SMALL & PROFITABLE MICROGREEN FARM IN A SHIPPING CONTAINER!



hey it's courtesy of the urban farmer. Dot CEO hit the subscribe button right now. If you want to see more videos like this and please like and share them with your friends, so today, I'm in Vancouver BC and I'm at a really cool urban farming operation called food peddlers and they are a cooperative that grow microgreens for sale in Vancouver. And I'm right downtown sort of in an industrial area and these guys grow in a modified shipping container. That'S been turned into a greenhouse. Essentially it's fully insulated. They can grow year-round. 


It'S super cool operation. The thing I like about it, the most is that this kind of this is the kind of system you can put anywhere. This could be on a rooftop. This could be in a back alley. This could be in your backyard. This kind of thing could be done anywhere really, and that's what I like about this, this modular system, that Chris throw is setup so Chris, as a friend of mine, I've known him for about five or six years. We actually started urban farming right around the same time and so Kelowna and Vancouver fairly close. 


So I've got to know him through the Vancouver urban farming Society. So we kind of just chatted through the years and shared our experiences, and so I think Chris has a lot to offer urban farmers, because he's really methodical he's got a really good business sense and he's just an all-around great guy, and he works his ass off. 

Like you know what I'm gon na show you here, this didn't happen overnight. This is taking Chris many years to set up a lot of trial and error. He also teaches workshops and does lectures too. So if anybody after the video follow up with him I'll post his information down below and yeah, I think you can really learn a lot from Chris, very unique operation and let's get to the interview, hey guys, so I'm here with Chris Thoreau and Chris. Why don't you tell us about what you do here? Okay, well, we grow microgreens in this 40-foot shipping container gross sunflower, p.rajesh buckwheat and some new ones we're starting up now. Wheat grass, as well as some of the young, smaller micro greens like kale and mustard yeah yeah, we were in Vancouver. We delivered them to restaurants, groceries and farmers markets by bicycle perfect. So how many people are working here now? Because when you started it was just, it was just you yeah. So right now, there's five of us. We at peak time will be session with us and a lot of that's part time, but we kind of need that many people to be things rolling smoothly and have some sort of a social life at the same time. Yeah. So so you've got part time. People come in for things like the harvests and the prep, and things like that and doing some of the farmers markets. So we're not every you know we do four markets a week during the summer, so you know I don't want to pay for markets. We'Ve joined yeah yeah, so that gives and as we're a cooperative so that allows us to provide employment as well right and other people want that flexibility of working once it's like something totally self works quite well that way totally, and so what? What is? What is peak season them like? 


Is there? Is there much seasonality? This doesn't mean you can grow you around in this greenhouse. That'S the idea like what is the peak season, so you know that's a good question, because sales go through different waves and this 2014 was the first year will be actually grew from January straight through until December yeah. So some kind of intuitively. You think these midsummer, when everybody like the farmer, is peak season, but for us it's actually sort of early spring and getting into fall so early spring. We do really well because farmers don't have anything coming out of their field. Yeah. That'S that's amazing. So people are they've, been starved for greens, always ever and they're really they're really looking for that and in the fall of what what often happens is our sales drop a little bit of midsummer because everybody else's products is coming on? Yes, so you could have another week of sunflower sprouts or you could go, get peaches or even good at yeah. So you go get apricots right, so our sales will dip a little bit in the summer and then we'll climb back up again in the fall. What we're finding right now is our winter sales or holding really really well so part of one of our theories of the model us was that our winter sales per hour may actually be better than our summer sales Wow, because there is no loggers. That'S that's the thing it's all about! It'S all about finding the knee straight. You know when every other farmers got that bell curve of production peak season June July August. It'S your experience it in the opposite end. That'S that's! That'S so important and that that's that's important. In choosing our crops, so one crop were playing with this basil and we can produce really good basil in the summer, like everyone else does, but what we're trying to do is figure out how to produce basil. Well, now, now totally tell me a little bit about like so this is what year, seven you're seven, so you started in 2009 and has gone through different incarnations. Tell us about what it was like when you first started, because I remember you know how do it yourself? It was and all the things you were learning and like what was it like then well started off. First of all, with a lot of fretting about whether the model would work so so for me, I've been working on a small farm had moved to Vancouver to do a degree in agriculture, and I needed to keep my head to the soil some way. So I needed to come up with a model where I thought: what can I grow in the city that gives me enough? Return per square foot is gon na make it worth it. Yeah and I've grown sunflower sprouts on the farm. So I kind of knew the value of the crop, so first of all was just realizing that I could do it and spending a lot of time planning how I was going to do that. What kind of infrastructure I needed and it started out really basic with basic cupboard benches, which were just you know, four by eight sections, which is the size of a sheet of plywood sheet, a chloroplast yeah that were covered with an opening door in the front. So I could grow. I think we had like seven or eight sections of those in the first year, so I could grow. You know 150 tray for the time quite easily, but it was seasonal. They were seasonal, so I was made a September and that was it an a in September. You know at the beginning, at the end, we're always a bit dodgy, so you never knew when your first crop would be ready and you never knew when you could. Your last one, but that worked well as a seasonal as a seasonal initiative, so moving into deciding to try and do winter production you want to talk about DIY. I started that one in my living room yeah, so I I have gone. I have done a trip to Italy to go to Terra Madre, the slow food conference and it came back leaving something to do what I thought. Well, we've got this product and you know we've got this production system. Why don't? I just grow them somewhere indoors over the winter and most logical place in my mind at the moment, was my living room, so I did a set up in there and you know set it up in a way, so it didn't disrupt my life. That much even though it was quite substantial yeah and could do seven hundred dollars a week in sales, much to the chagrin of the woman living below me. I was like that. So I did that through most of the winter and then moved fed into someone's garage yeah, and that was really the template for this. The idea was: what does it take to go in the winter when we need for heat? What we need for money, because those are the two key elements to production, and so that was winter 2013 and into 14 and then by the end of 2014 or 2013. 



