Oh My Greens built on lots of OMG moments
Local man uses COVID stimulus check to start his own business ... and. then hires his parents who lost theirs during the pandemic.
Usually, a story has one or two OMG moments. A few unlikely twists and turns that draw you in. Sometimes, a story has all of them.
Quite appropriate for a tale about the unlikely creation and rocket success of a new Charleston-based indoor urban farm called Oh My Greens.
As a child growing up in Indiana, Matt Hammack remembers growing things himself – cultivating and maintaining a garden, seeing plants spring to life – but that passion really didn’t take root until he moved to West Virginia a few years back.
“That’s when plants and the process of growing became therapeutic to me,” said Hammack, who just turned 27 last week. “I fell in love with plants then and started getting into urban farming.”
A series of jobs in the sales and restaurant industries, however, always kept that activity from becoming anything more than a hobby. Just something to pass the time or help soothe the sting of a stressful day.
Then the pandemic hit, and there’s nothing like the world turning upside down to make a person re-evaluate their life.
“I think what triggered a change in me was COVID,” Hammack explained. “I started spending more time focusing on what made me happy, what made me feel better. I started eating healthier, consuming more organic and whole foods, working out.”
Then one day he started reading up on “superfoods” and was blown away by how much nutrition you could get from these tiny amounts of food. He started growing a few himself and noticed a drastic improvement in how he felt.
“I was all in from that moment on,” he said, with a laugh. “I started researching the indoor farming industry and learning how important it is becoming. Never having to worry about weather, pests, water pollution? That was the ‘a-ha’ moment for me.”
As luck would have it, that same week he received a COVID stimulus check from Uncle Sam. Instead of blowing it on a big-screen TV like so many others his age, he used that $1,400 to start his own business.
From the ground up. In his living room.
“I bought a book on how to grow microgreens and read the whole thing in one night,” he said. “I bought all the equipment I needed and applied for my business license the next day.”
That spur-of-the-moment business grew so much, so quickly, that Hammack was soon able to hire his parents – who lost their own company during the shutdown – to work for him full-time.
“At 27 years old, I’m now able to support the people who have been there for me my whole life,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief. “That’s pretty amazing.”
While he tends to the planting and growing, dad Mark runs the company’s website and marketing efforts, mom Mary Anne helps with sales at a weekend booth at Capitol Market, and both parents team up on harvesting and deliveries.
“We are very proud of Matt and to be able to work together as a family,” Mark Hammack said.
Added Mary Anne: “Matt’s loved vegetables since he could chew food. Out of 5 kids, he’s the one who would eat his veggies first, so it’s no surprise he’s so passionate about being healthy and wanting the same for others. You bet I'm a proud Momma!”
To bring the family angle full circle, any greens that don’t sell are donated to the YWCA’s Resolve Family Abuse Program Safe House, where his sister works.
So it’s a true family business, but no longer a small one.
Oh My Greens has expanded to offer a subscription service with local delivery, now sells its greens to adorn dishes at local restaurants AND just opened two farms in Indiana to support new franchises there.
All of this sprouting from a few seeds planted just over a year ago.
You can’t make this stuff up.
• • •
Born and headquartered in Charleston, Oh My Greens is an indoor urban farm that specializes in growing a variety of unique microgreens, including sweet pea, sunflower, radish, broccoli and a spicy salad mix that includes kohlrabi, arugula, red cabbage, southern mustard, kale and broccoli.
Usually harvested between 1-3 inches tall, these small greens pack such a nutritious punch that they’re considered one of the most nutrient-dense superfoods on Earth.
Varying in color, taste and texture, they boast more concentrated levels of vitamins, mineral and antioxidants than their mature counterparts.
For example, broccoli microgreens have about 40 times the amount of nutrients as that adult head of broccoli you see at the store. Better yet, once harvested they can immediately be eaten raw, juiced, blended or added to hot and cold entrees, salads, soups and more.
Oh My Greens are grown using only organic non-GMO seeds, “with no pesticides ever,” and everything comes in sustainable and recyclable packaging.
“Not only are they delicious, but the nutritional value is just insane,” Hammack said. “We pride ourselves on growing some of the highest quality, most nutrient-dense superfoods on earth. Our microgreens are grown using a 100% organic growing method – and a whole lot of love.”
Although he started out planting just a few seeds of broccoli greens, he now has trays and trays of several varieties stacked in a living room he gutted to create a controlled growing environment.
“I installed new floors, white-filmed the walls, put in dedicated air-conditioning, a dehumidifier and a water source – all able to be monitored from my phone,” he explained. “I built vertical racks, installed LED lights, oscillating fans, racks of trays to grow in.”
