Zone 9 Farms: A Central Valley Microgreen Farm
Gianni Raines, founder of Zone 9 Farms, shares how he founded a successful Central Valley microgreen farm.
Gianni Raines grew up in the heart of California’s Central Valley, surrounded by agricultural abundance and never really planned on becoming a farmer. He was not opposed to the idea either. Gianni participated in FFA throughout high school and yet was determined to pursue a career in the medical field. After almost a decade as an IV tech at one of Fresno’s most prestigious hospitals, he realized he wanted something different. Changing lanes, Gianni quit his job at the hospital and dabbled in various agricultural endeavors.
He was researching how to grow a new type of pepper one night and stumbled on a YouTube video detailing how to grow microgreens. Gianni was intrigued. The process was straightforward and the quick turnaround time was enticing. He bought some trays and seed – and after his first successful crop, he was hooked. “I thought, well, this is pretty easy,” Gianni recalls, “Let’s see where this goes. And several years later, here I am.”
Farming is a business
It is too simplistic to fast forward from Gianni’s first batch of microgreens to his current success as the founder of Zone 9 Farms. Farming isn’t just about the ability to grow a crop, yet doing so is obviously an integral part of the process. Farming is very much a business. It is about growing a crop and finding someone to buy what you’ve grown. “I wanted to start marketing and figure out how to grow this into a business,” Gianni states. He continued, “I just thought, I want to do farmer’s markets, and sell directly to people.”
Gianni did his research and was accepted into a few local Farmers Markets . None seemed the right fit for Zone 9 Farms. Sure, he fostered relationships with repeat customers, but was looking to scale up his business. Microgreens obviously aren’t on everyone’s weekly grocery list, and are more of a niche item. Gianni realized he needed to find a Farmers Market that could connect him to the right audience. “One of the things I learned is it’s critical to get in a Farmers Market that’s a good fit for you. You’ve got to go where your customer base is going,” he explains.
Location, location, location: All Farmers Markets are not the same
Fairly early on in the process, Gianni identified the Vineyard Farmers Market as his ideal market. As one of the most popular farmers’ markets in the Central Valley, there’s a lot of competition for the coveted stalls. Gianni eventually worked up the nerve to reach out to Felix Muzquiz, manager of the Vineyard Farmers Market. Felix was willing to listen yet told Gianni they already had a microgreens vendor. It did not end there as Felix was won over by Gianni’s impressive selection of microgreens, his winning personality and his passion for his job. She immediately offered Gianni a spot at the Vineyard Farmer
Gianni could immediately see a change. At other farmers’ markets, sales were inconsistent. “They cared more about fried Twinkies than fresh produce” he laughs. At the Vineyard Farmers Market, this certainly isn’t the case. Gianni smiles, “Once I got into Vineyard, those people there, they’re diehards. One hundred and eleven degrees, freezing rain, they will be there no matter what.” They (the Vineyard Farmers Market) have social media; they spotlight their farmers and pump the market up throughout the week. Now, I grow like 90 trays a week. And just, it just has blossomed into this…thing.”
Variety is the spice of life
Today, Gianni grows an ever-changing variety of microgreens. “I think variety is the spice of life, so I like to grow a lot of different varieties. I will take some out to market, and if they don’t sell well, I won’t grow them anymore. People love color. The Rambo radish is purple – they go crazy over that. Swiss chard is this iridescent red; they love that. So it’s like people gravitate towards color, even if they might not like the green. They’re gonna buy it because it’s super colorful. But the main thing, it’s like broccoli, cauliflower mixes and sunflower.”
Are microgreens sprouts?
Microgreens and sprouts are not the same. Gianni explains, “In the plant stage life, it goes: sprout, microgreen, baby leaf green, adult plant. So, the main difference between a sprout and a microgreen is the length of life they are at. A lot of the varieties I grow carry that same flavor that you would find in the adult plant, but the microgreens are more nutritionally dense.”
Why is it important to support small farmers?
Gianni encourages everyone to seek out locally grown produce and support small farmers. “I think it’s super important to support local small farmers because they work their butt off every week, day in and day out, to produce this healthy food for you. Supporting local farmers is just awesome for the local economy. Farmers grow the greens, make a profit, and reintroduce that income into the local economy. And supporting your local farmer keeps me in business and helps me out. So, thank you,” Gianni quips.
How are microgreens grown?
Most microgreens have a 12-day growing cycle. Let’s take a look at Gianni’s process!
Day 1: Dump the trays from the previous Farmers’ Markets
Day 2: Wash and sanitize the trays with antibacterial soap and a splash of Clorox
Day 3: Planting
Day 6: Remove the paver.
Day 7: Put the trays under a grow light.
Day 7-12: Microgreens continue to grow.
Day 12: Ready for market!
Delicious recipes starring microgreens:
Enjoying microgreens in delicious ways is easy! Here are a few of our favorites: