.This is a fantastic hub.Got to learn a lot.
JP Carlos from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on April 27, 2012:
This is definitely awesome. I've been looking for information on microgreen and this is the best I've read. Congratualtions on the hub of the day. Your hub deserves it.
Vimesh Ummer.U from india on April 27, 2012:
very nice work you are doing.....voted up....
figandmarrow from New York on April 26, 2012:
Very cool, thank-you!
Imogen French from Southwest England on April 25, 2012:
Great hub! We grow most of our own vegetables, but not really given much thought to harvesting them as sprouts or seedlings. I do, however, often eat the "thinnings" when thinning out seed beds, especially things like rocket (that's what we call arugula in England) salad leaves and carrots, so know how tasty they can be when still small. I have seen micro-greens grown in guttering pipes mounted one above the other on a vertical wall, which is a great space-saving idea.
moonlake from America on April 25, 2012:
How interesting. If we had a enough restaurants around here we could easily grow micro greens.
Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on April 25, 2012:
Whoah, this is the coolest! I LOVE micro greens, and hadn't realized that it would be so feasible to grow them in a smaller space like Luke does. What a cool setup he has! This really makes me want to start something like this of my own- though I need to surmount some major plant-human-relations issues first.
Thanks for the awesome explanation and cool photos. Urban agriculture rocks. I'm glad there's more of it these days. Here's hoping widespread adoption is just a couple of years away!
brackenb on April 25, 2012:
Great idea, I might have a go at this although my family says I can make a silk flower wilt!
Cynthia Zirkwitz from Vancouver Island, Canada on April 24, 2012:
Hi there... I agree with Claudia-- this is a masterful (and I might add, generous!) piece of writing. I have done some micro microgreens experimentation (sunflower seeds in a shallow tray) and must try that again... tasted ever so much better, I thought, than traditional sprouts. I voted you up, useful and awesome, and am sharing your hub as well!
Claudia Tello from Mexico on April 24, 2012:
This is a fantastic piece of work! Congratulations. Now I am totally excited to grow my own micro-greens. I will not forget your hub as my first guide to achieving this goal and I am sharing it with my followers in Hubpages and my facebook friends.