Sorry was what we built the shipping container, so this was sort of a compromise between being indoors and outdoors. There'S a lot of there's a real trend right now with using shipping containers, for you know, non-original purposes, just all in storage and whatnot and people do use shipping containers for growing, but they keep them enclosed. Those lots of light - it's still technologically need needs. A lot of infrastructure, whereas this is pretty it's got some technology in here, but because we have natural, sunlight were able to keep things fairly basic, so we've got heat and we've got lights because we need them. But it's you know early January in Vancouver right now. It'S probably five degrees outside and it's 24 degrees in here 25, the heats not even on yeah, and if that Sun comes out it'll heat up to 35 40 degrees in here yeah. So it's a union in the winter, even in the winter. Well, and especially in the winter, you get these those cold, cold things with bright Sun it'll warm up quite well yeah in the summer yeah it gets the 50 degrees, so yeah yeah. So it's it's! It'S a you know we drew from what we learned indoors to do the outdoor system or to do this system, and obviously this is slightly different, so we've had to learn, and after a year of intense production like it's a year almost today we're growing stuff, like Almost automatically you know the good systems out here. We know how to use the lighting. We know how to use the heat. We know how to control the humidity yeah. So we've got all these systems in place, so it's pretty automatically busy and that's that's something. That'S so key with when you want to bring more people into the fold like you, this started. We just started with you doing this. You know, even in your living room, how to speak a little bit about some of those systems like because now you've said, you've got up to seven people hit in here at any given or you know, peak season, especially for certain tiles talk about how those systems, How how those systems have really allowed you to do that and have like you know how important those are. So when we talk about systems, what I'm talking about in short, is a very particular way of doing every single task, yeah, and one of the reasons we want to have a system - is a so everybody's doing the same thing these you can train people on it. Yeah, so I can train somebody or you know Ross - can train something yeah. It doesn't matter who's doing that also, if we're all doing things differently and there's something wrong with a crop, I'm never going to be able to figure out. What'S wrong is a crop. So that's right! That'S a really good
point yeah! If we're all doing the same thing and something's not working. We know to tweak that thing. Yes right, but if everybody's doing things a little differently, they're sowing differently, they're, uncovering in different times, without and without reporting. That and you have something go wrong. You don't know, what's gone wrong, yeah, you know. What'S the temperature was it live? Was the humidity? Was it that temperature? On the day of your sewing? We don't you know what was that so yeah? We not only have very you know, detailed systems which I'm always trying to find people to follow will be also report a lot of data yeah. So I mean that's. That'S one thing to that that I'd like to speak to a bit. Isn'T it is? You know people look at something like this and say: wow, that's so cool I mean it's it's and this is really the epitome of what urban agriculture can be and it's sort of like most, you know urban densification. You know you can put this on a rooftop in it in downtown New York City that this this thing could go anywhere, but the thing that's very different about what you're doing that say. What I'm doing is that you know I go and plant some lettuce in the ground and there's there's not really a lot of variability and what think what can go wrong? It might be pests or whether you know talked about some of the challenges that exist in operating a system in this kind of environment. 




