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GOING GREEN: Hard times propel growth for organic fertilizer.
By Brian Morton

Vancouver Sun, August 5, 2009

Bans on pesticides by towns and cities across Canada have been a boom for Gaia Green Products.

Gaia Green Products Ltd.
Website: www.gaiagreen.com
Year company formed: 1990
Number of employees: six
Number of garden centres selling Gaia products in first year of operations: 10 to 15
Number of garden centres selling Gaia products today: about 1,000 Percentage increase in sales in 2009 compared to 2008: 50 per cent

Micheal Dean and

A rising number of pesticide-free municipalities is translating into a different type of green for an organic fertilizer company in the B.C. Interior.

Grand Forks-based Gaia Green Products Ltd. has seen demand for its organic fertilizer products spike in recent years as towns and cities across Canada ban the use of cosmetic pesticides throughout their communities, and as farmers and home gardeners switch to organics.

Grand Forks is located on the Canada-U.S. border about 500 km east of Vancouver.

Another factor that has propelled growth in the past year is the economic downturn. As more people forgo that pricey vacation and stay at home, they spend more time in their gardens.

“When the economy slips like it has, horticulture sales go up,” Gaia Green founder and president Michael Dean said in an interview about his company, which promotes natural soil-management practices. “People travel less and stay home. And when it gets really bad, they grow their own food.

“And we’ve seen this. Retail sales have grown dramatically since the downturn in the economy because people are staying home and gardening to improve their equity and producing food to decrease their expenses,” said Dean. “Sales are up in this year’s growing season by 50 per cent. The challenge is managing that.”

After its first full year of operations nearly 20 years ago, Gaia Green products were sold in 10 to 15 garden centres in the Kootenays. Today, they’re sold in more than 1000 garden centres across Canada and in the U.S.

“We’re exporting a lot more to the U.S. now than we were three or four years ago,” added Dean. “We’re hoping to set up a production facility in the Lower Mainland.

“The City of Grand Forks has used our products exclusively for 13 years.”

Dean, who founded his company in 1990 when green gardening was relatively new, now sells not only to organic farmers and gardeners but also to municipalities, parks and golf courses looking to green up their images.

Dean, with six employees, said the organics sector is growing by 20 per cent a year and that more than 80 Canadian municipalities now have legislation banning the cosmetic use of pesticides.

“It was 1990 when I started and there wasn’t anything, basically. I saw an opportunity with the growing organics food production industry. Twenty years later, it’s become very big indeed.

“But it’s been a long battle to get people in authority to respect or understand our approach, which I call natural soil management,” added Dean, who lectures and puts on seminars across the country. “I’ve been riding the wave against the current for so many years. But I thought it was just a matter of time before things changed.”

He said a major growth spurt occurred after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled several years ago that municipalities could ban the cosmetic use of pesticides.

Dean said golf courses are slowly – “very slowly” – switching over to organic management of greens and cited Rossland’s Redstone Resort, which uses Gaia Green fertilizers. “There are a few innovative golf courses that are implementing natural management practices. [Redstone] is in the process of shifting as much as possible to organic.”

Dean had several suggestions for aspiring entrepreneurs, including the critical importance of hard work.

“It’s taken a very long time to get this going and I’ve been told that the only reason I’ve succeeded is my tenacity. It [the product] has got to be marketable. There are challenges, [but] you only fail in business when you give up.”

Dean said he doesn’t try to compete on price with larger companies because there’s always someone who can provide a cheaper product.

“Our business model is relationship-based. We build strong relationships with our distributors and customers, and with their customers. And we produce a quality product. You might have to sacrifice quality or service to deliver a cheaper product. We’re not wiling to do that.”

 

bmorton@vancouversun.com

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