How this teacher-cum-urban farmer built a successful microgreens business in Gujarat

Aditi Mali set up Mali Greens in 2021 to familiarize her students with farming. Now one of the biggest producers of organic microgreens in Gujarat, the venture is growing at 150% annually and supplies to top hotels, wholesalers and retail subscribers

Aruna Raghuram
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Aditi Mali at her indoor microgreens farm

Aditi Mali at her indoor microgreens farm

When Aditi Mali was teaching urban agriculture at Ahmedabad colleges, she wanted her students to connect with what they were learning. So she thought of familiarizing them with the cultivation of microgreens -- vegetables and herbs harvested at the seedling stage when only their seed leaves have developed. 

“I am from a Rajasthani business family with marketing in my genes (with a smile). In 2021, I thought of setting up a venture to cultivate microgreens myself to gain practical experience while also teaching my students about them. And so, Mali Greens was born,” says the 31-year-old urban farmer.  

Fresh, crunchy and flavourful, microgreens do not require the addition of any taste-enhancing ingredients. Packed with nutrients, they are a superfood and that’s why their farming is gaining popularity in the country. 

The global microgreens market stood at 1.8 billion dollars in 2022. It is estimated to reach 2.6 billion dollars by 2031 at a CAGR of 11.1 percent, according to Straits Research.

In a short span of three years, Mali Greens has captured the Ahmedabad market and also supplies to other cities in Gujarat. Aditi says it is Gujarat’s largest producer of organic microgreens, growing sales at an impressive 150 percent annually.

After a bachelor’s degree in urban planning from CEPT University in Ahmedabad, Aditi picked up an MSc degree in sustainable agriculture and food security from the UK. She was awarded the Young Development Agriculturist 2021 award from a UK-based association for her work with Mali Greens.  

boxes of microgreens
Boxes of microgreens. Pic: Mali Greens

“Being an academic has its advantages. I am trusted by customers. On the flip side, being an entrepreneur gives me experience that enhances my teaching,” says Aditi. Her husband is a software programmer. He is her sounding board, she says. And, he helps the Mali Greens team in various ways, including visits to the farmer’s markets.

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Pandemic baby 

Mali Greens was born in the middle of the pandemic, in March 2021. Aditi started growing microgreens in her guest room. “Initially, we spent a lot of time building awareness about microgreens. People had probably eaten them in restaurants but may not have known that they were eating microgreens. To learn the specific growing techniques, I watched YouTube videos. They showed the practices being followed in other countries and I adapted them to Indian conditions,” says Aditi. 

Today, she has several indoor farms. 

Mali Greens grows and sells around 15 varieties of microgreens. It supplies its products to 60 cafes and restaurants and almost all the five-star hotels in Ahmedabad. 

“We also supply live trays to five-star hotels that are kept in buffets. Before we started, restaurants in Ahmedabad were not sure of reliable sources for microgreens and edible flowers,” says Aditi. 

live trays of microgreens
Aditi Mali with live trays of microgreens at a five-star hotel (left) and sweet peas microgreens. Pic: Mali Greens

Mali Greens has more than 1000 B2C clients. It offers one and three-month subscriptions. “Our 60-gm box of mixed microgreens, our most popular product, costs Rs 180. We give a discount for subscribers. For instance, for a one-month subscriber, it would cost Rs 125 per box. A three-month subscriber would get 12 boxes (weekly once delivery) for Rs 125 per box. People can pause subscriptions anytime. They get free doorstep delivery of freshly harvested products straight from a farm. We close only for Uttarayan and Diwali. We have two people who deliver on bikes,” she relates.  

Apart from regular subscribers and selling to wholesalers, its products are sent to hotels in Surat, Bhavnagar, Vadodara, Rajkot and Udaipur.  

The staff size of Mali Greens is around 15, with 80 percent being women. The venture hires domestic helpers and trains them. This way, it aims to upskill them and change their lives. 

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Organic practices 

Mali Greens’ indoor farms have artificial lighting and are temperature-controlled. The microgreens are grown in shallow trays on multi-level shelves. Cocopeat (a natural fibre made out of coconut husk) is the primary growing medium. The trays have to be watered two to three times a day.  

“Our cultivation is entirely organic. We do not use any chemicals – either fertilizer or pesticides. We use yellow sticky notes to trap pests like fruit flies,” says Aditi.

“We only use open-pollinated seeds and non-GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) seeds,” the woman entrepreneur adds. 

