A Stroll Through the Garden: Earth Starter, LLC

Photo: Courtesy Earth Starter, LLC
Hello Garden Gals and Guys! Welcome to the second interview in my new series "A Stroll through the Garden." I guess you are wondering what that picture is there to the left, right? Well, read on, garden groupies!

Earth Starter is a local (to Maryland) startup company with a mission I just love: empowering people to grow their own food and flowers in the yard easily. Yes....easily. So if you're one of my faithful followers with a million excuses for not starting a garden...I have a solution to meet your needs!

Phil Weiner.
Photo courtesy Earth Starter, LLC
Meet Phil Weiner, the CEO of Earth Starter. Yes, that's him there with a wonderful new product that he and his team created called the Nourishmat. Have you ever wanted all of the guesswork taken out of gardening for you? Have you ever felt like you don't know enough to start a garden of your own? Well, when you purchase this mat, Phil says you've solved both of those problems! The Nourishmat comes with pre-made holes with labels for where to put the seedballs. You lay the mat down, put the seedballs in the labeled holes, hook up the hose to the mat and viola!....your garden is done.

What are seedballs? Well, read my interview with Phil to find out! It's a bit lengthy, but there is so much valuable information, so please take the time to read it. By the way...I've got one of these Nourishmats! I'm just waiting for the weather to warm to set it up. I'll be blogging about its progress throughout the growing season! Oh..by the way...all emphasis in the interview is mine...wanted to be sure to highlight some good stuff!

DivaGardener: What inspired you to found Earth Starter?

Phil Weiner: I founded Earth Starter to take on difficult challenges that cannot be solved by governments or non-profits. For us, the world's more pressing issue will always be healthy food supply. My co-founder and I are taking a market-based approach to solving problems. Many of the start-ups we saw create products that  consume resources, time and energy. We wanted to create products that create producers - return time, money, resources and offset carbon emissions.
Nourishmat. Photo courtesy
Earth Starter, LLC

DivaGardener:  Tell us what the Nourishmat is and why you have chosen to incorporate the Square Foot Gardening method into it.

Phil Weiner: The Nourishmat empowers people to grow food and flowers easier than ever. We've taken all the guesswork and hassle out of the growing process to allow people to relax, sit back and grow natural produce in their backyard. The Nourishmat comes with or without irrigation built-in (for users that enjoy watering and have more time). It has pre-cut holes and spacing to allow staggered planting. Nineteen plant types are included and come in the form of 82 pre-planted seedballs that don't require digging. We have even pre-cut the tomato planting hole in case a user wanted to accelerate the process and transplant a tomato plant they picked up at the store.

Square Foot Gardening is a great introductory method for new gardening. We have also incorporated companion planting into our plant layout to ensure the best results and yields. Square foot gardening is a simple system that adapts to all levels of experience, physical abilities and geographical locations. Grow all you want and need in only 20% of the space of a conventional row garden. The Square Foot Gardening system is a very condensed, natural, and organic method of gardening. Compared to single-row gardening, you get 100% of the harvest with only 50% of the cost, 20% of the space, 10% of the water, 5% of the seeds, and 2% of the work required by traditional gardening. 

With the understanding of companion planting, you can build a stronger and healthier garden. Planting different crops in close proximity, you can effectively use garden space and increase your plants' health and producitivity on the theory that they assist each other in nutrient uptake, pest control, pollination, and other factors. Companion planting is a form of polyculture (multiple crops) which reduces large strands of single crops, or monoculture.

We are trying to get people used to the idea that lawns, which are a monoculture, just aren't natural. Very few places in nature do you see one plant growing.

We have also embraced a more modern no-till method. Gardeners often dig or turn over the top layer of soil before planting. People typically do this to eliminate unwanted plants and make the soil softer. Tilling the soil is often the most strenuous and unpleasant task required from a gardener. Many U.S. industrial farmers are adopting no-till farming methods to prevent soil erosion, which reduces soil fertility. So, why should you at home not do the same?

Produce from Nourishmat. Photo courtesy Earth Starter, LLC
There is a mutually beneficial relationship that exists between the soil surface and the microorganisms that inhabit the Earth's surface. Tilling and/or digging into the bed of your garden interferes with the natural growing environment. This practice also releases many of the natural nutrients existing within the soil. This is why farmers and gardeners typically must utilize fertilizers in their fields/gardens.

No-till gardening is a method of gardening whereby the surface of your garden is never disturbed. The arduous task of weeding is largely replaced by the use of a black or white fabric that reduces the amount of weeds living in your garden. By not disturbing the ground, the soil remains healthy and soft allowing the young roots of newly planted seedlings to easily take hold. So by reducing the amount of work required, you can actually improve the soil health in your garden!

