Denver / Unincorporated Jefferson County, Colorado
From composting to manufacturing to brand extension, Waste Farmers is spreading roots in the multi-billion dollar gardening industry.
Waste Farmers is looking to change growing and gardening for the better, literally starting at ground level -- in the soil.
The company launched in 2009 as a Commerce City-based commercial composting business, collecting organic waste from Denver restaurants like Snooze and Chipotle and composting it into fertilizer for resale to agriculture markets.
"We always said we were an agriculture company," says John-Paul Maxfield, founder and CEO. "Picking up and composting organic waste was a big part of closing the 'soil gap.'"
Maxfield and VP of Production and Product Development Matt Celesta worked together to move the company into manufacturing. "Matt would be developing products on the soil side, and I'd be driving," says Maxfield.
After selling the compost-collection routes to Alpine Waste in 2011, the company embarked in a new direction: manufacturing packaged soil products for backyard farmers and professionals.
A year later, the company moved to its current base of operations in Jefferson County, closed on an outside investment, and launched a pair of brands of packaged compost and other soil products: Maxfield's and Batch 64, the latter named for the Colorado constitutional amendment legalizing recreational marijuana.
"We call 2011 to 2013 'rise of the dirtbags,'" laughs Maxfield, alluding to the move of bagged soil products.
Today the company makes compost, potting soil, and other products from its facility -- a.k.a. the "microbe brewery" -- in unincorporated Jefferson County while maintaining an office at Galvanize in Denver. The products are distributed to Whole Foods and numerous independent gardening stores.
The focus remains on closing the aforementioned soil gap. "We're one of the first companies drawing a link between micro-nutrients in the soil and nutrition," says Maxfield. "We're putting vitamins back in the soil."
But soil is only the beginning. "We're expanding from soil to building a lifestyle brand," he adds. "We want to be the Patagonia of backyard homesteading."
And that's a huge market, with plenty of possibilities. Gardening is a whopping $60 billion market in the U.S., and the spend by millennials increased by 63 percent between 2008 and 2013.
"It's the #1 hobby in the country," says Maxfield. "One in three households in the U.S. is now growing food. The Joneses are trading perfectly manicured lawns for lush food gardens."
Another massive market that Waste Farmers is targeting with its Batch 64 brand: legal cannabis. It's at $4 billion and growing, well, like a weed as more states legalize medical and recreational marijuana. As about $2 billion is being poured into fertilizers and other inputs.
Maxfield is aiming to establish a set of sustainable best practices for the industry with his newly launched Organic Cannabis Association (OCA), launched earlier this year.
"We view cannabis as agriculture and we are a sustainable agriculture company."
"Every other industry in agriculture has the USDA to lean on," he says. "The OCA will be a stamp of approval. You can be confident as a consumer that it was grown sustainably."
Waste Farmers operates a demo farm at its Jefferson County facility and gives each employee fresh produce on a weekly basis.
Maxfield is quick to note that it's not business as usual at Waste Farmers, citing its Diego Rivera-inspired branding that to the labor movement. "There is a part of us that is revolutionary," he says.
Challenges: "The biggest challenges for us as we look to scale are to decrease the limiting factors," says Maxfield, highlighting capital and production capacity. "We were in the soil phase. Now we're in the seedling and sprouting phase."
Opportunities: Expanding into other product categories "that blend the farm, the backyard, and the kitchen," says Maxfield. Waste Farmers-branded gardening tools and other non-soil products could be hitting the market as soon as 2015.
Needs: Capital. "We'll be looking to raise a Series A at the end of Q3 2014," says Maxfield.