The most popular microgreen grown is radish, including purple, pink and rose varieties, she says. People like it for its sharp taste. It is also very nutritious. Some of the other favourites are bok choy, sweet peas, red and green amaranthus, beetroot, sunflower and mustard. 

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The plants have to be closely monitored to harvest at the right time. The venture faces loss in produce as at times they harvest on demand. When the plant grows more than required, it is fed to animals.

farmers market
Aditi Mali at a farmers' market. Pic: Mali Greens

Offline business

The business of Mali Greens is mostly offline. Subscribers order on WhatsApp. “Word-of-mouth publicity is a major way our business has grown. A subscriber’s friends and neighbours taste our products, like them and start ordering themselves. We also sell exotic vegetables but they are sourced from urban farms we have partnered with. We supply the farms with microgreens while they give us exotic vegetables. This way, we support local farms,” explains Aditi. 

Mali Greens participates in farmer’s markets. It also takes part in the Sattvik food festival held annually in Ahmedabad where the team can connect with around 30,000 people. Clients have doubled every time the venture participates in Sattvik. 

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There are few players in this field because apart from the expertise required it is very labour-intensive. “Very few vendors have gone B2C as you need lots of time and energy to interact with customers. I handle my customers to ensure error-free seamless service,” the urban farmer says.  

Concentrated nutrition

“Since I was growing something so niche, I wondered whether the market would accept it. But people are becoming health conscious these days. I have received a very good response from Ahmedabad. My B2C clientele is in the 40-plus age group. They are mature and health conscious,” she relates.

chef and buyer
Bhavna Shah (left) and Chef Revant Bhavsar (right). 

“Microgreens are the first few leaves that emerge from a seed after germination. We have to harvest early before more leaves emerge," she explains. 

"Microgreens taste just like the vegetable the seed belongs to. You get the same quantity of nutrients from 30 gms of microgreens as you get from half a kg of vegetable. This is because you get concentrated nutrition from the seed. A microgreen is the second stage of a sprout.” 

As for the health benefits, microgreens are rich in vitamins A, B and K, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, zinc and magnesium. They significantly increase the nutritional value of food. Aditi says microgreens must be stored in an air-tight container in the vegetable compartment of the fridge. This way, they last for ten days. 

How to use microgreens 

Microgreens can be eaten as a salad or mixed into salads, layered in sandwiches, put inside wraps, and used to garnish drinks and foods like dals and sabzis. They can be used to season soups, added to stir-fried vegetables and juiced, says Aditi. 

“I want people to eat microgreens for health as well as culinary benefits. They add to the taste and flavour of food. We send recipes to customers so that they can use microgreens in different ways,” she adds.

Chef Revant Bhavsar who works for The Gourmet Lab in Ahmedabad says microgreens have been popular in the city for four to five years. “We have been buying products of Mali Greens for nearly two years. We buy mixed boxes of microgreens, lettuce and rocket leaves, rosemary, thyme and oregano from Mali Greens. We use microgreens in salads – they bring in different flavours. For instance, mustard brings a touch of spice. We use them in pasta too. Mali Green products are clean, fresh and colourful. The venture does emergency deliveries too,” he says. 

trays indoor
Trays of microgreens at an indoor farm. Pic: Mali Greens

Customised workshops and consultancy  

Mali Greens provides consultancy to urban farmers. Bhavna Shah has a kitchen garden in Ahmedabad where she grows several vegetables. “I took a one-on-one two-hour workshop with Aditi to learn how to cultivate microgreens four months ago. She is a fantastic teacher who shared all the techniques in detail,” says Bhavna. 

“I now grow a few varieties of microgreens that I like regularly. I grow mustard, fennel, radish, beetroot and sunflower. I have basic knowledge of gardening but growing microgreens involves certain special techniques. For instance, how to grow which seed. The growing medium is primarily cocopeat with some sand and compost added. You have to move the trays from the light to dark areas. Also, sometimes microgreens are watered indirectly. When watering is direct, you have to be careful about the quantity of water. Aditi gives a kit with all necessary materials,” she adds.    

Mali Greens aspires to expand to other nearby towns and cities in both B2B and B2C modes. “We have always believed in slow, steady and consistent growth. We want to continue that way. We don’t want to compromise on quality. People have developed trust in our company and the quality of our products. Mali Greens is standing today on that trust,” says Aditi.

(Aruna Raghuram is a freelance journalist based in Ahmedabad. She writes on women’s issues, environment, DEI issues, and social/development enterprises.)

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