Tampere
21 May, Tuesday
18° C

The library of essays of Proakatemia

Starting as a primary producer



Kirjoittanut: Felix Schwarz-Pajunen - tiimistä Crevio.

Esseen tyyppi: Akateeminen essee / 3 esseepistettä.
Esseen arvioitu lukuaika on 9 minuuttia.

This essay is a result of preparing to be a primary producer in Finland. Specifically starting to produce and sell Microgreens in Tampere. The essay gives an overview of how Microgreens are grown, and the focus will be on regulations, labeling requirements, and the technical aspects of a quality and safe operation. What are the things one needs to do and know before growing and especially selling microgreens or other foods?

 

Operation:

“Microgreens are tender immature greens harvested within 10–20 days from seedling emergence and about 5 cm in height, when cotyledons are fully expanded, and the first pair of true leaves are more or less developed.” (Lenzi, Orlandini, Bulgari, Ferrante, Bruschi 2019) Microgreens are grown from a big variety of edible vegetables and herbs, some common ones are reddish, sunflower, peas, and broccoli.

A microgreen growing operation can be a simple setup. Often, growers use a separate space in their house or farm to start, and move to bigger facilities like greenhouses or production halls as the need for space grows.

When not using hydroponics, the greens are grown in trays filled with soil or other growing substrate like coco coir. Those trays are placed onto wire shelfs under growing lights. This makes it a vertical growing practice which is very space efficient. Temperature, light exposure, moisture, and airflow should be monitored carefully to assure ideal growing conditions for the small plants.

 The process of growing can be divided into a few steps:

  1. Soaking seeds: this depends on the variety and is not always necessary.
  2. Filling trays: first with growing medium onto which one sows the seed.
  3. Stacking the trays on top of each other for one to three days to promote germination.
  4. Unstacking the trays and placing them under lights for several days.
  5. Harvesting and Packaging
  6. Sales and delivery

 

Environment in the grow space:

Microgreens are mostly grown indoors. This gives the grower the possibility to create the perfect growing conditions for the crop. When doing that, it is also important to consider the building one operates in to ensure conditions that do not compromise the buildings longevity.

The main aspects one can control are: light, growing medium, watering, temperature, humidity, and airflow. Unfavorable conditions will cause mold growth and sickness to the plants, while the right conditions make the greens grow faster, stronger, and healthily. Overall, Microgreens are very willing to grow and somewhat forgiving with their growing conditions.

When it comes to lights there are many things to consider: price of the light, energy usage, color temperature and technology. LED light technology uses less energy than other options (like in incandescent, fluorescent etc.) but, are often more expensive in the initial purchase. They are more energy efficient because compared to other technologies, they produce less heat, which also makes them a good choice for growing crops in a small space where the crop is close to the light source. Many microgreen growers use LED lights for those reasons. Besides the cost and availability questions, one needs to consider the plants needs. Generally, microgreens thrive best with a color temperature of 4000-6500K. Plants need a minimum of 6 hours of quality daylight for growth, but more is better. Some growers do cycles of 12 hours light exposure and 12 hours darkness, others leave the lights on 24/7. Those changes will affect the growth speed of the crop. (Bootstrap Farmer 2023)

Three other aspects need to be considered when thinking about the growing environment: temperature, humidity, and air flow. Microgreens thrive with temperatures between 18°C to 24°C and a relative humidity of 40%- 60%. (Morton, Stretch 2018) Within that frame it is good to aim for a certain value and to try to be as consistent as possible. Consistency will result in a dependable growing and harvesting schedule. Too high humidity will cause mold growth and other problems and sicknesses. It is therefore important to monitor the relative humidity with a measuring device and use a dehumidifier in case the humidity gets too high. Likely too low humidity won’t be a problem since the microgreen trays will be watered regularly. Another measure to prevent plant decease, mold and other problems is to provide good airflow in the growing space, this can be achieved using fans.

Modern indoor farms in urban areas are often located in basements, in spaces connected to shops  or in different kinds of production or storage hall- like spaces. This is possible because, conveniently, the ideal conditions for microgreens are similar to the conditions most buildings are made for. Buildings are made to facilitate the same temperature range (18°C to 24°C) and typically 40%-60% of relative humidity. Studies show that building surfaces stay free of fungi and mold if the relative humidity is kept below 75-80%. (Seppänen, Kurnitski 2009)

 

The seeds used for growing should be tested and subjected to a microbial analysis by the seed producer.  Additionally, to further reduce the risk of plant disease and potential food borne illnesses, seeds should be sanitised and planting trays regularly disinfected. Common products to use for this purpose are a food grade hydrogen peroxide solution or ozone water. They should be used according to instructions. A contact from the Kauppapuutarhaliitto confirmed that both products are commonly used for the said purpose in Finland and are available for growers at gardener suppliers like Scheteling Oy. or Helle Oy.

