Those who have kept up with the local food movement or the small-scale organic farming world in recent years might have seen people advocating for the sale of microgreens. These tiny, tasty greens can serve to generate income towards either offsetting the costs of a backyard garden or even turning a profit in the right markets.
So, can you make money growing and selling microgreens? Gardeners can make good money selling microgreens to high-end local restaurants and farmer’s markets if there is a viable market in the area and the grower puts the effort into growing a high-quality product.
Knowing whether microgreen sales are a good fit for a certain setup or not depends on a lot of different variables. Keep reading to find out more about raising microgreens for local sale and how to grow them to make money.
What Are Microgreens?
Also known as “vegetable confetti,” microgreens are a type of small, tender plant seedling that is used as a way to add variety and color to salad mixes. Microgreens are often also frequently used as an edible garnish since they are brightly colored and also have good flavor.
Because they are harvested in a matter of days instead of waiting for the plant to come to maturity, microgreens can be harvested all at once on a large scale for culinary use and are suitable for repeated plantings. Microgreens are also a good choice for protected indoor hydroponic systems since they must be of a very high quality to be used for the food market.
Microgreens are harvested once they grow their first true leaves. This ensures that the greens are picked at their peak tenderness for the plate, and also at a point when they are the most aesthetically pleasing. This is why fancy restaurants find them such an attractive choice for garnishing plates, bowls of soup, and salads.
Another advantage of using microgreens is that many varieties are often more peppery and flavorful than staple types of salad such as romaine, making for a more flavorful salad when they are added into the mix. Some microgreens such as lambsquarter and dandelion are popular because they allow people to eat “wild” greens without worrying about environmental contamination from foraged plants.
Is It Profitable to Sell Microgreens?
It can be profitable to sell microgreens provided that the person selling them secures a market first and can consistently generate a large amount of greens on a regular basis for their intended customers.
The major variables that affect whether or not a person can be profitable selling microgreen are as follows:
- How many microgreens the seller can produce in a week: The more microgreens a seller can commit to growing in any given week, the more profit there stands to be made from the venture. A grower who only grows a small flat of microgreens will not produce them at a level high enough to sustain one restaurant for a week, much less several.
- The quality of the microgreens being sold: Only those microgreens which are healthy and vibrant will be attractive enough to be sold to high-end restaurants. Those people who shop at farmer’s markets also have a higher expectation of quality in their produce to reflect the higher prices usually present at a farmer’s market versus a regular grocery store.
- The variety of microgreens being sold: It is easier to secure purchasers for microgreens if a wide variety is offered. The more microgreens a grower has for sale, the more color and flavor are shown to offer to potential buyers.
- How many points of sale the seller generates, and how many contacts within the local culinary community commit to regular purchases: The more regular buyers are on the account, the easier it is to turn a profit selling microgreens.
Clearly, there are many different things that affect whether one can actually make money back on a microgreen setup.
How Can I Make a Living Selling Microgreens?
In most cases, gardeners can’t make their entire living selling microgreens. Unless gardeners are able to charge New York City produce prices and consistently grow and sell large amounts of microgreens on a weekly basis, they’re not likely to make enough money in the venture to support themselves full-time.
It is a lot more likely to earn fifty or a hundred dollars a week providing greens to a few local restaurants than it is to develop into a multi-thousand dollar a week business except for those wanting to become serious farmers.
When we were with you, we gave you this rule: “Whoever will not work should not be allowed to eat.2 Thessalonians 3:10
Advantages of Growing Microgreens for Sale
Growing microgreens on a small scale for local sale has become popular with hobby vegetable gardeners for a few reasons. Here are some of the benefits associated with growing microgreens for sale:
- Low start-up costs: Most small-scale microgreen operations can be set up for less than a thousand dollars. Considering that most varieties of microgreens sell for roughly $25-40 a pound, this means that with the right market, a microgreen setup can end up paying for itself relatively quickly.
- Grow easily: Most types of microgreens are types of plants that germinate and sprout quickly and are hardy species that grow vigorously in good conditions. Think about the kinds of seeds given to children to sprout in a classroom setting. This means that a large number of quality microgreens can be produced without having to worry about crop failures or other serious problems.
