Veteran transitions into business with microgreens
By JILLIAN LYNCH, Daily News-Record
BROADWAY, Va. (AP) — In the harsh light of a ground-floor production space, Ian Young — a young Broadway-based entrepreneur — enthusiastically clicked on project management software called Notion.
“It’s really cool because you can tag all the dates,” Young said. “You can plan a certain day. It’s incredible. That’s kind of how I plan everything.
Young has anchored it until the day his product – different varieties of microgreens – will be ready to harvest, package and sell, effectively labeling plastic pallets stacked with seeds and soil at various stages of planting on various high supports equipped with lights.
At his company’s headquarters, MicroBite Farms, Young — a transitioning veteran who served in the U.S. Marine Corps — grows more than a dozen varieties of microgreens, green plants like broccoli and cilantro that are densely planted from seed and harvested in less than three weeks when they sprout their first set of leaves. They are distinct from “germs”, which grow in water.
“I lost so much weight when I started eating it,” Young said. “I gained weight when I got out of the Marines. There are so many health benefits.
Before becoming a vendor at the Harrisonburg Farmers’ Market on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and selling at CrossKeys Vineyards Bistro and offering delivery and subscription for tiny plants, Young — who has always had a green thumb — said that he had started growing microgreens as a hobby and for their superior nutrient content after serving in the military for four years.
“I love doing this. It doesn’t feel like work. I love interacting with the customers in the market,” Young said. “The customers in the restaurant are all super nice.”
These infant versions of green plants also contain peppery, sweet, and spicy flavors, depending on the plant. Young sells a dozen varieties, including Red Acre cabbage, Daikon radish, sunflower, broccoli, and mixed salads that combine varieties.
“I’m going to eat (salads with microgreens) plain without any dressing because it’s so full of flavor,” Young said. “You get so much for your money when it comes to nutrition.”
To make them grow, he germinates seeds in a pallet of earth weighed down by a concrete block. A later “black out” phase encourages plants to develop longer stems. It’s a feature that attracted Leonel Velazquez, new Executive Chef of CrossKeys Vineyards, to partner with MicroBite as one of its first small local suppliers.
“We love his product and were excited to bring it to market,” Velazquez said. “We use it for our dishes here at the bistro and for our events. They are clean, they taste good. I like to have pickups with bigger rods and that’s what it does.
Young, who is currently working on a bachelor’s degree at Penn State University, said he started selling microgreens to restaurants around State College, Penn., but got started just when the pandemic and that business was slow.
“I’ve always liked the idea of being my own boss, but when you do it, it’s really hard. I’m still learning and sometimes I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing,” Young said.
Young said being in the Marines — where being on time and prepared is important — helped him develop the “self-management” he needed to run his own business full-time.
“I don’t think I could have done this before the Marines,” Young said. “You have to take care of yourself, stay in shape and show up on time every day. It helps a lot with that. I don’t have days off. If I forget to water or something like that, the (plants) die.
Addicted to efficiency, Young said one of the things he loved about this business was the ability to produce a lot of food without using chemical fertilizers in a small indoor space.
“It’s sort of the end game for me, it’s controlling everything using the sun but not direct sunlight,” Young said. “Freshness is a bit hard to find. Distributing on a larger scale but also maintaining quality is my longer term goal.
Young, who said he found his passion in growing microgreens, said he hopes to grow the business in a big way. Young said his goal, which “feels like a dream right now,” is to create a large solar-powered facility.
“At some point, you just have to take a chance on something, be it a career or whatever. And for me, that’s it,” Young said.
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