Agropol runs a microgreens and fines herbs urban farm in Sherbrooke, Québec. They provide high end restaurants and consumers with the freshest green products, grown in a garage, near downtown Sherbrooke.
You have a degree in communication and marketing and your partner a degree in biology. How did you get interested in Indoor Agriculture?
During my years in university in Montreal, I had a lot of interest in entrepreneurship, and a few ideas that could become potential businesses. I tried a few projects with different friends but things didn’t work out how they should have, or could have. When I moved back to Sherbrooke, where Agropol is now installed, I got to discover more about agriculture, and indoor agriculture, through my partner Marc-Antoine, who was already growing vegetables and different plants at his home, in the field, and in his room. I got interested in agriculture because he showed passion about it, and I got inspired to do something about it, with him. We had common interests, compatible personalities, and the will to try and build a business out of thin air.
What led you to partner with your co-founder, Marc Antoine?
I’d been working in a sausage and meat shop in Sherbrooke during my studies in Montréal, and Marc-Antoine got hired there 3 years after me. That’s where we met. We knew each other for about 2 years before I moved back full time in Sherbrooke. I was looking for a place to stay, and there was a room to rent in the farmhouse he was living in. I decided to move in with him, in December 2015, and we started to get serious right away about starting a business together. He was already growing microgreens and selling them to a few restaurants but we decided to take it to another level. That’s when we found the name, made the logo and laid the basis of what would become a flourishing company in indoor agriculture.
What is the basic business model?
For the first year, we primarily targeted 2 types of clients: restaurants and farmers markets. We already knew personally a few chefs of high-end restaurants in Sherbrooke, and we were able to start making business with them. We gradually established ourselves in the market, and we now count 15 restaurants to which we deliver on a weekly basis.
We also sold a lot of products during 3 weekly farmers markets in and near Sherbrooke. We had the same products that we offer to restaurants, but we sold them directly to the customers, who greatly appreciated the freshness of our products, the variety, and the fact that it was grown indoors, in the city.
Our model is based on selling life (uncut) micro greens and microfine herbs, grown with high standards of quality, and that’s what differentiates us from the competition. We also try really hard to be a zero-waste business. We wash and reuse every container we grow in, and use compostable containers to sell our new harvested products in 2 independent markets in Sherbrooke.
What type of help did you get to develop your business?
We got help from 2 local organizations, who help with regional economic growth. They helped us with our business plan, and getting through the paperwork necessary to establish a legitimate business in Canada. We had meetings with them every other week to ensure we were taking the right direction. They also helped us building a case to get grants to help us build our business. Their help was vital to get through our first year of operation. We wouldn’t have been able to settle Agropoli in a commercial warehouse with the proper equipment without their support. We still get to meet them when we have questions, or when we need advice from an external point of view.
Have you participated in an incubator or accelerator program?
No, we didn’t. We could’ve, but we were really busy all summer and the business was growing by itself. We intend to participate in this type of program during 2019 because we have a lot of ideas to help Agropol grow, and we will need more help to make that happen.
Was getting business in some local independent markets a turning point for you?
It wasn’t a turning point regarding the number of sales, because these 2 markets are neighborhood markets, and don’t draw a lot of customers. However, it was a turning point in our minds, because we realized that we had a legitimate product that could be sold directly to customers, with a brand that can attract the eye in a store It made us realize the fact that we were making the right moves to establish ourselves in the market, and gave us a lot of new ideas to continue this adventure.
What are your expansion plans and will it change your business model?
In addition to growing and selling microgreens, we sell gourmet mushrooms grown at a friend’s company. He has a similar background to ours, similar ambition, and is truly gifted at growing mushrooms, which are one of the most difficult crops to grow in agriculture. We got to know him through the business, but we became good friends, and we are looking forward to becoming associates. With that being said, our primary expansion plan for this year is to merge his business in Agropol. With this fusion, Agropol would be the first business in the province of Quebec to grow microgreens, fines herbs, and mushrooms.
This fusion will not change our business model. We will only add his delicious gourmet mushrooms to our products and will continue to deliver in restaurants, and farmers markets.
We also want to create and commercialize, a ready-to-eat salad entirely made of micro greens, with dressing and dried fruits, that we could sell at events, supermarkets, schools, etc.
Why do you think indoor agriculture is important for the future?
We think indoor agriculture is important for 3 main reasons :
– Conservation of water. Indoor agriculture can use a lot less water than traditional agriculture by using automated water systems and better water retention efficiency. The water can also be reused in indoor agriculture, which isn’t true in traditional agriculture where the water is absorbed by the soil, with all of its chemical compounds boosting crops growth.
– Use of abandoned spaces. An indoor agriculture operation can establish itself in various types of spaces, and using abandoned buildings, which don’t serve any purpose, can help cities slowly achieve food sovereignty. It can allow cities to diminish their dependency on imported fruits and vegetables by growing them inside the city.
– Quality of food. Crops grown indoors are less vulnerable to diseases, weather, and bugs, which can greatly increase the quality of the crops. We live in a world where consumers want to know how and where their food comes from, and indoor agriculture can ensure them that the food has been grown in a controlled, quality environment, close to them.
About the author: Mina Remesy is currently a student at Sciences Po Saint Germain en Laye and is an intern for The VINE.