- Grow inside: Because the best market setup for microgreens is indoors, this means that microgreens can be grown and harvested for a local market year-round, without regard to outdoor temperatures and climate changes that can affect other vegetables grown in the backyard garden.
- Sell for good prices: It would be so beneficial to find a handful of consistent buyers to consistently supply them. In this case, microgreens can be very profitable.
- Good for small spaces: Unlike other crops that require a large space in the yard to grow effectively, microgreens can be grown and harvested from a series of shelf units. This makes it a versatile choice for the gardener with space constraints.
These advantages offer a growing opportunity for many people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to grow vegetables, such as urban gardeners or people with limited mobility who find the stooping, mulching, and weeding of an outdoor garden too strenuous. Microgreens are also a great way to introduce children to the joys of gardening since they offer fast satisfaction for the effort involved.
Disadvantages of Growing Microgreens for Sale
While there are several advantages to growing microgreens for sale, there are a few disadvantages of growing them too. Here are some drawbacks of trying to grow microgreens for sale:
- It’s a specialty market: Only a few restaurant managers in any given area are going to be interested in buying microgreens on a regular basis. Microgreens are only desired by the upper echelon of restaurants since many lower quality restaurants do not use garnish, much less expensive garnish, and chain restaurants don’t use garnish at all.
- It can be a saturated market: Because it is such a trendy crop, there are many people attempting to get up the contacts to form a microgreen operation. This means that depending on location, the chef that being approached with an offer for microgreens may already have been approached by half a dozen other growers. This means the product has to be of high quality.
- It requires networking: People who don’t have a knack for marketing themselves and reaching out in “cold calls” to chefs and small business owners aren’t going to be able to turn a profit selling microgreens. It requires being able to talk to people and talk up the product in a way that interests potential buyers. Even for farmer’s markets, networking is key.
- Lots of seed input: To generate enough microgreens to produce a profit often requires a large volume of seeds to germinate, which can get costly when growing more uncommon varieties of microgreens.
- Time and effort-intensive: Seedlings that are being cultivated for market sales have to be watched over very carefully in comparison to vegetables that are being grown for home consumption. Between this effort and the effort required to harvest microgreens and get them to market at their peak quality, growing microgreens for sale can be an intensive process.
Microgreens can be a great side hustle for many home gardeners, but those who are looking to take it on need to be aware of the potential drawbacks before committing themselves financially to the venture. Otherwise, it’s easy to end up biting off more than one can chew.
How Much Should I Sell My Microgreens For?
Microgreens can be sold for over twenty-five dollars a pound, but the price that sellers are able to demand is determined mostly by the local market. For those who are growing microgreens on a small scale for local restaurants, chances are that they are not going to be able to compete with large volume growers on price—they’ll outbid them every time.
That means in order to sell microgreens in their place, small-plot growers must be willing to step up in terms of both service to their customers and the quality of the greens provided.
A restaurant chef may go with a large-scale grower by default because that’s who approached the restaurant first, but if a small-scale gardeners offers more variety of color and flavor at a high quality that can be delivered right to the chef’s back door on a weekly basis, they will have a foot in the door.
Many chefs are artists first and accountants second; that means they’re more willing to take a hit on price in order to ensure aesthetic quality.
What’s the Difference Between Microgreens and Sprouts?
The main difference between microgreens and sprouts is that sprouts are served root, stem, and all to the consumer, while microgreens are cut and harvested like any other salad green. As it pertains to the microgreen farmer, the difference between microgreens and sprouts is that microgreens are less stringently regulated than sprouts because of their decreased risk of microbial contamination.
This means that in comparison to growing sprouts for market, microgreens are a better option for most small-scale growers who are not growing in a sterilized environment and are pursuing markets where stricter food regulations would prevent them from establishing a business contact.
We have written a full article on this topic that you can check out here for more information. Microgreens vs. Sprouts: What’s the Difference?
Where Can Microgreens be Grown?
Microgreens can be grown either indoors or outdoors, though microgreens grown for market sale are typically grown indoors in hydroponic setups to avoid pest involvement and soil contamination in the greens themselves.
