Employees: 7, plus several interns, apprentices, and volunteers
Wayne Dorband’s center for ecolonomics is rethinking how farms and ranches feed livestock and sustain operations
Sustainable Livestock Nutrition is a new way to feed livestock from the Center for Ecolonomic Excellence and Development.
That's no typo. "It's a combination of the words economy and ecology," says Wayne Dorband, president of the umbrella company Nourish the Planet and CEO and Chairman of Dorband & Associates . "The word ecolonomics intended to mean making some money and doing something good for the planet while you're at it."
Nourish the Planet is a L3C -- that's short for low profit limited liability company -- and a collaboration between the for-profit Dorband & Associates and the nonprofit Institute of Ecolonomics (www.ecolonomics.org), launched by Dennis Weaver, the late actor and environmental activist who lived in an earthship near Ridgway, Colorado.
I'm a scientist and an educator in the environmental area," says Dorband. He met Weaver in the 1980s and became a member of the Institute's board in the 2000s.
When Weaver passed away in 2007, Dorband agreed to take over the organization and moved it to Loveland, where he started the Center for Ecolonomic Excellence and Development, with one campus in a 15,000-square-foot warehouse at an industrial park in Loveland and another on a farm outside of town.
Along with the move came another shift. Weaver focused on alternative fuels -- "anything that would replace fossil fuels," says Dorband. "That's not my interest. What's a passion for me is sustainable agriculture. We've lost the knowledge to feed ourselves."
The first commercial initiative is Donoma Si Sustainable Livestock Nutrition. Donoma Si, Sioux for "seed for sun," allows small farms and equestrian centers to feed themselves.
Dorband says the concept was spurred by the 2011 drought. "That summer was the driest summer in Northern Colorado on record," he says. Hay prices jumped from $200 a ton to $400 a ton.
With 200 head of alpaca on the ranch, that meant big money to Dorband. "Food prices were going through the roof," he says. He took a do-it-yourself tact. "If you can't buy it, you build it, you make it. We began to research alternatives to high-priced hay."
As animals in the field graze the newest growth first, Dorband came up with a system to grow microgreens -- "immature grains” -- for livestock as an alternative to less nutritious hay and grain pellets.
"They're exactly what livestock will eat if they're let out in the field," he explains. "Young grass is the most nutritious grass. It's a lot more nutritious than dead stuff sitting in a field for two or three months."
Hay loses protein over time. "When hay is first cut and baled, it has very good nutrition characteristics for livestock," says Dorband. "But most people don't feed their animals hay right away." He calls that approach is "very sub-optimal."
Now in its third generation, his design repurposes a shipping container into a movable grow room for microgreens. "They're very portable," says Dorband. "They're plug and play. You plug it in, add water, and produce grain."
It takes just eight days to harvest the first wheat and barley microgreens, then production hits a notably bounteous clip.
These units produce 1,500 pounds a day," says Dorband. A 25-pound bundle of microgreens usually sells for about $4, so it's easy to see that the numbers work, as water and power costs about $1 per 25 pounds produced.
"We're early in the commercialization process," says Dorband, describing a licensing-based strategy. The first licensee is a equestrian center in Boise; Nourish the Planet gets a percentage of sales.
He's trying to finalize a partnership with an HVAC manufacturer to develop a commercial-scale manufacturing operation.
At the Center for Ecolonomics and Development, Dorband has his hands in all sorts of other projects. The center has an incubator-like concept, he explains.
"Instead of charging rent, we take a piece of the company," he says. "We provide mentorship and education." Tenants include Worldwide Aquaculture, a hacker space, and other sustainably minded businesses and organizations.
Challenges: Education. "This is not the norm," says Dorband. "Our primary customers -- farmers and ranchers -- are used to feeding the same way for generations. The key is getting them to try it."
Then they are usually sold. Dorband says he's seen alpacas on microgreen diets produce better fleece, and dairy animals produce 20 percent more milk.
Then there's the challenges of growing in a confined space. "Our biggest operational challenge has been mold," says Dorband.
Opportunities: "We actually think our best skill is early and mid-stage research and development and education," says Dorband. "Our biggest opportunities over time are educating people on how to transition from their traditional hay-pellet system right now to an alternative. We're pretty well suited for that."
It follows that Nourish the Planet's mission is "to enable 1 million ecopreneurs by 2016 and to teach the world to feed itself."
Needs: Capital. "We're a bootstrapped company," says Dorband. He says an outside investment is necessary for "our transition from research and development to full-blown manufacturing."