When Ivan Argueta took a look at the terms of his student loans, he decided he needed a side hustle to get out from under them. The Reedley native had majored in philosophy at Fresno State University and was in the beginnings of a master’s at Fresno Pacific University when he had a reckoning with his personal finances. “I started feeling really uncomfortable with pulling out student loans, so I just stopped,” he says. “It didn’t feel right.”
He began working as a substitute teacher and wasn’t happy with the years it would take to pay down his student debt. Fortunately, the side hustle he formed, which has now become his main gig, is one that not only makes him feel right, but others, too, through high-density nutrition. As the man behind Microgreen Depot, a Sanger-based farm that grows a variety of microgreens for sale at the Visalia and Vineyard Farmers Markets as well as through home delivery, Argueta is living a philosophy of good health through nutrition.
“I don’t have a background in ag,” he says. “My education for Microgreen Depot in a sense was YouTube. I learned about microgreens and growing microgreens from Urban Farmer.” While the jump from philosopher to farmer may seem wide initially, it’s not so much, since Argueta has always been inspired by nature. Microgreens are grown indoors under grow lights with a peet-based growing medium free from manure and fertilizers. “I’m really happy that I’m doing microgreens because I have direct access to nature,” he adds.
“I love nature and food,” he says. “At first I looked into growing mushrooms, but then my brother suggested microgreens. Microgreens are so much easier to grow than mushrooms, so much simpler. They’re just so beautifully simple.”
They are also beautifully nutrient-packed, with microgreens being about 4 to 40 times more nutritionally dense than their mature versions. Argueta grows micro versions of sunflower, radish, peas, broccoli, leaks and a signature spicy mix that combines broccoli, kohlrabi, arugula, kale, cabbage and mustard, all of which are harvested from eight to 10 days old.
The microgreens are sold by the ounce and customers can mix and match to their tastes. They are cut and packed fresh at the farmers markets each Saturday or just prior to the home deliveries.
“I’m not too sure I would go back and major in that again,” Argueta says with a laughs about his philosophy major. “I was young and idealistic so I majored in philosophy.” Yet what he’s found in Microgreen Depot is a business model he can get behind. “There’s a heart behind it,” he says. “It’s not really about the microgreens themselves. It’s about the health benefits they provide to the community.”
Through farmers markets, Argueta has expanded his understanding of community and the value of living local. “I wasn’t conscious of what a good thing it is to buy local and support local,” he says. Now, he asserts, he’s committed to “support local business and local farmers and the local economy.” After all, he says, his farmers market colleagues and customers have become a second family. “You’re with them every Saturday year round,” he says.
He credits his customers to broadening his perspective of his own health journey. The 32-year-old adds, “Before, I was not eating healthy and I was definitely not health conscious. I wasn’t thinking, ‘How do I fix this.’” After interacting with his customers week after week and taking note of their health habits, he’s made changes of his own. “It’s been a really good learning experience,” he says. “It’s made me healthier, not just because I use microgreens daily, but because my customers have had such a big impact on me. They’ve inspired me to eat healthier.”
Then there’s that original goal of financial health. Thanks to Microgreen Depot, Argueta is set to be entirely debt-free by the end of 2021. On top of that, he says, “There’s definitely been a lot of joy.” And that’s a philosophy he can get behind.