Megademand for Microgreens in Spokane
Nutrient-rich produce rises in popularity as competition increases among INW growersJuly 20th, 2023
Some Spokane-area farms have found success raising microgreens, as local demand for the nutrient-rich and profitable produce remains high enough to support an increasing number of growers in recent years.
“They’ve been around,” says Dan Sproule, owner of Medical Lake-based Full Bushel Farm Inc. “There’s a genuine demand for them, and people like them as a part of their regular diet.”
Microgreens are the smaller, younger versions of a variety of vegetables, including broccoli, cabbage, radishes, arugula, sunflowers, peas, and amaranth. According to the Washington state Department of Agriculture, microgreens are harvested when they have just a stem and not more than two true leaves.
Often used as garnishes or as fresh ingredients in pizza, tacos, soups, and salads because of their visual appeal and added flavor, microgreens are also known for being richer in nutrients than their full-grown counterparts, multiple studies show.
Researchers from the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that microgreens, depending on the type of vegetable, can contain up to 40 times more nutrients than the full-grown version of the same vegetable.
Darfus Moore Jr., the owner and lead grower of We Do Moore LLC, an urban microgreen farm in Spokane Valley, says he experienced firsthand the effects of microgreens on his health.
Moore, who was a truck driver for 28 years, says his weight had grown to 365 pounds, and he was experiencing both heart and kidney failure. He also dealt with gout, which left him bedridden for about a month at 47 years old.
He underwent open-heart surgery to repair a bad heart valve, he says, and after heart surgery, Moore switched to a vegan diet and began intermittent fasting. He lost 90 pounds in the first four months following his surgery, but he felt weak and tired on his new diet, he says. Then he turned to microgreens.
“I couldn’t get strong, and I didn’t have energy until I got into the microgreens,” he says. “I did my research and learned about the nutrients and minerals and how impactful they are.”
Moore says he has lost 150 pounds in four years and no longer has heart or kidney problems. Because of how good he felt after adding microgreens to his diet, he decided to quit his job and opened We Do Moore in July 2022.
Business has been good so far, Moore says, and he’s already planning to expand operations. He raises his microgreens indoors at his home using artificial light, so he is able to grow year-round.
“I outgrew my facility in about six months, so I’m looking to grow that,” Moore says.
We Do Moore sells most of its microgreens to Four Roots LLC, a Spokane-based farm education and food distribution business, Moore says. Four Roots distributes food to schools, food banks, nonprofits, and other organizations.
The business also sells directly to consumers through its website, and Moore says he has plans to sell to a few retirement homes.
While Moore says his business has been profitable, he does note that the prices of seeds have gone up drastically over the past year, keeping profit margins lower than they were previously.
The demand is still there for We Do Moore, however, as Moore says he’s had to turn down business because he’s maxed out production.
He says he’s working with AgWest Farm Credit, a Spokane-based agricultural lending cooperative, to expand his operations.
Shaneese Dunigan and Phillip Moore co-own Courage to Grow Farms LLC, of Lamont, Washington, a small town about 45 miles southwest of Spokane.
Dunigan also says microgreens have the potential to be a highly profitable crop, but farmers have to produce and sell high volumes for that to be the case.
Microgreens are high-priced crops from a per-pound measure, she says. Since portion sizes are much smaller than larger, mature vegetables, farmers must sell higher volumes of the plants to take advantage of the per-pound profit margins.
“For small farmers, I think that it’s still a very lucrative way to approach a veggie market, especially if it’s supplemental to your income,” Dunigan says.
Courage to Grow Farms started in 2019 as an urban farm in Spokane that focused solely on microgreens, Dunigan says. The couple eventually bought land in Lamont and now grow over 60 varieties of vegetables in addition to microgreens.
“We started with microgreens and quickly realized that farming in its entirety would be a better way of living for us, so we started to do it all,” she says.
The microgreen market is more saturated now, Dunigan says, but she believes there is still plenty of demand for microgreen growers to maintain profitability. She says that when Courage to Grow Farms was starting out, there weren’t enough microgreen producers to meet demand.
“There was a time that the need for microgreens was so great that what we were growing wasn’t enough, so we were really pushing for other people to get growing,” she says.
Courage to Grow Farms sells all of its microgreens through a community-supported agriculture program, which allows customers to purchase a share of a farm’s harvest before the vegetables are grown. Through Courage to Grow Farms’ CSA program, customers receive bags of vegetables delivered to their doorsteps year-round.
The farm delivers CSA bags to customers in Spokane, Kootenai, Lincoln, Whitman, and Stevens counties. Microgreens are included in the CSA bags, Dunigan says.
She says that Courage to Grow Farms produces between 100 and 200 pounds of microgreens per week.
Microgreens are planted densely across trays of soil or other growing media. Depending on the size of the tray, hundreds or even thousands of seeds are planted at one time. Microgreens are harvested every seven to 21 days, Dunigan says. This allows farmers to supply their customers with fresh microgreens more often than with full-grown vegetables.
Sproule, who opened Full Bushel Farm in 2012 with his wife, Lauri, says demand for microgreens has been steady since he began selling them about five years ago.
Full Bushel Farm sells its microgreens at Rosauers Supermarkets, Huckleberry’s Natural Market, and Super 1 Foods, as well as at Main Market Co-op, in downtown Spokane. It also sells its microgreens, along with numerous other vegetables, at farmers markets in the Spokane area.
Sproule says his farm grows microgreens in a greenhouse from early March to early November as a way to complement the other vegetables that it sells, he says.
“It’s one of many types of things we grow, but it’s a major crop for us, as far as the volume that we sell,” Sproule says.
Sproule says there is a misconception that growing and selling microgreens is a get-rich-quick type of business. He thinks it would be challenging for new growers to find market space now, because of the increase in the number of growers.
It was easier for Full Bushel Farm to start out because it had already established itself through its other vegetables, he says.
Regardless, microgreens can be a profitable business, Sproule says.
“It definitely is profitable for us, even at our lower price point,” he says.