Meet the Farmer Who Pivoted in Her Fifties From a Law Firm to a Microgreens Farm - Modern Farmer

Meet the Farmer Who Pivoted in Her Fifties From a Law Firm to a Microgreens Farm

Tami Purdue waited until later in life to start her urban agriculture career. Now, she runs a thriving microgreens farm and community garden.

Tami Purdue with her microgreens.
Photography submitted.

Tami Purdue didn’t grow up on a farm or have a background in growing food. For twenty years, she worked as a legal manager for a prominent law firm in Raleigh, North Carolina, working 60-80 hours a week. “Work was my whole world,” she says. “I knew it wasn’t good for my health.” Already in her fifth decade, she was ready for a change and a new career path.

In 2014, a weekend gardening workshop taught by Will Allen of Growing Power changed everything. Her goal for the class was to learn how to improve her soil and figure out how to compost. “Why was my soil so bad that I couldn’t grow tomatoes correctly?” she wanted to know. 

Planting a tray of microgreens—nutrient-dense seedlings that are typically ready in three to seven weeks—and taking them home was also part of the curriculum. When her arugula tray successfully germinated, a seed was literally planted. She loved the quick results and cute miniature results. “I can do this,” she thought. So, she continued to grow them, eventually drafting a business plan, out of which Sweet Peas Urban Gardens was born. “I’m a microgreen farmer because of arugula,” she says. “The workshop turned out to be life-changing.”

She assumed chefs would be interested in microgreens’ nutrient density. She was (and still remains) surprised that they were more interested in the microgreens’ beautiful hues. “Do you have black microgreens?” they would ask. “What about blue?” 

Tami Purdue at the farmers market. Photography submitted.

Happy to have a local grower in Raleigh instead of flying microgreens in from California, many chefs she approached ended their contracts that day and hired her to grow them. Purdue adapted and experimented with germinating intriguing colorful varieties to chefs’ needs. Currently, Purdue grows around 55 varieties, including amaranth, red acre cabbage, red veined sorrel, pea shoots and cilantro flowers.

She began volunteering at the Well Fed Community Garden, where she learned more about gardening, local food systems and people making changes in the Raleigh food community. She also realized how much she didn’t know about agriculture terms. For example, she needed to learn the definition of specialty crops. “I thought it meant interesting stuff like ginger and turmeric and that microgreens were in it,” she says. What she found opened her eyes to how the system incentivizes commodity crops, which are more often grown to feed livestock, rather than to feed people. “The only [crops] that aren’t specialty are the commodity crops, which are sugar and wheat and corn and soy,” she says. “They are the ones that get the funding. It’s a screwed-up mess.”

A year after starting her microgreens business, she purchased a crop box, a modified and automated shipping container, and set it up in her backyard. One person running the shipping container five days a week for three to four hours a day produces three tons of microgreens annually, she says. 

When the pandemic hit, restaurant orders stopped and farmers markets shut down, but the changes brought a silver lining for Purdue. A business in Raleigh had previously been offering local and seasonal produce boxes, but it had pivoted to cater to customers’ desire for all types of produce year-round, sometimes importing it from other states and countries. The produce boxes were no longer representative of the local region, and Purdue saw an opportunity in the market: to provide a produce subscription box filled only with produce from local growers and offering microgreens, too. She started with 15-20 regular subscribers, and she now has more than 75. “Folks love the produce, and the added little microgreen pack in their boxes is the icing on the cake,” she says. 

She works seven days a week and laughs that she still works 80 hours a week, despite leaving her demanding former job. “[Farming] is what runs my life. It’s when I get up to when I go to bed,” she says. In addition to growing microgreens and coordinating subscription boxes, she also hosts workshops at Sweet Peas Urban Gardens on subjects such as how to grow microgreens or mushrooms, and she hosts local school visits and other events. Despite the workload, she’s all in on her second career. “It keeps me wanting to get up in the morning and do my part. I love it.” 

Part of Purdue’s passion is credited to her belief in the power of local and community-based food systems. “We can solve all of the things that are just so blatantly wrong,” she says. “Carbon footprint, food insecurity, clean food, so people aren’t sick— it’s just so in our face … It’s not rocket science to see the answer to it. [We need] more diversity in the food system and less mega food distributors.”

Purdue teaching kids how to grow shiitake mushrooms at Camden Street Community Gardens. Photography submitted.

Purdue is now in her sixties, but she’s not slowing down. She has big plans on the horizon for the next two or three years, including having the farm pay for itself and helping more farmers get paid through the produce subscription boxes. She recently received a grant from the USDA Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovation, which will help her hire a zoning expert to work with her municipality to change the rules so you can operate in your municipality. 

She says that if she can get involved in urban farming, anyone can. “I did it. I’m an old lady with no agriculture experience. You can do it, too.” 

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Mike D
4 months ago

You know what Tami needs? …NOTHING! What a great roll model!! Thank you for featuring such a cool person.

Jo Wismar
4 months ago


4 months ago

I’m am happy for her! I hope to make a life of farming. It is a dream for me also.

Terry Kingston
4 months ago

What is the process to qualify for a grant to grow Microgreens as a business. I am a senior who is growing 7 varieties of microgreens