Episode-1526- Luke Callahan on Building a Micro Greens Business — 55 Comments

  1. I was wondering if Luke could provide a Table of Contents to his book. I’m very interested in this a potential income stream but at $64 for the book (I’m sure it’s worth it) I would really like to know what information is in it.

    I enjoyed this show tremendously and I’m checking out Luke’s sites.

    Jack, your shows that feature small business opportunities for becoming self reliant and how to do it are the most important to me. Thank you!

  2. Jack,
    The idea of multiple income streams is so exciting, I can’t express my gratitude for your education.

    I’ve tried and failed to be an entrepreneur many times using my dad’s failed model. But after listening to your many potentially successful interviews, I believe I finally have the right formula.

    I’m a white collar professional degreed in Information Systems. I train highly degreed professionals (PhD level) in using software in downtown Los Angeles making a 6 figure income. I’m not happy!

    I’m planning to move my family to a rural area in another state in June/July of this year but I will live in an urban area to support their farm (training & web design) until we can get our sustainable farm business on its feet.

    Our multi-stream income, so far, will be technology training, web design, plant propagation, micro greens, permaculture (to develop the farm), and selling eggs (pickled quail) & duck.

    It will be really hard work but I’m excited. We have many family members to help & they’re excited too.

    Thank you for all you do and your motivational podcasts! Our future looks bright.

    • Wow, I loved reading this Carol.

      It sounds like you’re heading in the right direction. Keep me posted as things develop for you. Also, it’d be worthwhile to really dive in deep to the market research side of things when you choose your location to move to. There could be some opportunities and limitations depending on it.

      I’m excited for you and your family!

      • Luke, thanks for your reply. I’ve done some preliminary market research and I’m moving to the perfect location!

        Thank you so much for sharing what you do and a really great interview.

  3. I really enjoyed this one, Jack. In fact, I’m probably going to listen again and take some notes. I’ve never tried microgreens before, and I’m definitely thinking they could be an awesome addition to our food production.

    I have an enclosed 12’x12′ porch on the south side of my house that we intend to convert into a “greenhouse” of sorts. It’d be entirely too hot in the heat of the Indiana summers, but I could bring some production indoors if I was growing for my family and a few other folks. There’s definitely potential there, it sounds like.

    Thanks, guys! I loved it!

  4. Jack – As a bit of feedback:

    In my opinion, these types of shows are, by far, the best value you can bring to the audience. Please bring us more of these interesting and well spoken guests!

    Luke brought us a very intriguing and thought provoking story, but more importantly, has provided enough content as to be ACTIONABLE and OBTAINABLE by the average person with a reasonable amount of investment and effort.

    Obviously not everyone can be a microgreens producer, and most markets will likely only sustain a small amount of these providers before reaching saturation, but for those that are so inclined and lucky enough to be within reach of the appropriate demographic, this could be a wonderful business.

    More importantly, though, this one man’s journey and experience shows that the “go big or go small, just get up and go somewhere…” approach can be a real option to becoming financially independent.

    Thanks again for all that you (and your guests/the community) do for all of us!

    • I do what I can, Luke and Kevin Hauser both are people I found on Diego’s podcast. Seldom do I go recruit a guest, I think you can see why I did with these two.

      On the saturation issue, while technically true, you want the good news? It ain’t likely! Most people talk, a few do and even less do well. If you really want something and are willing to do the work, you will quickly see that you have become a minority.

      Additionally I don’t really think saturation is possible, microgreens are food in the end. Can you saturate the executive chef market, sure. Not the broad market though. Anyone like me for instance with any exiting business can add 500-2000 a month to an existing related business. Consider in our plan we are going to 80 laying ducks, it will give us bottom end 60 eggs a day, or 5 dozen, so 35 dozen a week. With that we will have bout 40 regular customers in the mix that by every 14 days on average and we will sell easily all we can produce.

      That is 40 solid repeats a month but total sales of about 140 dozen eggs.

      We have moved our price to 7.00 (50 cent deposit on the cartons) that is 980 a month in eggs. Not getting rich but minus a feed bill to support them of about 300, we will net about 680. Hell bro that is half our house payment.

      Now check this, if all we do is sell 8 dollars of micro greens to each 40% of one egg carton, we end up selling 56 a month x 8 bucks = 448. Margins are high, call that 350 in profit. Well that would not total 1030, that damn near is our house payment. (taxes, included) That would be coasting, imagine if we simply added the greens to our marketing efforts instead of just doing them as an add on. We already have two chefs coming to us for eggs. Likely we could sell each a few hundred a month. We have a local food aggregator that wants our eggs in their catalog, we said no, but we could do it later.