Well. Well, so, outside you're dealing with nature, nature can be unpredictable, but we kind of know how to deal with nature. It seems in a way here we have to control everything yeah so like as a basic example in the winter. We need to keep it warm and we need to provide light in the summer. We need to cool it down right, so we have to have systems to do that. I don't want it to cool, I don't want it to warm, so I have to have a way to make sure it's not too cool or too warm all the time. Yeah. You know, there's probably the big issue in a closed space is controlling humidity and manatee. You know, and that's something you have no control of outside right. Yeah humidity is what it is right. Yeah so, and a lot of the seeds you're gon na have is going to be adapted to that yeah. You know humidity, and here I know, is relative humidities 94 % way too high yeah. You know it's high because we're in here filming a video, oh yeah, yeah, so we that that's affecting crop growth right now, yeah, you know yeah, microgreens and wheatgrass. They grow on an eight to ten day schedule. If half a day, isn't an optimum conditions. Yeah you're growing a ground crop you've got at least 30 or 40 days. You know yeah and if you don't harvest it that week, you can harvest even that you got way more play yeah. You know these sunflower up here: they're Friday's crop, the final harvest and Friday they're, no good yeah. You know once they get past a certain point: they lose their value, so yeah those systems and and inside controlling things really well is key to making sure you're getting a good crop it's hard in the beginning, because it's a lot of trial and error we adapted Pretty quickly here, because I have years of not only sprout growing but farming experiences yeah yeah yeah, so I'm always drawing from that like what might this be and then doing experiments to make sure yeah yeah, and so I mean there's - there's there's risk there too right. It'S there's risk when you start in this kind of operation of like the economics of this kind of operation, is very scalable like if you've got a place to sell this stuff. You could, you know, do a lot more with what you have absolutely. If there's the market, but the risk is, is if you do that production you've got trays, soil, seed time, there's so much cost in that, if you're not selling that stuff, it's really good in your pocketbook right yeah. So I mean that's that's something to think about too and you're looking at field production versus something like this and that's, and so I guess going on that speak to a bit of the risk in the sense of your market streams. Because would you well? How would you say your market seams are balance that you talked about farmers, markets and restaurants, and you've got a couple distributors that you sell too right yeah. So, looking at going back to agriculture when we think about principles to sustainable agriculture, one of your key components is diversity yeah. So we don't have diversity, go we grow. So it's sometimes some points. In the year we grow three crops so in terms of ecological sustainability. That doesn't work right which, and what are those commonly is that, like tea, sunflower, pea radish are our based on based, probably we cross them. It'S one. We'Ve introduced so good. That'S not a lot of crops so actually yeah and and literally sunflower, pee, Manesh they're. All microgreens their variations are the same type of thing: yeah, it's not like. We have a sauce and a pasta, yeah and vegetables right which aren't very different. So so there's there's there's a component of vulnerability there, because of that, so we make up for lacking diversity of crops by having that diversity of markets. So a lot of small-scale growers, your your your basic principle. Is you sell direct yeah because you're gon na get your highest value? That'S it so we sell direct at farmers. Markets we sell direct to restaurants, will sell the groceries as well at a wholesale price yeah. So for us we're heating this space. The same whether I have one tray in here or 250 yeah so for us to grow and and sell stuff to market their groceries at wholesale, which is still a pretty good price for us. We drop that off and walk away right. There'S no market setup. You know there's no, there's no paying staff being at the market yeah. We probably do with our grocery sales returns, probably just as good as anybody else, whether it's a restaurant or whether it's a farmers market. We also do a lot of signage sales. We go to people's houses and people can come pick up from us yeah. So we will sell to anybody. We don't you know, we don't discriminate in any way. Everybody works out at this scale in a financially viable way. So we are limitation for us, as we only go so far, because we do everything by bike yeah, you call us Richmond or Burnaby or north van sorry. We don't service area no. Well, that's that's a bit of a weakness in the system yeah which we can just we can. We can subvert at any time by plying of you, you know and there's a lot of advantages to what we do with the bikes. As you know, you know you get around quick, there's no insurance, the repair costs are are low. So there's not a lot of reason for us to expand our area. There'S enough in you know, work five minutes in downtown Vancouver, weren't, a very concentrated area yeah. So there's enough diversity there's enough markets here that we don't need to expand. It'S an interesting point you made about how the costs of operating this are essential. As far as your like heat light - maybe not in the sort of well, I guess light really if you, whether you've got ten trays in the year 100. So you, you really you've got an economic incentive to keep this max, though production all the time yeah and we're not even we're not even maxed out and we're doing two harvests a week as well. So the way we can so two harvests a week just for people who don't understand. That means that every single shelf on here is being cropped up twice a week. Right know what that means in this situation is so this is Friday's harvest. You see here, our next harvest is gon na be Tuesday, so it's all stacked at the end there in our germination area, so missus Friday crop is done. The Tuesday crop comes out, so they follow each other very, very quickly. Right. We have a bit of overlap, which is why you have these in-between shelves like these will just overlap for a day. This can fit over here without a light right right. So so we do tight production and the way we optimize that production, besides growing as many trays this weekend, is making sure we're harvesting similar amounts on you yeah. So whenever day is our bigger day, we try to shift some stuff over to the other day. It'S about harvesting the same, so he uses the shelf space better, but we we've got a room to expand in here and and what does that look like? Does that just mean tightening cycles, or does that mean? Actually you you're gon na do put well. You'Ve got some, you know. You'Ve got some area that isn't being used. Does that mean just making? Why are you available so we can make more a there's, there's limitations right, we've got a height limitation, we can only know as high as the container and in the winter we can only go as high as a certain amount of distance. Under the light yeah, you can only go so low and the main reason there is we can grow this stuff to close morphemes. You know this. This is a real contamination risk for us, so we don't stop up off the ground yeah we can put more shelving in here, but the more shoveling we put in here. The more shade me cringe yeah. So this is just temporary. We just put these up here earlier when we were talking yeah, and these are gon na get taken out of here tomorrow. So this is just a limited amount of shading. That'S not going to affect that, and the wheat crops doesn't really need direct light ever does it, it doesn't it'll always be a better crop, but if it gets good quality like if I left it like this for the whole cycle, this would be probably like and Lanky and just wouldn't be the same quality of crop right remember. This green is the chlorophyll which a lot of people are after and that, thanks from your life exactly so so it is. But so we could intensify by putting lights on every shelf here. Yeah and so we've got room to put another shop where we could double production in this container, yeah, so with lights and taking this out and going up a little higher and a little lower, we could probably more than double you know, yeah what are potential per So what does that look like just in terms of grass toxic, let's say talk about flats? How many flats in this area can you produce a week if you were to max it out? I have done a formula. You know I like my spreadsheets, but if we look at a shelf here, 5 10, 15, 20, 25 trays, yeah plus another 3 is 28 yeah, and this one has an extra self seem looking about 35 trays per shelf right also times, so this would be x. 3, basically so we'll say: 110 2 20 trays yeah twice a week, 220 trains twice week, so you can essentially produce 440 flats per week in this ethnicity. So let's do that just to make the math easy, let's price a flat at ten dollars. Forty four hundred dollars a week potential. Yes, so that's the value, the sales value of the crop. Yeah keep in mind. You have to sell that thing exactly and that's actually the biggest challenge. I know the rowing this stuff is easy. That'S what I tell it really! No yeah but relative to selling it yeah growing it season right exactly so. So that's the potential you double that trade price to twenty bucks and you're, seeing what they would in a and you're always looking somewhere in between that. Sometimes the trains aren't going out for that, but we do high enough volume that it's in our best interest to keep the price lower. So we can move. The stuff, like I said, is that whether we're growing one trailer or 400 trades, it's the same amount of energy. That'S right! That'S right! So this is a pretty unique space like there's, not a lot of urban farmers growing in a shipping container. That'S been turned into a greenhouse, in fact, I've never seen it before it might it might. Maybe there are some other people that are doing it, but talk about. Why like, why should be Container opposed to just building a really cool greenhouse? So there's a couple reasons: your infrastructure and an urban environment needs to be built to be moved. Yes, there is no Atlantis your land tenure in the urban environment yeah, so you could build the greenhouse and take it down. You could do that. A greenhouse is technically a building. You need permits for that dia. This is being used as a building and we're probably skirting the lines of what does and doesn't need a permit. But I can just pick this up and move it anyway. It up with a crane truck; hopefully it doesn't buckle on itself when we do that, and I moved to another location yeah. So that's part of it. Part of it is also there's a bit of trend happen. I'M not trying happening with using shipping stays that right. Yeah, I could not find another single version of something like this. I saw one other sort of aesthetic green house green house. Otherwise I've never seen another production system, language yeah. So, as we talked about before, people are using shipping containers for growing, but they're they're insulating them, are they using reefers and they're, keeping in a closed and using all artificial life, yeah we're placing really really high value on the Sun yeah. You know we're growing a product that a lot of our clientele buy because they want healthy living food. So there's a mark. 



