Is Microgreens A Profitable Business? (We Ask The Experts)

Growing microgreens is not a small business. This burgeoning industry is gaining traction and putting down roots all around the world as casual gardeners along with commercial farmers are supplementing their income by going small.

But all in all, is it a profitable business to enter into? Are there customers willing and waiting to buy these micro vegetables and salads?

Fortunately, the barrier to entry is low, and the profit to be made is high, with potential customers from farmers’ markets to top-end restaurants ready and waiting to go micro.

The Business of Microgreens

A microgreen business is not necessarily a micro business. The investment required to start is very minimal, possibly as low as $100, and the investment in time can be measured in a couple of hours per day, depending on objectives.

The popularity of microgreens has reached a stage where demand is outstripping supply, where consumers are electing to purchase these vegetables over their larger relatives, confirming that if there was ever a time to enter into this lucrative field, it would be now. 

Numerous restaurants relish the opportunity to garnish their dishes with these nutrient-dense greens and are more than willing to purchase these quality, organic, GMO-free products at a premium price.

With the right crop selection, marketing, and dedication, a small-scale operation with just 10 – 20 trays can make a healthy profit of between $500 – $1,000 a month. If that can be achieved on a part-time basis with minimal work, then imagine what could be achieved with a full-time operation.

A simple method to calculate what level of revenue can be attained is by cost analysis. That would start with the cost of such things as the trays, grow lights, growing mats, seeds selected, and even packaging. Factor in the time allocated and a ballpark figure can be reached to what the overheads would be.

Each tray should have the capacity to have three yields a month, and each yield should be about 10 oz. The market sale price is generally around $20 per tray, so with 10 trays, it’s possible to make $200 a month. Multiply that figure by the three yields from each tray and revenue of $600 a month is within reach.

Scaling up amounts to adding more trays and varying the seeds implanted to broaden the sales possibilities. From there, further expansion and increased revenue would be dependent on growing the customer base.

The Experts On Microgreens

Many experts attest to the sustainability of microgreens as the direction that farming has to take for the foreseeable future. They themselves have seen sales quadruple within a matter of months, acknowledging that it isn’t just a passing trend as more and more environmentally conscious consumers are eating wiser and healthier.

From the point of view of the casual farmer, a gap is being filled and buyers serviced on a more personal level than from a big corporation. That personalized attention is capturing an ever-increasing sector that is appreciating the quality of the greens on offer, a quality product that they can forward onto their ever more discerning clients.

The impact that microgreens are having is echoing through multiple sectors, from restaurants, to marketplaces, to personal chefs, to supermarkets, the wave of a revolution taking shape. A major factor is the ability to grow microgreens anywhere being an attractive lure for someone with green fingers who is confined within a concrete jungle.

This advantage of being able to grow microgreen vegetables and salads in even a small apartment indoors means that unpredictable weather conditions can be avoided. If run as a business rather than garnishing personal meal dishes, they can be located close to potential customers, making for easy deliveries and cutting down on the carbon footprint of having to truck the stock in.

Growing within this type of protective setting, opens wide the opportunity to grow a diverse range of agricultural microgreens that uses up to 95% less land than traditional outdoor farming.

The lack of experience is not a barrier to entry as this trade can be easy to learn, improve upon, and perfect, and the small amount of initial investment required makes this method appealing.  It can be started from a single tray of seedlings on a windowsill, and a trial-and-error method can be employed for complete newbies with very little risk.

Experts predict that the acceptance of microgreens throughout so many sectors will continue to increase nationwide, with many more urban farmers importing the farm to the city, bringing fresh produce to those hard-to-reach inner-city zones, at affordable prices.

There are a plethora of blogs, books, and videos out there that can walk anyone through the start-up and growing phases, and how to overcome problems as well as how to repeat harvests profitably.

Even before the crops are harvested, however, the experts recommend contacting at least 25 – 30 local restaurants to sell to as well as scope out farmers’ markets and some supermarkets. And then beyond that have a regular routine to continue searching for buyers until a core group is purchasing what you’re growing regularly.

Another option is to sell directly to the consumer, either through Facebook or advertising. Whatever sales channel is selected, though, consistency is the key, to the quality of the product and to providing a good service to the growing client base.

