Sprouting subscription service kept microgreens farmer growing during pandemic

Oliver Homberg’s urban farm had grown rapidly before the pandemic, so fast that he expanded his roster of flavor-packed microgreens to include offerings like garlicky Chinese Mahogany and red Shiso, a Japanese plant from the mint family.

Homberg began Boston Microgreens in 2018 and had cultivated a clientele from among the top chefs in the greater Boston restaurant scene. “I had finally paid myself my first paycheck and then: boom. The pandemic” says Homberg, who grows racks of flavorful, nutrient-packed microgreens in the basement of a renovated brick and beam building in South Boston. The greens often used to add color and flavor to meals, are the first leafy stems of vegetables like kale, swiss chard, and beets.

Within a few weeks of the state-imposed shutdown, all of Homberg’s clients were gone. “It was scary to see Boston restaurants losing that much money and knowing that my business model was directly linked to that. Especially not knowing how long they’d be gone or if they were coming back,” says Homberg.

“I was having conversations with a lot of other microgreens business owners and asking them, ‘What are you guys doing? We’d been trying to push residential, but we don’t know how to format it,’” Homberg says. After a discussion with Canadian microgreens company Micro Acres, Homberg decided to offer monthly subscription-based residential sales.

“People really responded to the subscriptions. People are at home a lot more and cooking, and they’re also becoming more health-conscious. We’re a local, sustainable company which I think most people appreciate,” Homberg says.

Homberg says the number of restaurants buying from Boston Microgreens has doubled since Massachusetts fully reopened, and supermarkets like Whole Foods began carrying the greens at local branches. He’s been able to hire four new staff members, most of them former co-ops.

As a new business owner with sky-high standards, Homberg originally spent sleepless nights relentlessly reworking his sales plans or figuring out how to out-maneuver his competition. The pandemic gave him a chance to reassess his priorities and grow confidence in his product a key factor for business owners.

Read the complete article at www.news.northeastern.edu.

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