The tender new shoots of plants are very tempting to both insects and animals as a food source, so any microgreens intended for human consumption at the restaurant or market level need to be produced inside. This also allows the grower to more closely monitor light, water, and humidity levels that could negatively impact the taste or appearance of the microgreens.
Some varieties of microgreens can be grown in a sunny windowsill as a flavorful addition to household salads, but this amount of light will usually not produce microgreens that are colorful or robust enough for market sale. A plant stand with grow lights is the best option for growing denser, more brightly flavored microgreens to offer chefs and farmer’s markets.
Which Plants Make for the Best Microgreens?
When choosing types of plants for microgreens, focus is placed on what the plants taste like as a shoot. While all vegetable crops can be eaten as seedlings, only some of them taste good that way. Here are the types of plants that are most often used to raise as microgreens:
Not only do these plants have a good flavor that complements many different types of dishes, but they also germinate quickly and feature colorful foliage that makes them a good choice for a culinary garnish. The variety of colors and flavors available in microgreens makes them highly sought after by chefs, and the particular nature of their care makes them a good niche product for small scale growers.
What Kinds of Seeds are Used for Microgreens?
The seeds used in microgreens are organic and untreated seeds. Often when growing microgreens, a large amount of seed is sown in order to ensure the largest percentage of germination. Often growers will grow a mix of several different microgreen seeds together to sell if the greens have a complementary flavor or color.
For more information, check out our full article Do You Need Special Seeds for Microgreens?
Supplies Needed for Growing Microgreens
Not too many supplies are needed to get started growing microgreens, which is a major reason why the prospect is so tempting to many would-be growers. Here are the basic supplies needed to get started growing microgreens.
- Plant stand
- Hydroponic supplies (substrate, water source, trays, nutrient solution)
- Artificial lighting
- Clamshell plastic containers or other packaging
We highly suggest checking out True Leaf Market’s website for all your microgreen supplies. They have great prices and high-quality products.
One optional item that can be very useful for growing microgreens that is a good idea is to have a spare fridge available to store harvested greens. If stored properly in a cold environment, microgreens will last much longer on the way to market than harvested greens that are left out at ambient temperatures.
Soil can also be used as an alternative to a hydroponic system, but since microgreens are not typically washed prior to sale, growing in soil can make greens much harder to clean for the market to a standard that would be acceptable to most chefs. For the relatively high amount of money they must pay for them, the niche market buyers for microgreens expect the very best.
How to Harvest Microgreens
Most microgreens are harvested after they’ve grown their first true leaves. This is when most microgreen varieties are approximately two inches in height.
The date of harvest depends on the variety of microgreen being grown—some plants are ready to harvest in as little as a week, while others require up to three weeks before they’re ready. Plants that require longer growing times can be more profitable to grow since they are typically in higher demand due to scarcity.
An issue with harvesting microgreens for sale is that they are highly perishable, which means once they have been cut, they’ll begin to wilt quickly. Microgreens must be kept cold after harvest to increase their quality after cutting.
Many chefs do not want microgreens that have been pre-washed, as this greatly reduces the amount of time they can be chilled before spoiling. In fact, many chefs are embracing microgreen growers who grow their greens in disposable grow mats that can be left with the chef so the chef can harvest their own greens as needed.
For a more complete article on our website, check out How to Harvest & Store Microgreens: The Complete Guide.
How to Package Microgreens
Most people who sell microgreens package them in plastic clamshell packages so that the buyers can see the greens without having to open the package and the packages can be stored neatly in a refrigerated compartment or cooler.
One major drawback of these clamshell packages is that they are not very environmentally friendly—however, new advances in the technology have been discovered and now compostable clamshell packaging is available.
While it can be more expensive than traditional plastic packaging, even those who grow for the market on a small scale should be conscious of their environmental impact in the agricultural industry.
How to Market Microgreens
The two primary markets that small-scale growers can sell microgreens in are the high-end local restaurant scene and local farmer’s markets.
Selling Microgreens to Restaurants
One reason that local growers of microgreens are so tempting to local restaurants is because of microgreen’s extremely short shelf life. This means that chefs can’t depend on quality microgreens to be shipped in from outside sources without sacrificing appearance and flavor. Microgreens as a garnish are also a way for mid-level restaurants to “up their game” and serve more aesthetically pleasing dishes.