 

Post-harvest:

Microgreens are very delicate plants, and it is important to handle them carefully during and after harvest. Some farmers first harvest several trays into a big container and then weigh and divide the product from there into smaller packaging containers which go to the customers. Others harvest them directly into the packaging containers that go to the customers. A third group harvests, washes, and dries microgreens before placing them into containers. Less handling results in less bruises which results into a longer shelf-life; therefore, the second option (harvest straight into final container) is the best if one can make sure that there are no soil debris or seed hulls that need to be washed off in the final container.

Harvested Microgreens store best at 4°C. This makes the household fridge of a customer a good environment for storing since its recommended temperature is 4°C or below. (Food and Drug Administration 2023)   Research shows that microgreens stored at 4°C have a considerably longer shelf-life then microgreens stored at 10°C. The difference for radish microgreens is 21 days at 4°C and 14 days at 10°C. For arugula and red cabbage, it was a reduction from 14 days to 7 days respectively. Higher respiration occurs at higher temperatures which corelates to higher cellular metabolism which is responsible for quicker decay. (Berba, Uchanski 2012)

To achieve longest shelf-life, one places the ready packed greens straight into a fridge or alternatively directly into a mobile cooler box that is used to deliver the produce to the end customer. The cool chain should not be broken, and a thermometer should be placed in the fridge or mobile cooler to monitor the correct temperature.

 

Notifications & regulations

Ruokavirasto.fi is the Finnish food authority and official reference point for all things concerning food and food business. The mentioned regulations in this essay are specific to Finland. This essay, while being carefully researched, can be seen as an overview or introduction to the topic but is no reference point. All official information for own use should be found from Ruakavirsto.fi, or by contacting the local food inspector.

In the regulations there is a differentiation between primary producers and food establishments. The English version of the webpages is very well translated when it comes to instructions and regulations for food establishments / food businesses but only few sections for primary producers are available in English. Likely because there are considerably less non-finish speakers starting a farm compared to a restaurant. A microgreen grower is considered a primary producer or famer.

Primary production includes “the production, raising and cultivation of primary production products, primary production includes harvesting, grain drying, milking and other animal-related production before slaughter. It also includes hunting, fishing and gathering wild produce.In addition to these, primary production includes the storage of products at the farm and, to a large extent, the delivery of products to the next processing location. You can deliver vegetable products and honey to, for example, a packing plant, shop, service establishment, wholesaler, mill, bakery or food plant. “ (Finnish Food Authority, 2019a. ) Most further processing of the produce will be considered food establishment business and thereby require additional notifications, and more rigorous tests and own check requirements.

Primary producers must send in a notification regarding the primary production of foodstuff or the transport of products to the local environmental health control unite four weeks before starting the activity. (City of Tampere. 2021)

The category primary producer (Alkutuottaja) is further subdivision between small-scale primary production (Pienimuotoinen alkutuotannon toiminta) and conventional primary production (Tavanomainen alkutuotanto). The main divider between those two categories is the amount of produce one grows and sells. If a certain amount is reached, one ceases being a small-scale operation and must handle more regulations and file additional forms like for example a food establishment notification. (Finnish Food Authority, 2019 b.)

As a small-scale primary producer one can package and sell directly to end consumers via pre-order, door to door, market etc. and to retail which sells directly to direct consumer, this includes shops, cafés, and restaurants. As a small-scale producer on cannot sell outside of Finland.

Each product category such as leafy greens, sprouts, honey, milk, eggs, meat etc. has an own specific threshold of how much one can sell before one moves from being a small producer to a conventional primary producer and thereby is required to follow more regulations.

For leafy greens, the category which microgreens belong to, the amount is 50,000 kg per year directly to end consumers and 50,000 kg per year to retail. If one sells less than that amount one does not have to test the irrigation water used or have a written description of self-monitoring. (Ruokavirasto, 2023)

While in the health food scene sprouts and microgreens are often mentioned in the same context, it is important to notice that there is a difference between those two products. Sprouts are much more prone to contamination and health risks. Sprouts are germinated seeds, and one consumes both, the seed, and the small shoot. Microgreens are more mature plants; they are cut off from the seed and only the plant is consumed.

For sprouts the threshold for small scale primary production is 5000 kg in direct sales and 5000 kg in sales to retail. Regardless of amount sold one always must test the water and have a written description of self-monitoring. If the amount is more one must apply for a permit and test the sprouts.

As mentioned above small-scale primary producers can package and sell their own produce.

No specific regulations for a small scale primary producers packaging premises of leafy vegetables were found but in the section; suitable premises for processing and sales directly from the farm, „the baseline requirement is easy to clean, durable and non-toxic materials and structures“ (Finnish Food Authority, 2019 c.) Other standards that are mentioned in the same document under the processing sections, such as, no pets in the processing area, regular cleaning with separate cleaning tools, using food-grade containers etc.

Further processing may require filing a food establishment notification depending on the risk of the operation. For example, grating vegetables or salads for sale are risky and require a notification. This is good to know but does not apply to a normal microgreen’s operation.

 

Correct labeling:

Food that is for sale must be labeled correctly. In the document ”Tuorekasvisten merkinnät, Yksityiskohtaisia esimerkkejä eri kasvisten irtomyynti- ja pakkausmerkinnöistä” (Matlainen 2020)  which can be translated to ”Labeling of fresh vegetables, Detailed examples of bulk and packaging labeling of different vegetables” one can find the labeling requirements for different vegetables in Finland. For microgreens Figure 1 gives an overview of the requirements and an example to how it could look like.

