Tasty venture sets ‘Google Farmers’ on agri-business growth path

Two young Midlands farmers who identified a gap in the agricultural industry and in retail, have hit upon an agri-business opportunity that 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 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, their operation 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. First Light employs eight staff members and is the preferred supplier for well-known brands such as Mugg & Bean and some Spars.

Produce taken seriously

“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.

First Light Farms’ Andrew Stiebel and Byron Piccione say they are constantly looking for innovative ways to grow greens by focusing on ideal growing conditions, with ideal growing mediums and they alter techniques to ensure every variety is happy within the elements it’s growing in.

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 minimising costs – the pair happily refer to themselves as “Google-farmers”.

In keeping with their generation, Stiebel and Piccione have turned to social media to drive their brand, connecting with potential customers and to better understand the needs of potential, future clients.

Social media

“Social media is a 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 has grown exponentially year-on-year and gone from producing about 10kg a week in 2017, to 50kg a week in 2018. They now supply consumers with about 70-90kg, excluding edible flowers and live trays, a week.

Young farmer winner sows seeds for a bumper crop

“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 the reasons why they have done so well?

“We scrutinise 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. We do all of this to make sure our customers are 100% satisfied with every delivery.”

“It is inspiring to see the entrepreneurial spirit of these two young men. Through trial and error, they have found a way to succeed,” said CEO of Kwanalu, Sandy La Marque.