Author’s Blurb: Growing up, my parents never had any trouble with getting me to eat my veggies, so you’re welcome, mum and dad. In general, I’d say I like most vegetables, but there are a specific few that I dislike, especially those that are more bitter (I don’t know their names, but I know to avoid them by looks).
Growing vegetables in urban farms using all kinds of techniques isn’t a concept that’s totally new anymore, but coming across Tiny Greens was the first time I’d seen a microgreens urban farm.
Microgreens are basically like the babies of regular sized veggies, and are grown from a concentrated amount of seeds in one pot and harvested while they’re still very young.
“We were inspired to grow microgreens because it was quite a popular form of produce in the west. While in Malaysia, it isn’t so popular yet,” co-founder Justin Lee told Vulcan Post.
“It’s a new produce that we would like to introduce to Malaysian consumers while further diversifying the Malaysian menu and adding greater availability of flavours for our food.”
Justin and his co-founders also liked the idea of producing food in the city because they believed it would take less time to deliver fresh produce to their customers in KL.
“It is also a means of reducing carbon footprint and eliminating conventional logistics for other vegetables that come in from other states or countries,” he shared.
Finding The Sunlight
They started Tiny Greens to supply to restaurants, but during the MCO when many of their restaurant clients had to close or operate with restrictions, their orders had gone on hold.
With plenty of their microgreens still growing in their farm, they pivoted to serving end users on lockdown at home.
“We used social media to promote our microgreens sets such as our 6 in 1 Variety Mix and Garden Mix to see if we could attract their interest. We also sold our fermented kefir drinks,” Justin said.
“It turned out to be very popular and our farm was operating at full capacity solely for our end user customers.”
Now that restaurants have begun reopening, he shared that they’re back to their B2B operations too.
Microgreens are known for their versatility—you can take them as a garnish, a micro salad, or completely incorporate them into your everyday cooking.
Restaurants generally like their finer microgreens like Red Amaranths and beetroots, which look beautiful on dishes and add a level of complexity in both flavour and texture.
“We’ve also had chefs bring our microgreens to complete their dishes in culinary competitions, such as the recent Food and Hotel Malaysia (FHM) event in 2019,” Justin proudly shared.
Meanwhile, their popcorn microgreens are a hit amongst the kids thanks to its natural sweetness and vibrant colour.
“We were out for deliveries at one of our clients’ house and her daughter wouldn’t stop asking us to harvest more for her,” Justin recalled.
“We also have customers who enjoy the white daikon because of their spicy flavours. We had Japanese customers pairing it with cold tofu and received many compliments about them.”
Small In Size, Big In Value
Upon seeing that the cost for a tray of 6 microgreens varieties was RM50, my first thought was that it’s a little pricey.
After all, they’re not the same size as your regular vegetables either. To challenge this logic, Justin stepped in with some explanations.
Not only are the seeds expensive, but the amount of them that go into one pot means that Tiny Greens invests quite a bit into purchasing seeds.
He also added, “Although microgreens are harvested in a much shorter time, some of sprouting plants species can be quite vulnerable and require more care.”
This means they don’t use chemical fertilisers, enhancers, or pesticides, and they’re all grown in a controlled and clean environment to maintain quality.
Microgreens are also considered a superfood, and research by University of Maryland Agriculture & Natural Resources Department and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 2012 stated that they contain x4-x40 more nourishment than their mature counterparts.
Finally, Justin equated microgreens to herbs in some way. “Herbs cost a bit more despite their small volume during their use, but people understand the need of herbs in certain recipes.”
“Although microgreens may serve a different purpose than herbs, they are both specialty plants with attractive appearances, concentrated flavours and unique tastes, giving them their value,” he said.
Teaching People To Eat Their Veggies
Tiny Greens tries to be as sustainable as possible, and though they started out using plastic pots to hold their soil base mix, they’ve now settled on using aluminium.
“It is not perfect, but it leaves a lower environmental impact than plastic and it is 100% recyclable,” Justin said.
Restaurants that get their weekly supply from Tiny Greens still use plastic containers, but they’re encouraged to wash and return them so their next order can reuse the containers.
Paper bags are used for deliveries, and even their soil mix is compostable, therefore contributing to the zero-waste agenda.
Justin added that they’re already looking into fully biodegradable packaging for their microgreens, and are open to collaborating with relevant entrepreneurs for this.
Other than that, they’re also focusing heavily on teaching people how to eat their microgreens. “People need to be better informed in order to gain confidence to buy our product,” he stated.
So, what they’ve done so far is created a few guides like hand-drawn diagrams on how to care for microgreens, and produced a recipe video showing customers how to incorporate them into meals.
“We plan to produce more of these informational packs, from videos to diagrams so that people can better understand our product.”
“With greater sales and demand, we hope to expand and hopefully introduce our product to other states and cities in Malaysia,” Justin shared.
Bottom Line: I actually have the tools and seeds to grow my own microgreens at home, but I just haven’t gotten to doing it yet. After writing this, I now feel an obligation to actually give my seeds a chance to grow into microgreens and provide me with nutrients.
- You can read more about other Malaysian startups here.
Featured Image Credit: Tiny Greens