As farmers, we start the supply chain from the seed.
Being the one to start the supply chain, we have a responsibility to hand it off (or even complete it in an environmentally mindful way.
If the world we want to see is one where we aren't throwing away a piece of plastic every time we grow, sell or consume something, then as business owners, we have the power to do something about it. Doing our part to keep our chain in alignment with the world we want to see has a farmer truly promoting healthy & sustainable living.
You have an opportunity to help change the local food system.
You have an opportunity to help change someone's habits through the products you offer.
Consumers have had to change their habits nearly overnight and it is vital that you be there to lead them with a change that leads to a better world. It is about meeting your customers where they are with products they crave, but also enrolling them into a cause or movement that is bigger than the both of you.
Check out from our Urban Farm Academy: A Small Farmers Opportunity During the Lockdown
Packaging accounts for a large part of the Cost of Goods Sold for a grower. Clamshells are by far the most popular way to package many products like herbs, flowers and microgreens.
There has been an increasing amount of 'eco-friendly' options available, made of plant-based plastic.
But the problem with this is it still requires packaging to be created, shipped and thrown away after every single purchase.
We think we can do better.
Beyond the basic inputs needed to grow these products - media & seeds, the labor around harvesting and packaging make up a large % of the overall costs to growers.
While some of your customers may be used to harvested product in clamshells, selling live product in reusable grow trays can bring many benefits that far outweigh the plastic option.
When you sell live product to customers they are able to utilize the freshest ingredients with very little effort on their end. You will need to guide them on how to harvest and care for their trays of greens between deliveries. Many restaurants opt for this style of delivery because it ensures a fresh product on every plate.
(Check out: Growing Microgreens for Chef's and Bartenders)
Subscriptions - Auto-delivery. paid upfront, allows zero waste. Leans into current and future trend. Set up an online farm store for easy ordering giving your customers access to your products 24/7. Set up delivery with reusable containers delivered to their door.
Exchange - Swap empty container for $1 off
Doing an exchange program with recycled, reusable containers is not only sustainable, but it is cost saving for the grower.
Less input costs --> higher margins
Better customer loyalty
Builds customer habit of doing business with you (habits being the hardest things to train)
We have compiled a shortlist of exchange program ideas that have been implemented by farmers that we know. These methods are cost-saving and prevent the disposal of one-time-use plastics.
Plant your microgreens into these colorful, recycled plastic grow trays. Customers choose their varieties, order online, and you provide them with a live tray of microgreens at their door. Easily exchange the old trays for new trays each week.
Grow bags have become popular in recent years due to their excellent drainage and low cost. Using grow bags to create mini gardens for customers works in the subscription model. Plant fresh greens or customize a salsa garden bag for clients.
1. Promotes healthier root system
2. Breathability which helps regulate temperature
3. Better drainage to prevent mold and fungus
Grow bags can be cleaned and reused season after season. They are easy to store and can be moved around making them ideal for patios. This is where opportunity comes in. Customers who may not have space for a garden or to grow their own starts can purchase pre-planted bags and care for them in their smaller space.
Garden centers figured this out long ago with their mixed flower arrangements planted in large containers. Not everyone has the desire or room to grow and pot their own plants, but you can provide that service to them.
(Check out: Starting a Grow Bag Garden Delivery Business)
Glass jars were used in our model, The Craven Local Food Market, which was very successful during a time when many growers have been left scrambling. When restaurants were forced to close their doors, CLFM already had the subscription delivery service model.
Exclusively selling to restaurants left many growers with little recourse when the industry suddenly was put on hold.
The CLFM model gives the grower back the control. This model provided customers with fresh meals prepared by farm cooks who not only grow the produce, they make it into a ready-to eat product. You will need to research food laws and requirements in your area when providing a consumable product. Many will require a commercial kitchen. We started with a food truck that already had a commercial kitchen.
Customers order online and leave a cooler outside their front door for delivery or directly from the food truck. They leave any empty jars from previous exchanges and receive credit on their order.
Customers want fresh local food, why not make it convenient?
(Check out: Moving Towards a Zero Waste Future)
Set your business apart from the competition by offering added-value products. Flowers, herbs & microgreens can be dried, made into oils, pestos, salads and salad dressings.
Why sell a head of lettuce for a few dollars when you can sell a salad for a higher profit?
On the Acre's Nathan and Nick have elevated their business with value-added products. Using their online storefront they are able to run a delivery business that consists of their microgreens, salads, pestos, salsa, and edible flowers. They even sell lollipops with edible flowers set into them.
Sometimes added value also means collaborating with other professionals in the industry. Let's say you are selling a salad with microgreens, lettuce, and edible flowers. Providing your customer with a dressing would take it to the next level. Look into local salad dressing producers or a local olive oil shop. Collaborations attract a larger audience and quality products, that coupled with easy ordering creates new customers.
On the Acre is working with chefs and bakers to create and add new products whether it is edible flowers on cupcakes or finding the perfect microgreen for a chef's dish. They also help bartenders navigate flavors and suggest unusual garnishes to help elevate their drinks. They know what is popular and seek out the unusual which is something their customers have come to expect. They stay up on the trends and deliver consistent quality and because of that they earn their client's loyalty.
Selling live microgreen trays in resuable 5 X 5 microgreen trays is a business model that we have been following amongst several successful growers that we know. It is pretty simple and we love how sustainable it is.
Customers purchase their orders weekly via ecommerce or CSA. They pay a small deposit on the microgreen tray along with the cost of the greens. The grower is then able to do a contact-free delivery. Customer is able to harvest right from their tray, ensuring fresh greens all week.
Afterward the harvested tray is exchanged for a fresh tray. If the customer decides to keep the tray to grow their own, the deposit covers it. It is a very simple system, that works out well for both the grower and customer.
1. Customer purchases live tray via website- with added tray deposit
2. No Contact delivery provided
3. Customer enjoys greens cut at their leisure
4. Customer exchanges old tray for new tray weekly
Check out: The Business of Microgreens Course- Starting, Scaling & Advanced Retailing of a Microgreens Business
Ryan Pierce from Fresh Impact Farms requires that the restaurants that he sells to use reusable containers for exchange. He provides them with the containers and only charges them if they go missing and need replacement.
This has led to a huge reduction in waste for them. Cycling through single-use plastics whether they are plant-based or not is often a conflicting thing for sustainable farmers. We as growers have an opportunity to lead the way in changing those habits.
Want more information about growing for restaurants?