A Microgreen Season

In the world of microgreens, growing seasons are not even a consideration. Couple that with the fact that within 1 to 4 weeks, depending on the crop chosen, a plant can be harvested, and seedlings replanted quickly, then it’s plain to see and appreciate the lure of growing salads and vegetables the micro way.

Due to this fast-growing period, the grower has more scope to experiment with the plants selected, either to eliminate them completely or have them under a rotation cycle to maximize sales. This quick turnaround time also allows scope for experimentation with different varieties rather than having to wait a full growing season to see if the results are a success or a dismal failure.

As in any business, some crops will have higher sales in some months than others, so it’s important to be able to swap out some crops quickly to take advantage of fluctuations and demand. If the interest in the quality of your produce increases dramatically, upscaling the microgreen farm is just a matter of adding a few more trays to satisfy the increased demand.

If maximizing the space available is a priority, experts recommend using racks to utilize unused vertical space. They are easy to install and this technique has enabled growers to boost their yields substantially, by properly organizing their crops, and many farmers have reaped the benefits of growing upwards.

Further methods of increasing the bottom line, according to experts in this field, can be augmented by taking note of the small details. For instance, can the yield be increased by adding a few more seeds to each tray? Can the overheads be reduced by cutting back on the light from the grow lamps to save on electricity costs?

A minor tweak here or there can make a big difference in any business, so it is advisable to keep records to understand where changes can be made, and new initiatives introduced.

There is also a temptation to grow as many varieties as possible to increase revenue opportunities, and there can be nothing wrong with that if there is already an established client base. However, keeping proper sales records can shine a light over a short period of time on which crops are selling well, and which need to face the cut.

The Best Microgreens To Grow

Essentially, the variety of microgreens that are selected can depend on the level of experience of the grower as some salads and vegetables are easier to start with than others, but may not command the highest resale prices.

If making a living is the goal or to supplement an income, then crop selection is important from the outset even though the time from seed to harvest is pretty fast.

Advice from expert microgreen farmers is to keep it simple. There is always a temptation to differentiate your business from the rest by planting obscure crops that will command higher sales prices but may not sell in sufficient quantities on a regular basis to provide a stable income.

Hard to grow and hard to sell, is never the way to go.

Choosing to start your microgreen farm with radishes, salads, sunflower seeds, or even pea shoots is the smart way to go as either of these three appeals to consumers, are easy to grow, and can be re-grown quickly to provide multiple harvests.

They offer a diverse variety of tastes, textures, and colors to dishes that appeal to chefs in particular. An added bonus is that they can be refrigerated after harvesting to extend the longevity of the product to keep them fresh if they cannot be sold immediately.

A rule of thumb is the wider the potential customer base due to the produce on offer, the better option of repeat sales, a regular income, and a profitable business.

As the business starts to grows more varied crops can be added and the growing space extended. Once this starts to happen additional attention to detail has to be increased in regards to crop health, maintaining the correct temperatures in the coolers, and ensuring there is sufficient light for optimum plant health.

Detrimental issues such as mold and pests can undo some of your hard work so it is important to periodically monitor these to avoid problems with the crops. Optimum health equals optimum quality and that will impact the demand for your microgreens.

Expert Tips For Your Microgreens  

One of the best ways to advance your micro business is to listen to the experts. All of them have been where you are now and have learned the ropes by planting one seed at a time. Some of them have started on kitchen countertops and windowsills and grown from there.

Mistakes and missteps they have made along the way and the owner of Minifarm Box in La, Conor Fitzpatrick, has a few wise words to impart.

He first points out a southern facing windowsill where the sunlight naturally pours in can make the difference between a mediocre crop or a robust harvest packed with flavors and vibrant colors, not to mention the extended life cycle afforded.

He reiterates the importance of proper drainage so the plants do not become waterlogged, and that a lightweight soil seed starter mix is ideally used to start with as it won’t become too tightly packed around the growing roots. Ensure also that it is soaked sufficiently to start the seeds better on their sprouting journey.

Once harvested the microgreens can be cleaned in diluted apple cider vinegar and rinsed with water to remove any unwanted bacteria and seed husks.