DivaGardener: You state on your website that you believe the most pressing issue in the upcoming years is going to be sustainable healthy food supplies. Would you elaborate on that statement?

Phil Weiner: Fertilizer is a finite source just like any other mined mineral. While attending the University of Maryland, I did research on carrying capacity related to food and population growth. Food grows arithmetically while population grows geometrically. Thomas Malthus' theories on population growth eventually will come true as the world's population reaches 10 billion closter to 2049. At the rate we as a society use fertilizers on lawns and for ethanol products, we are limiting the future growth of our food supply. While the Malthusian theory from the 1789 Essay on the Population did not initially hold true because of the discovery of fertilizer, when we start to reach our planet's carrying capacity there will be an impending period of decline unless we start to prepare now.

Baby lettuce grown in Nourishmat.
Photo courtesy Earth Starter, LLC
The Nourishmat is designed using well-known farming methods. We intend for years of farming knowledge to be rubbed off on young school-aged students who are unaware about where their food comes from. Food sources and farming is not a required course. Small-scale agricultural production education has the potential to help our country.

In the 1960s, one farmer supplied food for 25.8 persons in the U.S. and abroad. Today, one farmer supplies food for 144 people in the U.S. and abroad.

For example, as the U.S. farmer population dwindles, the average age of farmers continues to rise. In fact, about 40% of the farmers in this country are 55 years old or older (Bureau of Labor Statistics). The graying of the farmer population has led to concerns about the long-term health of family farms as an American institution. There are over 285,000,000 people living in the United States. Of that population, less than 1% claim farming as an occupation (and about 2% actually live on farms). There are only about 960,000 persons claiming farming as their principal occupation and a similar number of farmers claiming some other principal occupation. Our organization seeks to help people reduce their dependencies on food markets while also focusing on creating exactly what our name stands for - nourishment.

DivaGardener: One of my biggest concerns as a gardener is buying seeds from companies not owned or supplied by Monsanto. Where does Earth Starter get its seeds froom?

Phil Weiner: We source our seeds from local mid-Atlantic farmers currently. Our seeds come from Meyer Seed Company in Baltimore, which doees not source seeds from Monsanto. In the future we hope to source only organic and heirloom seeds as we grow. We are still a startup and working towards this goal.

DivaGardener: Tell us more about the seedballs that come with the Nourishmat.

Nourishmat seedball.
Photo courtesy Earth Starter, LLC
Phil Weiner: The Nourishmat is intended to allow humans to grow vegetables, including herbs, flowers, fungi, trees, and other vegetation. Our method of plant propagation is using seedballs. A seedball is a small capsule containing everything a plant needs to grow, all bundled up inside a safe shell. Seedballs consist of three things: clay, worm castings, and of course, seeds. Fungi can also be added to the seedballs to increase soil health and promote better growth conditions for plants. Clay is the foundation of each seedball and allows for a good substrate which holds each ball in shape and protects the seeds from external elements. The clay also allows for the high-quality water absorption necessary for seed germination.

Nutrients are a key component in the growth of a healthy and strong plant, and worm castings provide the seeds with all of the necessary nutrients needed for strong and fast germination. Seed balls have been used for thousands of years, and are especially functional for use on land that has been neglected, as well as in areas where it is hard to grow. With a little water, the seed balls will know how to grow on their own, making them perfect for no-till gardening. When sufficient rain (our irrigation system) permeates the clay, the seed bomb mixture helps the seeds sprout. The seeds need watering twice a day for about 10 minutes each in order to successfully propagate outdoors.

These little balls are the beginning to you enjoying your low-maintenance garden.

DivaGardener: Do you have to dig up the grass in the area where you want to put the Nourishmat?

Produce from the Nourishmat.
Photo courtesy Earth Starter, LLC
Phil Weiner: It is not required to dig up an area of grass. We have tested the Nourishmat in many backyards and have found that some areas which have been tilled are void of essential nutrients to grow plants. Users can lay down a Nourishmat or cardboard on an area a few weeks prior to planting in order to kill off weeds and grasses. After laying down the Nourishmat and stapling it to the ground (staples provided), you can pick out any leftover grasses and weeds from the plant holes. Because the Nourishmat has two layers of polypropylene, it will block weeds from growing around the plant holes.

DivaGardener: I've heard the excuse so many times that people don't have space to grow a garden and don't know how to start one. Your website states that the Nourishmat takes the guesswork out of gardening. Tell us how.