Based on the quick yields he can now produce on a weekly basis, he’s gone from giving away free samples to selling his greens to customers and restaurants around town.
His early success came after starting a pop-up booth at Capitol Market on Sundays back in April, which has now expanded to Saturdays as well thanks to a growing customer base.
“People are able to walk up and see the trays of live greens growing there and ask questions,” he said. “Then I snip off a sample for them to taste and they’re hooked.”
Word quickly spread, creating enough demand to launch a new subscription service where greens are planted when ordered and delivered the same day they are harvested. His delivery area currently stretches from Charleston to Teays Valley, with a Huntington route on the way.
“I’m using the same software as Door Dash, which calculates the most efficient delivery routes we can follow based on the location of everyone who places an order each week.”
He said that approach was more expensive, but definitely worth the cost to do it right.
“By making healthy food convenient, with free delivery and same-day harvesting, we really can offer fast food that’s good for you. Every American should have access to healthy food, I truly believe that. Indoor farming is the wave of the future. It’s what can make that happen.”
You can also now buy Oh My Greens at Drug Emporium’s local Healthy Life Markets and The Wheelhouse in South Hills, or enjoy them in dishes (and drinks!) at 1010 Bridge and Bridge Road Bistro, both in South Hills.
“And that’s just the start,” Hammack quickly added, with a determination he couldn’t hide.
• • •
With a business that grew so quickly, when did Hammack know he had something special on his hands?
“I knew I was trying to do something big, but I didn’t know I had actually accomplished that until I had people start offering lots of money to get in on it.”
That came in the form of investors who got wind of his quick success, then flew him down to Florida last month to be wined and dined in an attempt to buy into his business.
As tempting as that was, Hammack ultimately turned them down, but was grateful for the insight they shared on how to build his enterprise into a national brand.
“I just would’ve had to give up too much,” he said. “Oh My Greens is my baby and I really wanted to stay in charge of its future. The way I looked at it, I was investing in me.”
And he wants that investment to stay firmly planted here.
“I think it’s so cool that something this big – something that is going to be this big – got started right here in West Virginia. In my living room,” he laughed. “Charleston will always be our headquarters and we may eventually add a facility here that would create jobs, be a point of pride.”
Although the business has grown much quicker than anticipated – creating challenges while he still holds down a full-time job selling boats at Trojan Landing – Hammack said he’s excited for what the future holds.
He’ll transition to part-time at Trojan soon, then phase out of that job completely to manage the expansion of Oh My Greens full time, probably sometime this fall.
“I have such a big vision for this and am excited to tell my story,” he added. “This 27-year-old from West Virginia is about to disrupt the national microgreens scene. I really believe I can do that.”
Hammack travels to Indiana next week to oversee the startup of two new Oh My Greens farms that will supply new markets there, then plans to add farms in other major metropolitan areas in a phased approach after that.
“This time next year, maybe even in six months, I expect Oh My Greens to be a household name in several cities across the country.”
• • •
With a story full of so many a-ha moments, what are Hammack’s favorite parts?
There are two.
First, because of the dense nutrients microgreens provide, several local doctors and dieticians were among some of his earliest customers and fans.
“Now, they’re sending their patients to me,” he said. “I have customers who suffered health issues who are now passionate about being healthier and concerned about what they put in their bodies. I’m actually helping changing lives, which is incredible.”
He said he’s seen a change in his parents as well.
Hammack said his dad used to struggle a bit moving around and would easily run out of energy, but now he’s eating healthier – microgreens included – and definitely has a spring back in his step. Father and son now often go to the gym together before work some mornings.
“As Matt’s personal journey into health progressed, he convinced me to look at some of the material he was researching,” his father recalled. “I decided to try a plant-based diet. Joint inflammation went away within days. I feel better, sleep better and wake up better. He’s a smart young man and he must want me to stick around a while.”
Which leads to his second point of pride.
“What I’m really thankful for most is that I could support my parents at a time when they needed the help. I used to work for them and now they’re working with me.”
He gets to take care of them. Keep learning from them. Spend more time with them.
“I’ll be helping them retire sooner and will never have to see them struggle again,” he said. “You can’t put a price on that.”
• • •
Steven Keith is a food writer and restaurant critic known as “The Food Guy” who writes a weekly column for the Charleston Gazette-Mail and has appeared in several state, regional and national culinary publications. Follow him online at www.wvfoodguy.com or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. He can be reached at 304-380-6096 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.