The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Earth Starter and Nourishmat

Earth Starter and Nourishmat


July 30, 2013

Earth Starter develops and manufactures products that accelerate plant growth, yields and simplify the growing process. Founders Phil Weiner and John Gorby launched Earth Starter with the goal of turning consumers into producers. Their first product, Nourishmat, makes it easy for consumers to grow food in small spaces. We talked to Weiner about the benefits of teaching communities to grow their own food.

What was the inspiration for creating Nourishmat and how does it work?

Both John and I grew up gardening with our families on the weekend, and as we studied at the University of Maryland, it became clear that we had to use that skill and interest somehow. After years of brainstorming, scheming, and experimenting, we decided to take the Nourishmat from a project to the people. Once we started down that path, we knew that we could make a difference by helping people create their own healthy food – and not just an impact on their health, but also on their community, the environment, and food commerce. 

Nourishmat works very simply – just roll out the mat on top of your soil and match labeled seedballs with different planting squares and press them into their respective, colored spots on the grid. The spots are laid out very carefully for companion planting – basically, flowers and plants are next to each other to help attract the best bugs for each plant and help each other grow. You have the option of hooking up the mat to a hose, so you can turn on the hose for 10-15 minutes every day and not worry about overwatering the plants. Best of all the Nourishmat keeps plants organized and takes care of the weeds. Easy!

What makes your product unique from other home gardening systems?

The Nourishmat starts with community. The exercise of gardening and eating the resulting fruits and vegetables would dramatically improve our health. Our children’s minds and bodies would be stimulated and strengthened. Nourishmat is interactive! It is color coded and teaches as it’s used. Not to mention it’s a full garden – not just a window sill garden – so it can actually provide significant amounts of veggies and herbs whereas something on the window may only provide enough for one or two meals. Its size also makes it perfect to use in the community, because it can produce enough for more than one person. 

Why is the micro gardening movement so important right now?

It's estimated that Victory gardens produced 40% of the vegetables consumed during WWII, stretching the food supply to feed the troops. Right now, we are in a war on obesity, diabetes, heart disease, nutrition related illness, big agriculture and more. Kids as well as adults turn their noses up at vegetables and vegetate in front of the TV, computer, and video games. 

There is more space than entrepreneurs realize to innovate and collaborate in grow-local urban areas. At Earth Starter, we hope to be leaders in organizing this space and are already exploring partnerships with companies like EcoScraps, which converts food scraps into organic soil. We need more gardens in the world, so I’d strongly encourage you to start thinking about what you can plant in your outdoor space. And check out our Kickstarter page if you’d like to be part of the Nourish Movement.

Given the debates about pesticides and chemicals in our food, the high amount of food waste in our culture, and how far food often travels before making it to the plate, micro-gardening is an essential skill and activity so that people can produce instead of consume. This will mean they don’t need to worry about pesticides, chemicals, and so on because they’ll know right where their food came from. There will also be less food waste and water waste: people won’t buy things from the store they don’t need and then throw them out, and they’ll save about 80% of water consumption by watering their plants the right way. 

How have you been able to merge commerce with sustainable business practices?

We keep our manufacturing in the U.S., focus on empowering our consumer instead of taking advantage of them. By empowering them, they have choices about where and how they shop, what kind of products they buy, or if they even need them. For example, they can grow veggies instead of buying ones that have been sprayed with chemicals, flown from another country, loaded on a truck, and so on. They can also be educated on food safety, worldwide issues around food and other Nourishmat producer initiatives in their community. Consumers have easier, sustainable choices, and we’re working to ensure that those options are there. If those options are the easiest and most affordable, consumers will take them! 

What's the future of the company? Where do you think you'll have the biggest impact?

Our future looks towards schools and communities. By starting gardens in communities and by teaching kids early on about growing food and the future of the environment, we can have the greatest impact. Part of furthering our mission of empowering consumers to become producers is teaching them why it’s important – that will be best done in the community and school!