      This means we could literally pay for our home with ducks and greens!

      Will we, hell I don’t know this is Dorothy’s choice. We have a great space up stairs, a nook in each guest space that could likely grow all we would need. But it is up to her is she wants to, I am done, I got no more in me. I will be working to get the nursery off the ground. So even in our case, it isn’t necessarily right for everyone. Saturation? Not happening. Again it could happen in a vertical (chefs) but not to any real decent sized market.

  5. I bet you could set up a mist system like the one Nick Ferguson talked about in the plant propagation class to automate the watering of the greens.

    • Mold. Too many tiny leaves touching. Each touch is a drop of wather that would never dry. If it wasnt for that misting would be bomb diggidy.

  6. Was listening to the Podcast today and you mentioned watering the micro greens. I am sure you could figure out a better system but I have a small greenhouse that I installed a drip irrigation system in and put it on a battery powered timer that I can control to turn on for as little as a minute. Right now during germination I have little misters hanging above my trays and I have them kick on for one minute a day. Can adjust the pressure on the little misters to control coverage area and give almost perfect amount of water. Total investment was like $65 and very easy to upscale for next to nothing. Beats the snot out of having to water every day. Indoors you could also water by using a tray insert and have the drip irrigation system water the tray and allow the soil to wick the water into the insert. You could create an overflow to drip into a larger container if it got too high so no water would ever hit the ground. Once dialed in would require very little management.

    • Hey Streiticus,

      Nice to hear about your work with the misters. My gut is to say that this will create leaf rot because of the touching foliage. BUT I strongly believe in trying any ideas and then making a decision on it. So please do us all a favor and report back on your successes/learnings.

      Regarding the drip into a tray nested into another tray. I think this is the best method. Obviously you need to find trays that don’t have holes in them, and then you can set it up to drip into the tray on timed intervals, adjusting flow based on daily consumption.

  7. On a personal level you might be able to grow out plants for seed and compost or recycle most of the levt over roots and soil. But on a business scale I dont see how you could produce your own seed and be semi sustainable. Thats a huge ammount of seed as a constant input.

    • Yeah, microgreens are incredibly seed-intensive. It would be too much to grow your own seeds for this operation. Same with the compost.

      In regards to the compost business, check out one of Jack’s past interviews with Trevor Van Hemert of Pedal to Petal Compost pickups. It’s a cool bike powered urban composting business.

  8. Did Luke ever have problems with pests like mice or insets? I played around with one tray and came home one day to have all the sunflower seeds eaten and the other plants trampled. Yes I need to remove the mice. Just asking.

    • Hey Chris,

      I definitely encountered rodents. Sunflower (black oilseed) might as well be packaged as “rat food.” You need to either secure the room they are growing in, or the actual shelves they’re in.

      I’ve got a good story on this subject involving a rat and a potato… for another time 😉

  9. Lots of good info Jack and Luke. Hard to see where you can go wrong with this model. Even if you don’t sell anything, you eat what you produce and cut a few extra bucks out of your weekly food bill.

    • Thanks Ron,

      I’m glad you liked it. Yeah, the nice thing about a business like this, is that it allows you to get out and develop the skills necessary to grow any business with minimal time needed to master the production side of things.

      And you’re right, at the end of they day, they’re delicious 🙂

  10. Awesome show, thanks Jack and Luke!

    I literally bought Luke’s business plan through the MSB, hit update on my facebook and saw that you interviewed him that day, talk about serendipity.

    I had to have listened to Luke’s interview with Diego at least 7 times, I’m tooling up my quail egg production and this just seems like such an awesome way to stack functions while selling to restaurants and at farmers markets.

    When I saw the MSB discount it literally was a no brainer. If you are considering buying it, do it. If you think you might be interested in starting a side business, even if it’s not microgreens, buy it. Buy it through the MSB, or buy it full price, either way it’s an incredible value. I honestly can’t think of a better ~$30 I have spent in a long time.