 

Figure 1: Requirements of labels.

A label for selling microgreens can therefore look quite simply. The amount contained in the package and the best before date can be added to the label by hand after weighing and packing if one does not have an own printer for labels.

 

Conclusion:

All starting is difficult and a lot of research goes into starting a primary production or food related business. Initial uncertainty can be discouraging but if one commits to starting and researching the learning curve will be steep and satisfying. There is also a lot of help available along the way. In my experience most Finnish institutions like the food authority are very helpful to give guidance and advice. It was considerably harder to get proper advice from privately owned companies, even when they are professional service providers for producers.

 

 

Sources:

Berba, K. J. & Uchanski, M. E. 2012. Post harvest physiology of microgreens. Journal of Young Investigators Vol. 24 Issue 1. 4.

https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5443d7c7e4b06e8b47de9a55/t/59b7f1e403596e7daebfe48b/1505227238283/JYI-Volume-24-Issue-1-Berba-Kenneth-_Post-harvest-physiology-of-microgreens-2.pdf

Bootstrap Farmers Webpage, Read on 21.07.2023. https://www.bootstrapfarmer.com/blogs/microgreens/what-lights-do-i-need-to-grow-microgreens#:~:text=The%20best%20color%20temperature%20for,that%20results%20in%20fast%20grwoth.%20

City of Tampere. 2021. ILMOITUS elintarvikelain (297/2021) 8 § mukaisesta elintarvikkeiden alkutuotannosta tai alkutuotannon tuotteiden kuljetuksesta. Read 20.07.2023.

https://www.tampere.fi/sites/default/files/2022-08/ilmoitus_alkutuotantotoiminnasta.pdf

Food and Drug Administration. 2023. Are you storing food safely? Read on 23.07.2023.

https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/are-you-storing-food-safely

Finnish Food Authority, Advisory project for small and medium-sized food businesses 2019a. Operations in Connection with Primary Production Selling of Foodstuffs and Further Processing of Vegetable Products ‒ Guide for Small and Medium-sized Businesses. Helsinki. 7.

https://www.ruokavirasto.fi/globalassets/yritykset/elintarvikeala/toiminnan-aloittaminen/pk/maatilan-tuotteiden-jalostamisen-ja-myynnin-aloittaminen/guide_operations-in-connection-with-primary-production-selling-of-foodstuffs.pdf

Finnish Food Authority, Advisory project for small and medium-sized food businesses 2019c. Operations in Connection with Primary Production Selling of Foodstuffs and Further Processing of Vegetable Products ‒ Guide for Small and Medium-sized Businesses. Helsinki. 12.

https://www.ruokavirasto.fi/globalassets/yritykset/elintarvikeala/toiminnan-aloittaminen/pk/maatilan-tuotteiden-jalostamisen-ja-myynnin-aloittaminen/guide_operations-in-connection-with-primary-production-selling-of-foodstuffs.pdf

Finnish Food Authority, Advisory project for small and medium-sized food businesses 2019b. Operations in Connection with Primary Production Selling of Foodstuffs and Further Processing of Vegetable Products ‒ Guide for Small and Medium-sized Businesses. Helsinki. 54.

https://www.ruokavirasto.fi/globalassets/yritykset/elintarvikeala/toiminnan-aloittaminen/pk/maatilan-tuotteiden-jalostamisen-ja-myynnin-aloittaminen/guide_operations-in-connection-with-primary-production-selling-of-foodstuffs.pdf

Lenzi, A. Orlandini, A. Bulgari, R. Ferrante, A. & Bruschi, P. 2019. Antioxidant and Mineral Composition of three wild leafy species: A comparison between microgreens and baby greens. Read on 20.07.2023  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6835962/

Matilainen, N. 2020. Tuorekasvisten merkinnät, Yksityiskohtaisia esimerkkejä eri kasvisten irtomyynti- ja pakkausmerkinnöistä. 61.

 https://www.ruokavirasto.fi/globalassets/tietoa-meista/asiointi/oppaat-ja-lomakkeet/yritykset/elintarvikeala/alkutuotanto/tuorekasvisten_merkinnat_6320_1_fi_.pdf

Morton, D. & Stretch, C. 2018. Commercial Microgreens: Production and Best Practices. Read on 25.07.2023.

https://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex15965/$file/268_18-1.pdf?OpenElement#:~:text=Environment%3A%20The%20optimal%20environment%20for,the%20needs%20of%20most%20plants.

Ruokavirasto. 2023. Workshop: Pienimuotoinen toiminta – mitä siltä vaaditaan? Read on 20.07.2023.

https://aineisto.ruokavirasto.fi/pienimuotoinen%20toiminta/

Seppänen, O. & Kurnitski, J. 2009. WHO Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality: Dampness & Mould. Section 3.3. Read on 23.07.2023.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK143947/

Post a Comment