When I was little, my dad used to grow tomatoes in our back garden. He used to take me to some wasteland by the Thames. There were cows there and I used to help Dad collect their poop. We’d fill up a tin bath with hard, flat cowpats. Then we’d take it all home and fill the tin bath with water. Then Dad would mix it all up and pour it over all the tomatoes. The tomatoes seemed to love it. Our neighbours didn’t grow tomatoes or use cow poop. But the local milkman did have a horse-drawn cart. When the horse pooped in the road, the neighbours used to scoop it up in a bucket with a shovel, then put it on their roses.
The roses seemed to love it.
So plants like animal poop as a natural fertiliser, but there isn’t any of it around nowadays. So everyone has to buy packaged fertiliser from Homebase or B&Q. But that may be about to change. In Connecticut, there’s a dairy farmer who was struggling to make a living on his 600-acre farm. The price of milk dropped to $20 per cwt. Even though the Department of Agriculture estimates it costs $26 per cwt to bring milk to market.
So the farmer, Matt Freund, was actually losing money. He needed to find a way to make his farm pay.
All he had was 250 cows and a massive lake of cow poop. (Because each cow on average produces 100lbs of dung per day.)
Which is where Matt got creative, although he wouldn’t put it like that. He’d just say he turned a problem into an opportunity. What if the dung was repurposed as fertiliser? Instead of having to pay to dispose of it, he could sell it. But no-one wants to use manure in the messy old-fashioned way my Dad and I had. Matt would have to repackage it and remarket it. Which is when he had the idea to clean it, dry it out and make it more pleasant. Then shape it into plant pots for seedlings. Now Matt has built a very large business making “Cow Pots”. Biodegradable pots that take seedlings while they grow. What’s the benefit? When young plants reach a certain size, they normally need to be taken out of their pots and replanted. This is often a big shock to the plant and the roots – often they die. But with Cow Pots, you don’t have to take the plants out of the pots. You just replant the whole thing while they’re still in the pot. The pot is biodegradable, so it gradually crumbles and goes back into the soil. It becomes a great source of fertiliser for the plant. And the plant’s roots can grow through the Cow Pot, so the plant doesn’t suffer any replanting shock. With Cow Pots, the plants don’t die when they’re replanted. The Cow Pots cost 50 cents each and they can replace hundreds of thousands of plastic pots that are bought every year. (Plastic pots that are just thrown away to become a pollution problem.) Matt Freund is now making more money from cow poop than he ever made from milk. All with a little creative thinking: turning a problem into an opportunity.
And seeing what we can learn from the past.
“Matt was losing money. All he had was 250 cows and a lake of cow poop. Which is where the farmer got creative”
Dave Trott is the author of Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three