Farm in the city: Growing and selling microgreens to connect with your agricultural roots

By: Alisa Samuel

Published on: September 29th, 2023

Stacked in black plastic trays on a steel wire rack, vegetable seeds have stemmed into tiny green leaves that press together, almost like a dense sheet of miniature forest. In a free one-hour webinar, urban farmer and business consultant Jonah Krochmalnek shows viewers what a vertical microgreens farm looks like in the corner of virtually any room. Aiming to help people in Canada and across the world break into the business of growing and selling their own microgreens, Krochmalnek spreads awareness about microgreens’ health benefits and ease to grow through accessible online training and good-quality content.  

What are microgreens, exactly? According to researchers at the University of Florida, microgreens are specialty crops that are “used to enhance colour, texture, or flavour of salads, or to garnish a wide variety of main dishes.” Plants that germinate for two to five days to then be wholly eaten with root intact are called sprouts. Plants that grow for 30 to 40 days before they’re cut for consumption at three to four inches tall are called baby greens. “Ready for harvest when they reach the first true leaf stage, usually at about [two inches] tall,” microgreens are slightly larger than sprouts, smaller than baby greens, and most nourishing of the three. More than just being decorative, microgreens can be incorporated into smoothies to boost your daily intake of antioxidants, polyphenols, minerals, and vitamins.  

Since they fare well in indoor settings and don’t require a lot of space and time to grow, microgreens are high yielding in terms of both production and profit. Using, amongst other supplies, utility shelving units, trays, LED grow lights, soil, and seeds like the ones from mumm’s Sprouting Seeds, it takes around ten days or less to harvest common varieties of all-season microgreens: namely, broccoli, pea, radish, and sunflower.  

“When you grow outside or in a greenhouse, you’re growing on one horizontal plane, so you’re limited in square footage of the land, whereas when you grow in a vertical farm, or vertically [with shelving], you’re limited by the size of a building” Krochmalnek explains. “This gives you significantly more production in the same square footage. That’s extremely valuable in cities where there’s very limited real estate space. If the Living Earth Farm was one plane, it wouldn’t be profitable. It has to be vertical to pay the extra cost of real estate in the city of Toronto.” 

Krochmalnek founded Living Earth Farm, currently one of Canada’s largest organic microgreen farms, in Toronto in 2013. He went from making more or less $2000 a month by selling microgreens that he had been growing in his parents’ basement to approximately one million dollars a year during the peak of Living Earth Farm’s success. He sold the company mere months ago, but it continues to work towards his goal of providing “the highest quality, most nutritious and best tasting salad greens for our community […] with less resources while forming an open and welcoming environment to foster the next generation of farmers” through its volunteer program.  

“A lot of people have applied for jobs or to volunteer at the farm, who came from places in Asia, like India, China, or the Philippines, with an agricultural background. They moved here for the benefits of being in Canada and living in this mega metropolis, but then lost their connection to nature. [Vertical farming] bridges the gap.” Krochmalnek says the activity of growing microgreens is fit for newcomers to major cities who want to reconnect with their rural roots, either at home or in a work environment.  

As reported by Arrive, an enterprise from RBC (Royal Bank of Canada) Ventures Inc. that equips newcomers with tools and information to help them settle in Canada, Ontario has a high demand for farm supervisors and harvesting labourers, making agriculture an opportune source of income for foreign workers with farming experience as well.  

Next to volunteering at a farm, running a business, and recreationally growing microgreens in your own kitchen to satisfy a personal need or hobby, vertical farming is a great way to make friends and connect over a common interest in a larger community. Freedom Farmers, for example, is the website where Krochmalnek offers a monthly 60-minute live Q & A to discuss topics like costs, recipes, and management tips through his masterclass course and thereby gathers aspiring and established urban farmers alike in a private online community on the same platform.  

When asked for his advice to people interested in growing their own microgreens, Krochmalnek says: “Just start. Don’t worry. There’s a lot of challenges whether you grow it yourself or for a business, but if you’re passionate about it, you’ll get through them. They’re not rocket science. It’s growing plants. It often comes down to just breaking down the variables and figuring out what the problem is, like, I’m either watering too much or watering too little. Maybe my seeds not good quality. Maybe my soil is not good quality. And because [the growing process happens in] such a short time frame, it’s crazy to think how fast ten days will pass and then you got food. You could just repeat the process as much as you want, and then stop whenever you want, so it’s a great way to grow food.”

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