Chefs demand the highest level of quality in their microgreens, but many also know how to use less aesthetically perfect greens as cooked-down or pureed elements in soups and other dishes. This is one of the reasons why it pays to know the customers as a microgreen farmer. A chef may have a use for microgreens that aren’t pretty enough for plating, so it is important to ask.
Selling Microgreens to Farmer’s Markets
Microgreens are also popular at farmer’s markets, where they can be sold either on their own or as a salad mix to buyers. As a result of popular cooking shows, more and more home cooks are increasingly aware of the benefits of microgreens and are seeking them out for domestic meals.
While farmer’s markets can be a good way to use up any microgreens that don’t pass muster at a restaurant, the inconsistent nature of volume sales at farmer’s markets plus the expended time necessary to sit at the market and hawk wares are drawbacks of this sales outlet.
Because many farmer’s markets are also outdoors or in warmer ambient temperatures, it’s also important to make sure to have a way to keep the microgreens cool at the farmer’s market so that they maintain quality up to the point of sale.
Tips for Selling Microgreens
While sustaining a microgreen operation can be a fairly simple undertaking, getting the ball rolling on a potential market for microgreens can be a bit more difficult. Here are some tips on how to sell microgreens to make the most money from one’s efforts:
- Get to know the local market. This means it is important to have to step out of the comfort zone and approach a few chefs. Due to an increased emphasis on local food movements and sustainable agriculture, many progressive chefs are more than happy to discuss offers of local high-quality products as long as it can be consistently delivered.
Talking to chefs also lets a grower know exactly what kind of microgreens they already have sourced and what microgreens they might want that they don’t have yet. The better the grower knows the chefs they’re working with, the easier it is to anticipate their culinary needs and offer them produce they want.
- Find unusual customers. From backyard chicken keepers looking to supplement their flock to iguana owners looking for a nutritious addition to their reptile’s diet, the sky is the limit when it comes to potential niche markets for microgreens outside of the regular restaurant and farmer’s market venues. Securing these niche markets might take a bit of investigative work, but a grower is more likely to corner the market once they find it.
- Make sure to do the math. It is important to know how many pounds of seeds produces how many pounds of microgreens, exactly how many days to harvest, how much of each microgreen, how much money going out vs. coming in. Growing microgreens for profit involves a lot of record-keeping in order to be successful.
- Make sure deliveries are consistent. Buyers need to know what kinds of produce will be available and when especially if they are turning around to use those products in a commercial business. The quickest way to burn a bridge with a local chef is to promise a shipment of microgreens and fall through on the delivery, forcing them to change a dish or eight-six it altogether.
- Always be conservative when estimating an expected output. Remember that it’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver than it is to over-promise and under-deliver. There’s always a chance that part of a harvest will not be good enough for the market, an accident will occur that negatively impacts the grow, or other problems that may impact delivery in some way.
- Keep careful buying and selling records. Not only are these records important for tax purposes, but they can also be used to keep track of how well sales are doing and how much of a profit is coming in from a microgreen business. This can, in turn, indicate times when it would be best to upgrade equipment or otherwise invest back into the business.
Microgreens can be a very profitable side hustle, but it involves a lot more work and preparation than just putting out some seed flats and waiting for them to sprout. For more advice on how to best market and sell microgreens after harvest, check out this guide here at North Carolina State University’s extension website.
Microgreens Take Trial and Error for Success
Touted as a get-rich-quick scheme by some gardening bloggers, a home-based microgreen business isn’t quite that simple. However, it can still be a good way of making money for those gardeners who are willing to put in the legwork. This means that potential growers might have to make several experiments to find something that works best for them and the needs of their customers.
Microgreens are flavorful, highly nutritious, and can be supplied year-round regardless of climate or growing conditions. While they might be a bit of a difficult market to get into, this is a market that is growing rapidly every year.
If you would like to get started growing microgreens or need a boost in your supplies, we highly recommend checking out our affiliate at True Leaf Market. They have microgreen seeds, supplies, starter kits, and anything else you can think of to make your production a success!