I created Stratagerm to teach indoor and vertical growers that there were seven different families of lettuce, and within each family, there are hundreds of varieties. When a grower selects a seed, they need to make sure they are growing a head of lettuce that their customers want to eat. For me, it seemed apparent. The seeds are important because they turn into the plants you will ultimately sell. If no one will buy your lettuce, how will you stay in business? For most people, lettuce is just lettuce.
Vegetable of the Year: Celtuce
Did you know that in December of 2018, celtuce was named the vegetable of the year? It's a type of lettuce with a thick stem and tough leaves. It's popular in China. Celtuce won't taste good on a sandwich. It won't sell well at a traditional American farmers' market. And you won't get a plate of it when you go to your favorite fancy restaurant.
Farmers trying to capitalize on the latest food trends might be interested in growing this new and very cool vegetable. The problem is that successful businesses sales stuff to make money. If no one is buying the celtuce because they don't know what to do with it or don't like the taste, it will be tough to operate a successful farm. Success requires repeat sales.
Whom are you growing for? Who is going to buy vegetables from your farm?
Farmers markets shoppers?
Famous chefs at a local white-tablecloth restaurant?
Or maybe they will be delivered in a CSA box?
In my experience, I've learned that each of these customers wants something different. They are looking for different flavors, different prices, and even different packaging. Farming, like all businesses, requires understanding who your ideal client is, what they want, and then giving it to them. Flipping through a seed catalog might be fun. I think it's exciting to see all the new options. But not every seed will grow well on every farm or meet the demands of every customer. Understanding what your customers will by and how much they will pay before you pick seeds is so important.
People love buying from indoor and vertical farmers because they can get year-round local produce that is high quality and pesticide-free. For most people, all of these features are less important than getting lettuce that fits their needs- gives an extra crunch on a salad, looks beautiful in a mixed greens salad, or holds up well in a winter soup.