Mar­ket­ing bull­shit

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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

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