Two young farmers who identified a gap, both in the agricultural industry and in the retail sector, have hit upon a unique agri-business opportunity that, in just under three years, has positioned them as a leading supplier of micro-greens and edible flowers in the province.
First Light Farms in Eston, is the brainchild of life-long friends Andrew Stiebel (26) and Byron Piccione (26) who identified the growing consumer demand for micro-greens and edible flowers thanks to the powerful health properties found in these plants.
Started in early 2017, with just the two friends working out of Stiebel’s parents garage in Eston, First Light Farms now consists of 375m2 of micro-greens and 300m2 of edible flowers being produced in three large tunnels, a pack shed and a germination room, employing eight staff members and are the preferred suppliers for well-known brands such as Mugg & Bean and some Spars.
“We’ve had an interesting and exciting approach into the microgreen industry; KZN had not taken this type of produce seriously which means we were able to open up the use of these greens in homes and restaurant kitchens across the province,” says Stiebel.
“Identifying which produce to grow has been through trial and error and market research and by identifying potential customers and introducing them to our produce with sampling. We started with a large variety of micro-greens including rocket, red amaranth, yellow mustard, purple kohlrabi, broccoli, beet, radish, basil, green pea, sunflower, dianthus flower mix and viola flower mix. Today our colourful mix of our most common greens is our biggest seller, followed by edible flowers and pea shoots,” he said.
Without fellow industry leaders to learn from, trial and error and internet research have been their classroom for research into sustainable growing techniques for maximising production and minimizing costs ~ the pair happily refer to themselves as “Google-farmers”.
In keeping with their generation, Stiebel and Piccione have turned to social media for driving their brand, connecting with potential customers and understanding the needs of potential, future clients.
“Social media is powerful source of information, there is an abundance of information people are sharing from which, as a brand that is growing you can tap into. In fact, we learnt how to start our business from YouTube which has gradually developed into more in-depth research as we have grown,” said Stiebel.
First Light Farms have grown exponentially year on year and have gone from producing approximately 10kgs a week in 2017, to 50kgs a week in 2018 and are now producing and supplying consumers with around 70-90kgs, excluding edible flowers and live trays, a week.
“To strive towards our vision of being the biggest micro-greens and edible flowers producer in SA, we focus on providing the best quality produce at all times. To achieve this we are hands on in every stage of our growing processes and are constantly looking for innovative ways to grow our greens by focusing on ideal growing conditions, with ideal growing mediums and are constantly altering our techniques to ensure every variety is happy within the elements its growing in,” explains Piccione.
And possibly the reason behind the incredible success of First Light Farms, Piccione explains,
“We scrutinize every step of the production including the mediums we use, seed quality, germination processes, growing patterns, harvesting techniques and even the packaging, which is constantly tried and tested with the intention of achieving only the quality, longevity, and ease of use, as well as being gentle on the environment. We do all of this to make sure our customers are 100% satisfied with every single delivery.”
“It is truly inspiring to see the entrepreneurial spirit of these two young men. Through trial and error, they have found a way to succeed. What also makes this venture inspirational for all of us is that with the many challenges in the agricultural sector they have not been distracted but have continued to find innovative ways to take their agricultural business forward,” said CEO of Kwanalu, Sandy La Marque.