There'S some marketability in the idea of this opposed if you're doing it in an isolated area. I think so there's so there's a market ability to almost every component of our business. One is we're using a shipping container we're growing in natural light. Yes supplements in the winter, we're delivering by by by growing organically. You know we're we're doing all these things and that draws people. You know the containers just the icing on the cake: yeah. Yes, a yeah every once in a while. We'Ve got a stop to go yeah exactly so yeah yeah. So I'm wondering if you can just tell us, tell like what's next for you, I mean you've been doing this for seven years. You were teaching at at Langara and while in Kwantlen Polytechnic you've taught to talk, some were taught some workshop support. Talk about some of that stuff that you're doing, and maybe some of the things that you offer for teaching or or consulting or whatever it might be, yeah so yeah. This is your 7, and this is our it's our second year of full-year production. So this is the year so technically, even though is our sixth year last year, this was a new model and it was really tweaking that so in terms of this business, this is the era. What we can really see what we can do, yeah a lot of focus, is going to go into that. I still teach that at Kuantan and my specialty there are soils, so I still do a lot of smiles work and yeah more and more, I'm switching towards doing more, educating and consultant yeah. So so I've got an online workshop series that I'm putting together. Now. Some of its available now so you can look at that stuff on your own time. I do in-person workshops, but obviously, if you're living somewhere else, you can't attend those. So the online option makes it accessible to everybody, yeah and yeah more and doing more and more consulting. You know, as we talked about earlier, there's a lot of people wanting to do. Microgreens - and you know you know an hour consult saves you. 