The founder of The First Leaf Microgreens in India, Swati Jain, hails microgreens as a superfood as they are packed with antioxidants and healthy nutrients, as well as vitamins A, B, C, E and K. In fact, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, microgreens contain from four to 40 times more nutrients than the regular sized plants.

Regularly eating these nutrient-dense crops can reduce the risk of chronic diseases and improve heart health, especially if eaten in their raw natural state when the most amount of nutrients will be absorbed by the body to deliver maximum beneficial efficacy.

Broccoli microgreens, for example, have an anti-cancerous compound, sunflower microgreens are loaded with protein and fights the effects of aging in our cells, red amaranth microgreens maintain bone health, helps to control blood pressure, and even improves vision, and wheatgrass, juiced, and drank daily, purifies the liver and controls blood sugar levels.

Small they may be but microgreens pound for pound are a powerhouse of concentrated nutrients that are punching way above their weight class.

Is growing microgreens a profitable business? Ask the casual grower who is making over $2,000 a month from the windowsills in the comfort of their own home.

The Reasons Why Microgreens are Expensive

One of the current trends for healthy crops you can grow from home is Microgreens. Aquaponic and hydroponic gardeners turn to these, as the growing methods are near to what they are used to carrying out.

Microgreens are easy to grow and take very little time compared to conventional crops. With this, the question is often asked. What are the reasons why microgreens are expensive? Because every harvest of these young plants requires fresh soil or clean sterilized growing mats and trays, microgreens are expensive.

Growers need artificial lighting, fans, or climate control equipment to create a microgreens-friendly atmosphere. Microgreens produce less biomass per square foot (less plant weight) than typical crops, even with this equipment. As a result, microgreens are typically more expensive than other vegetables seen in grocery stores.

What Are Microgreens?

Microgreens are immature vegetables harvested when they are between one and three inches tall, usually after a week or two. The delicate texture, powerful flavor, and vivid color of these tiny greens make them great garnishes and salad toppings.

Microgreens are nutritional powerhouses, providing the same vitamins and minerals as full-sized vegetables and herbs in a fraction of the size. These tiny, year-round greens are straightforward to grow in confined, indoor spaces, making them a popular choice for urban farmers or gardeners with aquaponics systems and looking to optimize space. 

Microgreen examples:

  • Collard Greens
  • Red Cabbage
  • Watercress
  • Beet Greens
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Swiss Chard
  • Bok Choy
  • Lettuces
  • Arugula

How Do You Grow Microgreens?

One reason microgreens are expensive is the way they are grown. While it is a relatively straightforward process, it is quite involved in certain growth cycle stages.

Even in the most basic form of growing, there is some equipment you need.

  • Seeds
  • Growing Trays and Growing Mats
  • Spray bottles
  • Clean water
  • Scales and measuring jugs

Seeds

Seeds are the principal thing you need and lots of them. Microgreen seeds are also different from regular seeds as they offer a higher germination rate.

Trays

Growers can use various trays or containers that come in any shape and size, although specific trays are used when microgreens are grown for profit.

Typically, level trays are best for growing microgreens, and when you harvest, you can trim across the tops of the edges as your guide.

Trays require sterilization between growing sessions, so it could be the case of having two set of equipment to avoid any growing interruptions

Growing Medium Or Mats

Trays need soaking before you fill them with your seeds. Along with providing water and nutrition, it helps the seeds stick to the mats. Depending on the media or mat in use, these may need disposing of, or cleaning and sterilizing before repeat use.

If you use earth or other organic growing media, it will need composting or disposing of.  

Key Reasons Microgreens are Expensive

Besides mats, media, and seeds, there are more significant reasons why microgreens are expensive.

Here are areas that skyrocket the cost of these micro wonders.

Location

Because of the nature of microgreens, you can’t grow them outside in conventional growing conditions. Many gardeners use a greenhouse or another area of their home where they carry out their growing.

Since the microgreens don’t grow higher than a few inches tall, they are often grown on racking or shelving units to maximize vertical space.

These setups have one thing in common: they are all enclosed environments with controls on temperature, humidity, and any other variables that could face crops out in the open. The most significant characteristic from a location viewpoint is the crops are shielded from external influences and pests.

Power

Microgreens can be grown in greenhouses, and when done so, they get the benefit of natural light. However, many microgreen gardens don’t access natural light and use grow lights for maximum lighting periods.