    Thanks again to both of you, I will be putting this information into practice. 🙂

  11. I have been sprouting Black Oil Sunflower seeds for almost a year now. It is so easy. I take 4 oz of seed and turn it into about 12 oz of greens. I use these seeds:
    They are the same seeds I use in my bird feeder. And, if you do the math, that’s about 150 lbs of food for about $40.
    I sprout enough for my family and a few friends / neighbors but don’t have an interest in taking it to the next level and doing it as a business, but it would be easy enough to grow, but because I’m pretty rural I don’t think it would be a viable business. But, like I said, I don’t have any interest in making this hobby a career.
    I don’t have any fancy trays and didn’t have to buy anything other than the seeds to get started. I do it all on a kitchen counter by a window. I don’t even have a light on them.
    I soak the seeds overnight in a clear plastic cup of water. For the next two days I just rinse and drain. I then put them in a shallow pan and sprinkle with water a couple of times a say to keep them moist but don’t let them sit in water. It can get funky if they sit in water. I don’t use soil at all. After a few more days, they get to be about 6 to 8 inches tall, I harvest. The most time consuming part is picking off the hulls that don’t just fall off by themselves.
    It really is that easy.
    The only question I have is that I’ve heard that sunflowers have allelopathic properties and was wondering if feeding the roots & hulls to my worms would ruin the castings or does the “processing” by the worms negate any adverse allelopathic effect?

    • Jim, you grow spouts though right, doesn’t sound like you do micro greens. Or am I mistaken?

    • What’s the difference between “microgreens” and “sprouts”? I don’t think there is a difference. I think “microgreens” is a marketing term, that is all.

      • At first I thought they were the same thing too, but from my reading sprouts include the roots and thus so run the risk of going anaerobic in the root zone, promoting e. coli, salmonella and other nastys.

        Microgreens don’t include the roots so they mitigate that issue.

      • Yeah, MoonValleyPrepper has it right.

        Basically, microgreens are grown in soil longer (some herbs take 3 weeks to mature), and harvest nutrients from the soil.

        While sprouts are just “activated” seeds, that are often sprouted in a jar or something similar, and never have the chance to establish their roots, draw nutrients, and develop beyond the energy that the seed could provide.

        • Aaahhh, OK. At first I used soil but then decided it was a step that wasn’t necessary. I cut them and leave the roots because they are full of the hulls that fall off.
          I harvest at around 10 – 14 days, while they only have their cotyledons leaves before true leaves form.
          So, technically what I have are sprouts, which is what I’ve been calling them, and not microgreens. But, I won’t use those words interchangeably.
          Thanks to MoonValleyPrepper, Luke & Jack for the clarification.

      • Micro greens are generally grown in soil, for about 14 days, they are harvested with a blade and the roots are left behind.

        Spouts are grown for less time, so they are less mature and root is consumed.

        One is spout the other a tiny vegetable would be one way to see it.

    • Likely at the volumes you will do with direct sales nothing. Two Chefs buy our eggs direct now, they have asked for nothing. Since they are the customer it is a direct sale. As I understand it since their kitchen is commercial and certified and blessed by the God of the state, etc. it is there issue after that. Now if you try to sell to a store that resells with some things that is different.

    • Liability Insurance might be required. A local farmer’s market was killed when the operator required insurance that ran $300 and most of the vendors did not renew.

      I have a similar question on the legal crap as I have been poking around and it seems that stores and restaurants also want to know the supply chain and assurances that their customers won’t get sick in this litigation happy society. When I asked about Seaberry juice, a healthfood store wanted it to be pasturized with state sanctioned facilities, etc. There are facilities I could rent, but I would have to have enough business to make it work.

      I have seeds for sprouting and the packet warns to soak in diluted bleach to kill pathogens. That would create carcinogenic chlorine compounds, however, so I don’t. There is a very, very small (but non-zero) risk of pathogens being transmitted through contaminated soil. Businesses want to CYA- Cover Your (or their) Assets!

      Whole Foods has a workshop for prospective vendors. I asked whom I should contact and was given the card of their “Local Forager”. I haven’t contacted her yet. The Nashua, NH WF had clamshells of local microgreens for $3.99 (normally $4.99) for 1.5 oz or $42.56. I am not sure how much the grower sells microgreens to WF for but it is retail space in a prominant store front with lots and lots of traffic.

  12. If I were to end up dealing with a larger organization that asked for certain licensing and certifications, what might they be? I suspect they would probably ask me themselves, but I would rather be prepared ahead of time. I ask because I have a family connection that is the purchaser for a major Las Vegas casino corporation that has locations around the world.

    Thanks for what you do, Jack.

    Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty for ALL.
    Arturo Ruggeroli

    • Again it is about volume. Unless you produce over a certain amount you don’t need anything.

