Growing a farm business is a bit like growing microgreens. Microgreens are tiny edible plants produced from vegetable and herb seeds. They’re harvested when they’re bigger than sprouts, but smaller than baby greens. Microgreens are crunchy with a big burst of flavor that brighten up salads and sandwiches. They’re also popular with chefs who use them to garnish everything from soups to entrees.
Sleight Family Farm near Old Fort, North Carolina is growing a farm business by growing microgreens. Anna Sleight farms with her husband Wesley. They grow microgreens like daikon radish, pea shoots, and red Russian kale. They also sell fresh wheatgrass juice at farmers markets.
They recently installed solar panels to help offset the environmental and economic costs of keeping the lights on as the microgreens grow. “The main reason we do that is because we market directly to farmers markets. In order to have everything be predictable and on schedule, it has to be on light timers to be consistent at a market.”
Consistency is also key to keeping their business running. “A business is its own living and breathing entity. We just try to listen to the direction and the pool [of customers] around here of like what people want, what are people’s ideas, and then kind of grow with that,” she says.
Before the Sleight family moved to the Asheville area in 2013, they spent 10 years farming in California. They also ran a produce distribution business that connected over 50 farms with schools, hospitals, and restaurants.
“Our last business definitely prepared us for the business side of produce, but Asheville is its own unique niche,” she says.
They were looking for a crop that wasn’t already available at Asheville farmers markets. “We both loved microgreens,” Anna explains. “It was always a really vital part of our life when we lived in California and when we were looking for a property here we were trying to figure out something that we could do that would provide us with some sort of income, and then also get us into markets doing something that people weren’t doing yet and that was one of the things that wasn’t happening yet was microgreens. So we started growing those on a small scale.”
Interest in local microgreens grew quickly. Farmers in other areas of Western North Carolina started producing them, and now there are several microgreen vendors at various markets. But Anna isn’t deterred by competition. She says farmers markets continue to be a launching pad for her business.
“It’s such a nice place to start your business,” she says. “You get feedback directly from your customers, and I’m always open to that whether it’s packaging or labeling or taste or whatever they want. They can actually come to you and kind of give you that feedback. And it’s such a good family, whether it’s the shoppers or the fellow farmers. Our son has been going to farmer’s markets since he was 9 months old. It’s like his family.”
As their business grows, the Sleight family aims to stay true to their roots. “We do what we love and that’s been mainly the guiding force behind all this is trying to stay true to what we love and believe in.”
Learn about more local farmers and what motivates them at www.asapconnections.org
Aired: January 8, 2018