Besides this, you can find temperatures are controlled at optimum levels, as is airflow. Fans continually blow air around the microgreen’s environments. One of the main reasons for all this is to control humidity. High levels of humidity can harm your crops as they grow so close together.

The airflow and temperature help stop fungal growth, yet they need lots of electricity to operate.

Labor

Taking care of microgreens takes more timing and accuracy than it takes working hard in a garden or tending to a hydroponic or aquaponic garden.

The amount of effort is less as there isn’t heavy lifting, although you have to do things in specific steps and at certain times. To ensure no crop failures, you have to complete each step of the short growing cycle on time exactly.

Your rhythm and precision will dictate the crop’s success or failure. This is true for most crops regardless of how you grow them, yet it is more vital for microgreens.

Nearly all types of microgreen crops will be sown and harvested in less than ten days. Every step you take can keep you in a routine each day Each step, and frequently each day requires you to be on the ball and exactly as you could quickly affect all your crops.

For instance, when you are in the germination phase, you need to know the exact amount of seeds to sow and ensure they are dispersed across the growth mats. With this, the mats and trays must have the precise amount of water for germination.

After this, seeds are placed in dark areas and weighted down, for example, to help stimulate strong development at the base instead of reaching for the light prematurely. It is your job as the grower to act as a surrogate mother to your seeds and make sure they get the best first few days of germination that allows them to grow strong until it comes to harvest.

Keeping the hundreds and thousands of seeds warm and moist can be a repetitive challenge before you reach harvest time.

Harvesting is a manual process, and there is little other way to harvest microgreens than using a sharp pair of scissors. After harvest, there isn’t much chance to regrow from the stems and roots as a fresh batch can grow faster.

Once harvested, all the cut stems need washing, and then it is the task of sterilizing and cleaning your trays before you get them ready to use again.

Beyond this, the shelf life of microgreens may not be anywhere near as long as full-grown vegetables.

Why Economics Make Microgreens Expensive?

All the above are the key physical reasons microgreens command a higher price compared to regular vegetables.

When you compare the numbers of seeds you grow, you will produce the equivalent of years’ worth of crops in one shot.

As much as you do, it isn’t only the reasons above that lead to high prices.

Economics leads to such high prices, and currently, there isn’t anything growers can do to change this.

Microgreens Are On An Upward Trend

The fact microgreens are the trendiest thing going is among the top reasons they are so pricey. Regular veggies can be grown and bought anywhere. Microgreens are around two decades old, despite that, few people or growers understand them.

Initially, they were garnishments for fancy restaurants, yet their nutritional benefits were recognized, and they started hitting the mainstream.

You can easily see why commercial growers and retailers are taking scarcity to hike up the price.

Microgreens Are Healthy

If you have a basic understanding of nutrition, you’ll know that society is edging towards a healthier range of foods. Most foods that contain nutritional elements are costlier than other types of foods.

Microgreens are among the most expensive foods available as, compared to size and portion, they are far healthier than the crops they would grow into. Microgreens can be up to 50% more nutrient-dense than a full-grown crop.

Microgreens will command higher prices than full-size veggies in a society, which values healthy eating and is more than willing to pay for the privilege.

The Growing Cycle Of Microgreens

Microgreens have been making appearances on plates in restaurants since the 1980s, punching above their size class when it comes to the nutritional value that they deliver, and the richness of their flavors.

Small they may be, but the variety in textures accompanied by the aromatic taste makes them well worth the effort of growing them yourself rather than just popping down to the local supermarket.

The ease at which they can be grown, the flexibility of where they can be grown, and the quick growing cycle from seed to harvest make having your very own microgreen garden well worth the effort.

Growing Microgreen

Starting your own mini farm packed with microgreens couldn’t be easier. These micro herbs, which are normally between 1–3 inches in height, are very easy to grow and can be grown successfully in settings from greenhouses to windowsills.

Planning has to start first with seed selection, and the starter farmer should opt for about 5 different varieties of greens to have a varied crop. To eliminate the guesswork of which seeds to sow, it is possible to purchase a professionally premixed pack of seeds that will all mature at the same time.

