Growing vegetables in your own backyard is about to get really, really easy. The Nourishmat is a 4-foot by 6-foot garden system that comes with just about everything you need to get growing: organic seeds, fertilizer, and a mat that provides instructions and a kind of map of holes that will space your seeds perfectly. The seeds are embedded in balls of fertilizer, clay and chili powder, to nourish the seeds while keeping pests away. All you have to do is push the ball halfway into the soil--no tilling required. The perfect amount of water is delivered through a perforated drip system that's filled by attaching a garden hose to the mat.
The Nourishmat and its sister the Herbmat were developed by Phil Weiner and John Gorby, who met at the University of Maryland and founded Earth Starter. The two self-funded the development and beta testing of the the product. "We completed a 22 state beta test over the last year and a half," said Weiner. "In order for us to have a successful first year run, we had to choose plants that would grow in all USDA hardiness zones."
The mats use a technique called square foot gardening. "The key is planting in grids instead of rows so you can maximize your space," said Weiner. "More food in less space. We adapted the layout of the Nourishmat based on this popular method. We say natural because it embraces the idea of bio-diversity." This method requires less water and fertilizer then conventional monoculture farming.
The testing went well. The biggest design challenge they encountered was keeping all the information as simple as possible. "Talking to a master gardener can be overwhelming because they know so much," said Weiner. That's why Nourishmat has all the information you need printed right on it, with color coding and holes to make spacing out plants an intuitive process. The mats last about 5 years and are printed with nontoxic ink that won't leach into the soil.
The square-foot method also makes plants into beneficial neighbors. "The layout of the plants revolves around companion planting," said Weiner. "For example, the bugs that like marigolds are the same bugs that love to eat the bugs that love to eat tomatoes."
Although the product is in production, the Kickstarter campaign will help the company move all of their operations to one place, invest in inventory, promote the product and develop new products. "Our Kickstarter page doesn't show the grit that it took to keep going and how hard manufacturing in the US can really be," said Weiner. "The doors to banks were closed and the only funding we could get was from our bank accounts."
Currently, the Nourishmat is only available to those who contribute $55.00 or more to the Kickstarter campaign. Earth Starter estimates that you'll be able to grow about $200.00 worth of hyper-local produce in a season. They hope to one day be able to print mats that are more location-specific.
Phil Weiner and John Gorby hope their product will encourage people to reconnect with the natural world and participate in their food system. Weiner says backyard gardening also helps people live more sustainably:
"Imagine if you will, abandoning the riding lawn mower and replacing the checkerboard mowed lawn around the house with a fruit, vegetable, and flower garden. If everyone did this, imagine the impact on our world. 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. We would gain lifelong friends as we exchange ideas with our neighbors over the garden fence. Instead of burning 10 calories of fossil fuels in producing, processing, and transporting every calorie of food we eat, we’d conserve our natural resources as we burn our fat calories in producing our own food. As we intensively manage our multi-cropped gardens, we’d increase biodiversity and avoid polluting the air, soil, and water."