Phil Weiner: It's these old-fashioned notions of gardening that are part of this opportunity. The Nourishmat gets a whole new generation knowing and rethinking how gardens are made. Americans desire to live a healthier lifestyle on a limited budget. Lack of gardening knowledge, time and space constraints are the three most common excuses we've heard as to why people don't spend more rewarding time outside in the yard with family.

We've taken traditional and modern agriculture concepts, years of academic research and combined them with the best tools needed to start a garden on a limited budget and limited space. Part of what discourages new gardeners is the lack of results in the first year.

Nourishmat baby kale.
Photo courtesy Earth Starter, LLC
The Nourishmat Gardening System provides both easy setup and low maintenance for any level gardener. The no-till garden method reduces back-breaking work and the built-in drip irrigation delivers water directly to plant roots. The Nourishmat is more cost-effective and has a more predictable return on investment. It is an all-inclusive compact system that out-performs competing outdoor garden kits. The Nourishmat's unique design offers social and environmental benefits as well as experiential learning for users at all ages.

But it doesn't stop with buying the product. We are developing a social platform that allows users to share insights and tiips in order to connect experienced gardeners with existing gardeners. Based on the amount of tips they post, share and blog about they will receive user ratings and credits that can be used to purchase Earth Starter products.

The site will also have tips, tutorials and rich content which can be helpful as we try to cultivate gardeners, not gardens.

Comparison:

Purchase the Nourishmat online or in-store
Set up your Nourishmat in 10 minutes or less
Annual water cost $5.00
Sun cost - FREE
No-till gardening reduces setup time
Retains soil nutrients
Keeps soils healthy
Natural soil aeration undisturbed

or

Source materials and seeds individually
Materials not typically available at one store or website
Decide what to plant and layout of garden
Purchase individual seed packets
Hard to find seed varieties
Start plants indoors because of low germination rates with seeds alone
Purchase weed barrier separately
Cut weed barrier when transplanting mature plants
Purchase garden staples separately to hold weed barrier in place
Shovel or till your soil to plant seeds outdoors
Determine proper plant depth
Remember or mark plant location
Purchase irrigation and t-fittings from specialty outlets
Assemble all materials and irrigation
Measure, cut, dig, build irrigation and then plant each individual seed
Lay down new weed barrier yearly
Cost - Purchasing all of these items separately can cost you time and money
Raised bed garden kit, buying individual gardening supplies (seeds, weed barrier or mulch, irrigation, shovel, string, fertilizer, grow lights, etc.)

Nourishmat Return-on-Investment (ROI)
Photo courtesy Earth Starter, LLC

DivaGardener: If someone were to start a garden using the Nourishmat, what would be their total startup cost?

Phil Weiner:  The Nourishmat cost of ownership is $74.99 online or at a handful of small retailers. We are selling the Nourishmat at farmers markets and events for $69.99 due to the reduction in shipping and handling. On average our beta testers were able to produce $200+ in produce depending on the harvest methods.

DivaGardener: Do you have a garden? If so, please describe it for us.

Arugula grown in Nourishmat
Photo courtesy Earth Starter, LLC
Phil Weiner: I am a Washington, D.C. native and have a small plot of Nourishmat gardens. That includes 2 Nourishmats. I grow: marigolds, iceberg lettuce, tomato, eggplant, cilantro, arugula, Black-eyed Susans, monarda, carrots, spinach, jalapeno, red pepper, rosemary, sage, thyme, etc.

DivaGardener:  What inspires you?

Phil Weiner: I'd like to rephrase that question because I am simply inspired by people who have a desire to create. I am an entrepreneur and understand that my life is focused on growing towards my destiny. I am driven by fear a little bit, but mostly the fear that I am not living up to my potential. I enjoy "edu-taining" and teaching other people the skills that I have acquired. But as an entrepreneur you long for happiness. Building a product and a company over the long-term means that I can only expected delayed gratification. My focus for the next year will be trying to incorporate happiness as one of my daily goals.

WELL! There you have it ladies and gents! A power-packed interview for sure! A huge thanks to my new garden pal, Phil, for taking time out of his busy schedule to come and stroll (electronically, of course) through the garden with us!

 I hope it has inspired you to start your own garden this year! You can purchase the Nourishmat ONLINE HERE. If you do, be sure to mention that DivaGardener sent you, OK? And send me pictures! I'd love to blog about everyone's gardens!!

Be sure to keep reading my blog posts, too! I'll be blogging about my Nourishmat as the season goes on!!!

Until next time garden gals and guys....

Happy garden thoughts!!!

Comments

  1. Thanks for the info...great interview!!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Have you used it?? How well does it work??

    ReplyDelete

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