    • Good question Arturo,

      It usually depends by the state, county, city level. In my experience, I needed to get a license as a food producer from Multnomah County. Your best best is to inquire at your local county Health department and go from there.

      Hope this helps Arturo,

  13. I purchased Luke’s book in October and have built two stacks of grow light shelves. I was going to do this anyway to jump-start my annual veggies this year so it seemed like a no-brainer to give microgreens a try in the meantime. Outside of a pseudo-CSA we’re doing with family and friends this year I haven’t gotten into selling the microgreens yet but the feedback I’ve gotten so far is very positive. The sunflowers are especially addictive…the kids take them in their lunches and eat ’em like popcorn.

    I have had no problems with leaf rot and just mist with a hand sprayer twice a day. Yields are running about 380g for radish, 270g for peas and 450g for sunflowers. Since I plant 44g of radish, 200g of peas and 100g of sunflower seeds it seems like the peas offer the least pure ROI. They also seem to take a day or two longer than the others. I’m using these as value generators in case my CSA’s main annual garden gets blown up by hail or deer later in the year.

    Regardless, they’ve been fun and tasty experiments in the meantime. I highly recommend Luke’s book, BTW.

  14. Hi Luke/Jack/Anyone:

    I heard Luke suggest T5 or T8 fluorescent lamps for the initial grow lights, but I was curious about LED alternatives. I see there are quite a few options for LED grow lamps in general, and I’m curious if these are worth the extra expense (lower power consumption, longer lamp life?). Some companies claim to be able to specifically tune the radiation emission wavelength to that targeted for either the vegetative or flowering/fruiting phase of plant development, vs the broad spectrum of more traditional lamps. I’m just not convinced that the much higher cost of the LED style lamps is worth the claims being made. The last thing I have time for is to go off fiddling with red/blue LED lamp control knobs for no practical benefit.

    Anyway, I’m just curious to see what everyone has to say about this topic.


    • Good question,

      I don’t have direct experience with LEDs, but my take is that they are good if you are going to be using them for flowering plants, but for the vegetative growth (all microgreens) you wont get any added benefit and end spending more on your lighting equipment.

      With that said, they would work for the vegetative growth, and I bet they last much longer than fluorescents.

    • Dan, when in doubt, try it out.

      I don’t have experience with it, but you could try it, and taste them to see if you get a better end product with it.

  15. I really enjoyed this interview, I hope to hear Luke back on again to talk about spin farming. Audio quality 10/ Content 10

  16. I actually met and spoke with Chef Tim Love at Lonsome Dove. Great restaurant! Andrew Zimmern filmed a Bizzare Foods there. I also recommend his Woodshed Smokehouse – Paleo friendly!

  17. So, I bought the book and listened to the show and both were great! The market where I am is prime for this and I am already in the duck egg, duck meat, and quail egg business, with meat rabbits soon to follow. So, I already have some potential customers, as well as on farm sales and a health food market I sell to. This seems like a gateway to farmers markets for me actually.

    My 2 questions for Luke so far are:

    1. I am in NH and I am trying no to do this in the main part of my house. I have an unfinished cold basement, and a not winter use-able greenhouse. Just how sensitive to temperature are these? If I can get them into a 50 degree space and maybe add some 100 watt bulbs would that work?

    2. I am having a hell of a time finding 1″ deep trays at a reasonable price. Where do you get them? I am finding them for about $2 each.

    • I will let Luke take part one, on part two um, you do get you reuse the trays over and over right?

      • Yes and I have a boatload of the 2 inch deep trays already but it seems like the 1 inch are ideal. Just seems like $2 at retail is what he said to avoid and I can’t find wholesale anywhere. This seems so cool though. It fits in perfect to my system. I’m excited to see how feeding the excess to the meat rabbits and then using the rabbit manure to make compost to plant into works out. I’m thinking flavor explosion on both ends!

    • Great questions Jon,

      1. Keep them warm and dry. Just like a baby. And when in doubt, try it out. What will happen, in colder temps, germination and growth will be slower. I don’t recommend, but hey, at least you’re getting started right? The ideal is have a space that’s warm and dry. Other methods are point source heating. electric germination mats work, but not really on any kind of scale. You don’t to buy 64 of those things.

      2. Source of trays. Here’s the best I’ve found to date.

      Let me know if you have any questions,

  18. I have been told that using a cool and a daylight t8 light together covers the spectrum and makes for a good grow light set up. Does this work for Microgreens?