Regardless of which seeds are bought, they need to be thoroughly rinsed to remove any residues, and then soaked in a bowl of cold water for about 12 hours or overnight. After that period has expired, the seeds should be rinsed again and returned to the empty bowl, then covered in a damp paper towel to provide moisture and prevent the seeds from drying out.

This pre-soaking process helps to weed out which seeds are going to be viable before sowing, saving time, effort, and disappointment. Seeds that float to the surface of the bowl are unlikely to bear fruit, so to speak, and should be discarded.

Sprouting will then occur over the next 36 to 48 hours and it is recommended that the seeds are sprayed lightly a few times a day. Once the little sprouts are noticeable, the seeds are ready to be transplanted into their growing medium, which is either soil or coconut coir.

The easiest option is soil as it is cheap, readily available, and easy to use. Within an indoor setting, whether in a greenhouse or other indoor space, temperatures and ventilation can be controlled, and even lighting can be regulated for best results.

Once the seeds are ready and soil has been selected for the growing medium, choosing the right containers is the next step, and trays are one of the easiest to employ due to their cost and ease of scalability.

Microgreen Trays

Tray selection depends on objectives in regards to the size of the crops to be grown, space available, and even budgetary concerns. Fortunately, there are trays to suit every situation and every budget. Avoid flimsy trays, however, despite the cheap prices as they will complicate the process if they have to be constantly moved or stacked.

Buy durable and strong and you can’t go wrong.

Shallow trays with a depth of about 1.5 inches are more than suitable for microgreens, with or without holes for drainage. As seedlings don’t require a lot of space for the roots, and the plants themselves only growing to a height of 1-2 inches, they are perfect for the job.

The number of microgreens to be grown in each tray depends on the type of plant and the size of the seeds themselves. A simple rule of thumb is if the seeds are large to place 6 or 8 of them per square inch in the tray. Smaller seeds can be placed 10 to 12 per square inch, allowing sufficient space for the roots to grow unimpeded.

The soil itself shouldn’t be compressed too heavily, just leveled out by hand, and the sprouting seeds gently pressed into just below the surface.

Once all the seeds are sowed, water them from a spray bottle then cover the trays either with another tray or with a paper towel. This will give them a blackout period which will help the seeds to germinate just that bit faster.

After a few days, the baby shoots will start to grow into baby plants and should now be exposed to sunlight or grow lamps, about 4 to 8 hours a day is sufficient. Not enough light and the actual taste of the plant can be underwhelming, and the nutritional content decreased.

Popular types of vegetables to grow are radishes, broccoli, pea shoots, mustard, and arugula, each of them bringing to the plate their own splash of color, texture, taste, and a host of rich vitamins and nutrients.

Harvesting Microgreens

Between 7 to 21 days a telltale sign that the crops are ready for harvesting, is the rich green color of the first two leaves. Once these are noticeable, they’re good to go.

It is important, though, that the microgreens are never pulled directly from the soil as that will disturb the roots of the plant, and not allow them to be regrown. Instead, to achieve multiple harvests from one tray, cut about a centimeter above the soil line with a pair of scissors, a sharp knife, or a pair of sheers, and then the next harvest will soon be on its way.

The microgreens harvested then need to be washed, dried with a paper towel, and then are ready to be eaten at their freshest. Any excess can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days.

Any microgreens grown outside can be harvested in much the same way, although they may take slightly longer to grow due to temperature fluctuations, intensity, and consistency of sunlight. They do tend to be hardier, bigger, and make a better crop for a profit-making enterprise.

One of the many selling points with microgreens is that they are incredibly nutritious when compared to their bigger brothers, packed with up to 40 times more vitamins and minerals. Also, because they are so cheap, quick, and easy to grow, they can be marketed very profitably year-round.

There can be no doubt that growing microgreens commercially makes good business sense if you are so inclined. Sold by the pound, they are ideal for urban growers or small-scale farmers who are looking for a high-profit margin enterprise with a small financial commitment to start.

If expansion is a goal for the future, the microgreen garden can easily be scaled up by adding a few more trays at very little cost or changing to a larger location to add more varieties.

Regardless of your goals with growing microgreens, there is no doubt that they are, pound for pound, punching above their weight class in terms of taste, nutritional content, and the amount of profit available in a competitive marketplace.

Small in size they may be, big on potential they definitely are.