This interview details Piedmont Microgreens, an indoor farming company based in the United States. The interview is with Garrett Corwin, Founder of Piedmont Microgreens.
What is the origin story of Piedmont Microgreens?
I started Piedmont Microgreens (PMG) while studying full time as a graduate student and working part time at the Duke Campus Farm (DCF). I had recently spent a summer in Boston where I was interning at Freight Farms, a high-tech indoor agriculture company. When I returned to Durham to finish the last year of my master’s degree, I knew I wanted to start a farm. I settled on growing microgreens because I had no time, no land, and very little money. Microgreens worked well because I could start small with one rack, grow in the living room of my rented apartment, and tend to the business between classes.
PMG had its first sale in November 2023 to a local restaurant. The primary customer base for PMG has been chefs and restaurants from the start. While I was still in school, I would make cold calls between classes to grow our client list. Eventually, I bought a house with a 400 square foot garage, which is where the farm lives today. We currently sell to 60 local restaurants and caterers, as well as the Durham Farmer’s Market. We grow 250 trays per week, employ two full time and two part time team members, and gross $250,000 a year from the garage.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing Piedmont Microgreens in the future?
The biggest challenge facing PMG was that we ran out of space. We spent 18 months pursuing different commercial properties and each fell through for different reasons. Thankfully, we recently purchased two 2,000 square foot (SF) commercial units. PMG will use one unit to expand its operation, while the other remains leased to another tenant. In the future, we could use the second unit for another expansion.
PMG now faces a series of big new challenges that we must overcome sequentially. First, we need to renovate the commercial space and relocate the farm to expand production capacity. Second, we need to get food safety certified through the USDA’s Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) program. GAP certification is a common requirement for selling to retailers, like Whole Foods and Publix, and distributors, like FreshPoint. Third, we need to secure larger sales contracts with these retailers and distributors.
What is unique about Piedmont Microgreens compared to competitors?
PMG is unique compared to local competitors because we’re dedicating full time to growing microgreens. Many local competitors are hobby style growers with no intention of perfecting their product or committing to farming full time. My team and I are obsessed with optimizing our farm, improving our product, and learning from our customers.
PMG is unique compared to national competitors because we’re dedicated to building relationships and understanding the needs of our customers. We make it a point to know the names of as many restaurant staff as possible. We make it a point to deliver within 24 hours of harvest. My team and I are focused on intentionally building the business in a way that creates a better product, a healthier planet, and the happiest customers.
What is the current size of your growing area?
The current location has 400 SF of indoor space for germination, grow out, harvest, and cold storage. We use an additional 300 SF outside for soil storage, planting, tray cleaning, and edible flower production.
Do you use CO2 in your operation today -- if so, how much and what do you pay for it?
We do not use CO2 in our operation. Although I have never done the calculations, I do not think it would be economic for microgreens at our scale. Supplemental CO2 is not a common topic of conversation in the online microgreen community, which is why I have not dug deeper into the topic.
What are your thoughts in CO2 usage in indoor farms?
CO2 usage in indoor farms is enticing because it’s another environmental factor, another tool, farmers can manipulate to boost yields and boost profitability. However, supplemental CO2 has many drawbacks. Using supplemental CO2 requires the farm to buy or rent canisters, which impacts the company’s CAPEX or cash flow. The canisters need to be regularly exchanged or refilled, which adds costly overhead. Also, a CO2 enriched environment can be a safety hazard for employees if there are no proper safety protocols in place. CO2 enrichment becomes less viable as the grow room’s air volume increases. For example, farmers using Freight Farm shipping container farms will use CO2 enrichment because the total air volume is small – 8’ x 10’ x 40’ = 3,200 ft3. PMG’s newest indoor farm will measure 25’ x 75’ x 12’ = 22,500 ft3. More air volume means more canisters. More canisters mean more strain on the company’s capital. More canisters also mean more operational complexity.
I think CO2 usage in indoor farms is an interesting topic to explore, but I think the economic application of it is still far from viable in most cases.
Energy is a big topic in indoor farming right now. How much do you pay for electricity (kWh)? Is it mainly from the grid or renewables?
PMG is currently located in a residential setting where the cost per kWh is $0.095. The cost per kWh will likely decrease, depending on usage, when we move the farm into our new commercial property. 100% of our electricity is from the grid.
Below are screenshots from our Duke Energy electrical utility dashboard. We can see electricity usage has steadily increased over the past year as the farm has grown. Keep in mind, though, that these numbers are for the farm and the house. The farm is not separately metered for electricity or water.
How can people connect with you or learn more about Piedmont Microgreens?
The best way to connect with us is on Instagram. I primarily use Instagram to share the journey and challenges of running and scaling an indoor farm business. You can direct message me on Instagram with any questions or advice. You can also email me directly at email@example.com or reach out via our website – www.piedmontmicrogreens.com. You can also follow Microgreen Manager on Instagram and Facebook to learn more about a new software company between my brother and me. Microgreen Manager is a crop planning and order management software specifically built to help microgreen farmers better run the logistics of their farms.
Piedmont Microgreens –
Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/piedmontmicrogreens/
Website - https://www.piedmontmicrogreens.com/
Microgreen Manager –
Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/microgreenmanager/
Launch Page - https://microgreenmanager.com/
Facebook: Feedback & Support Page - https://www.facebook.com/groups/microgreenmanager
Featurebase: Feature Requests, Bugs, & Roadmap - https://feedback.microgreenmanager.com/
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