You know 10 to 20 hours in labor along the law and it could save you thousands of dollars in waste of materials and yeah. This is this is one thing that if I would have had guys like you around, when I was starting, probably the same for you too absolutely we we could have gotten. We could have skipped the first two years, got in mistakes and trial and error, and that's one thing that you know I think is really important about getting started as if you can go to the expert in the industry and pay them for their time. You don't have to go through that learning curve, and so maybe what you'd spend on a thousand dollars in consulting, for example, could save you ten thousand dollars in two years of messing around absolutely someone's done that messing around on your behalf, so I'm going to suffer It on your behalf, um it's in Italy: what's you like I've, just even in the last month, implemented a bunch of new systems and they're. Just so obvious. You know some of it is you're running a business and so you're caught up in just getting things done, and what I try to do is I step back all the time ago. What are we doing? Is this the most efficient? Are we missing an opportunity here or working harder than we need to or be spending more than we need to and that's what a lot of stuff gets done yeah, so you got a lot of stuff. Now'S like this is so obvious um, but it's amazing when I look back at how many things I'm doing exactly like I did it to the beginning as well. Yeah. So, like I say to people you know whatever you used to do, you may have been an accountant before you may have been in retail sales. You have a transferable skill that will apply in agriculture now so that I came from the restaurant industry yeah. You know, and my multitasking skill and my hygiene stuff, that I learned from there really applied here absolutely so so bring those skills and and take a bit of time, even if you're going into something you're not familiar with sit down and think about it. For a while, you know, draw a diagram. 



I spent a lot of time on Google Sketchup about many many who know Sketchup models of this container yeah yeah. You know I probably spent 30 or 40 hours doing that. So, let's fill my time at 30 bucks an hour, we'll call that a thousand bucks yeah it saved me more than a thousand bucks yeah, so spend that time front load your work. Do your research read about you know what you want to do and you know do as much as you can get your questions together where you're, unsure and then go to your consultant write what I tell me the same thing yeah. What do you want out of this? Consult right? Don'T come to me kind of humming and hawing, and thinking of questions as we go have a list of stuff that you've already tried to do. Work on and you don't have answers for or you want to know - is this better or is this better? What are the pros and cons here right yeah? We may not have the answers, but we can give you a lot more stuff to think about that extinct about this. You have to think about that. Yeah, that's really good advice, so I think what we'll wrap it up there if you guys, have comments post them below, share and like these videos, with your friends and I'll, make sure to post Chris's information on there. If you want to follow up with him or learn more about what he's doing, thanks for watching

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