Owner of Wild Greens Farm and producer of microgreens, micro herbs, and edible flowers, the lovely Ben Wild speaks to York Talks to reveal his ‘Food Story’. Read on to find out where it all began, the challenges of being the only microgreens supplier in Yorkshire, and Ben’s exciting plans for next years expansion of the business.
Microgreens are young vegetable greens that are harvested at approximately 1-3 inches tall. With a distinct aromatic flavour and phenomenal health benefits, microgreens are both a popular cooking ingredient and food garnish sought after by chefs all across the UK.
Ben, can you describe yourself in three words?
‘Ambitious, Hardworking and Family-orientated’ (we decided that this would count as one word!).
Could you tell me a little bit more about microgreens and micro herbs?
Microgreens are used as both a garnish and ingredient that are popular for their taste and superfood qualities. They hold up to 40% more beneficial nutrients than the fully- grown product as the nutrients are held in the seed of the plant. From seed to harvest, they take on average about two weeks to grow, it’s quite a quick turnaround so we are constantly busy every day.
When did you first set up Wild Greens Farm?
It was the end of last year. And we have expanded four times since!
Is it a family run business?
Yes definitely, Wild Greens Farm is run by both my wife and I.
Did you have any previous careers before starting out in the microgreens industry?
Yes, I did fourteen years in the Army before being medically discharged through being injured, so I had to come out. I then went into private security which was a natural progression from the military. After four years away, I decided it was time to come home as I had a wife and two young children. Me and my wife started looking at something on the internet that we both could do together, and we came across micro herbs and microgreens.
That’s interesting! Did you have a knowledge of farming or anything similar before starting out?
‘Nope, ha-ha It’s all learnt from YouTube!’
What made you decide to start up a microgreens business?
Well, we first began by looking at all different kinds of farming because that was ideally the lifestyle that we wanted to have. We looked at livestock first, but it would be very difficult because you need a lot of land for that kind of thing. So we started looking down the vegetable and mushrooms route. The mushrooms we are going to do next year anyway, they don’t take up much room and as we’ve only got three acres here we are going to utilize it the best we can. We came across the microgreens and we ran with that. We started off with a little polytunnel and progressed from there. ‘We lived near Nether-Poppleton before and we moved our youngest son out of his bedroom, kitted out the room with shelves and lights, and started from there really!’
Is it possible to buy the seeds in Yorkshire then?
We buy them from a local supplier down the road called ‘Breeder Seeds’. We try and source them as locally as possible, and we only buy our seeds in three-month bulk so we know that they are not going to go off. It’s a little bit more expensive because we are not buying a massive amount but it enables us to get the best produce out of it, and it works a lot better for us.
Can you remember your first order?
Yes, it was to the Grand Hotel and Spa in York. We put our name out there and emailed a few people and Craig got straight back to us from the Grand Hotel, and we are still supplying them today. We have a pretty good relationship with all our customers because it’s not a delivery driver that goes around but myself. We harvest two days a week and then I deliver two days a week. It means that I can personally speak to the chefs about the greens and if they would like anything tailor-made, and as a result, I’ve built up a good relationship with them. That’s the way I would like to keep it for now.
What type of establishments do you supply to?
We mainly supply to restaurants, wholesalers and farm shops. We have just started to get involved with the wholesale markets too and they are the biggest customers. 2019 is our year, and we are just going to try and sell as much as we can. It is mainly York and the surrounding regions we supply to. However, we have also sent our produce down to Claridges in London. If people ask for it, we will post it down, but delivery wise it tends to be York and the surrounding areas.
Have you got any new products in mind that you would like to bring out next year?
Loads! We are constantly thinking about new products to bring out. Next year we are going to build our state-of-the-art poly tunnel with geothermal heating so then we can produce edible flowers all year round which at the minute is limited seasonally. In June we are also starting to grow our mushrooms and we are building a purpose-built shed for that. We have also just started using our wastage from the greens to create herb oils for restaurants. The demand and interest has been incredible as we are the only company creating this type of product. We have got six oils at the moment, but we want to grow this, and in addition, it means we are completely self-sufficient.
Any hobbies in your spare time?
What spare time? Haha. We work about 18 hours a day, we do like to spend time as a family and take the kids out, but the majority of the time it’s just work, work, work.
Wow very busy then! What is your weekly schedule like?
So we harvest on a Monday and Thursday to deliver on a Tuesday and Friday. ‘We are the only Yorkshire based farm that produces microgreens, we can harvest and deliver the produce within hours so it is as fresh as it can be’. Because these are classed as superfoods, they go off within seven days. Historically when restaurants receive their micro herbs from other suppliers they only have 3-4 days left of their life, but with us it’s a full 7 days.
We like to hear all about fresh produce coming in from Yorkshire and supplied to York.
Yes definitely. We don’t grow our microgreens and herbs under lights 24/7 either. We let them rest for around 8 hours a day which enhances their growth, thickness of the stems, and their taste. We wanted a quality product so we had to expand, we didn’t want to have the produce sat under lights for 24 hours a day.
What motivates you to do what you do?
Security for my family. I want my boys to have a future. I want to have financial security for the future, to be able to give them something if they don’t want to go into farming. I want to give them the chance to lead the life which they want to pursue. Not many people can do that, but I hope that I can do that for them when they are old enough.
Who would you say has been your biggest role model in setting up your business?
My wife. Absolutely. She’s a star, she holds the whole operation together, and she puts up with me!
Do you think the people behind hospitality deserve more recognition for what they do?
I do. People work hard to satisfy the taste buds of customers and growing microgreens is difficult. You can go down a route and just produce burgers and what have you, which is fine, but if you are producing quality food and you spend hours and hours making that, then it should be recognized.
Where do you see yourself this time next year?
I want to have the business sorted. I have so many ideas of where I want to take it. 2019 is the year where I will put these ideas into practice and take the business to where I want it to be.
Ben Wild, 28/11/18.
York Talks would like to thank Ben for taking the time to speak to us about his business and showing us around the farm. We wish him the best of luck with all his exciting future plans!
If you would like to find out more about Ben and Wild Greens Farm, Tweet him at @wild_greens or visit his website https://www.wildgreens.co.uk.
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