Mr. Mother Earth
If dirt were dollars we'd all be in the black. So ends the 80's tune by the Eagles' Don Henley whose words read like a business plan for Michael Dean of Grand Forks. Dean founded Gaia Green Products Ltd. In 1990 to make a buck manufacturing and selling organic fertilizers that are good for the soil.
Like Henley the singer, Dean the organic farmer is vocal and passionate about what his products can do for the soil. He make a point of telling me that glacial rock dust, his signature product, can work wonders for soil and that it has a smooth, sensual feel to it as he let it sift through his fingers. "It has the full spectrum minerals in and it activates the soil microorganisms so they become stimulated," he says. "You get an increase in their numbers and then they process all the other ingredients and nutrients. Basically you are providing a smorgasbord of minerals in a useable form for plants through the natural processors in the soil." The product pitch and demo are convincing. If you don't believe me, go ask his 46 European razorback boars who got fat and happy feeding on the salad bar of plants growing on Dean's farm and production facility. "Organic fertilizer is good for the earth and the environment," says Dean. "Its good for people and animals. It's healthy so I feel good about it."
"What keeps my drive up is getting calls from customers that are elated after using our products because of improved growth and improved flavour in their fruits and vegetables. It's easy to get excited about it."
The Certified Organic Associations of British Columbia defines organic as "a process of good production that avoids synthetic inputs such as chemical fertilizers, chemical pesticides and chemical growth regulators like hormones and antibiotics."
"One of the main problems with conventional fertilizers is that chemical fertilizers are salt based and they're toxic to soil microorganisms," says Dean.
"The story of our mineral products and how the fee the soil and support the soil web is a good story and I'm excited and passionate about it. When you use natural products you get really good growth and much more flavour in your food. That's something I want to share with other people."
"Having a great product doesn't mean anyone is going to use it. What we have to do is get the word out to people to try it and promote it to others. That 's been our experience particularly in the West Kootenay where our market is growing rapidly by people telling their neighbour this stuff works great. Our products are all time released because they cycle through the soil."
Gaia Green sold more than 500 tons of its fertilizer last year to organic farmers, gardeners and the landscapers in Western Canada and the United States. Two-kilogram pails of Gaia Green organic garden fertilizer are on the shelves in Wal-Mart stores across Western Canada including the Cranbrook and Nelson locations. Gaia Green is also available at garden supply outlets throughout the Kootenays.
"It has taken a while for the public and mainstream gardeners to get on to organic methods but the markets are growing rapidly," says Dean.
Of the estimated 640 organic farms in Canada 48 percent of the fruit farms and a third of the vegetable farms are located in B.C. Typically, organic farms are less than five acres in size and are linked with an organic association like the Boundary Organic Producers' Association that Dean founded in 1991 to develop policies and help grow the organic marketplace.
"We will continue to sell to the organic farmer and now we are looking at supplying municipalities, parks and gold courses with landscape fertilizers that will benefit the environment," he says. "We see a lot of potential for growth. The organic sector is growing at a rate of over 20 percent a year. One of the reasons for this growth is the concern over how food is produced. The Europeans and Japanese are rejecting genetically modified foods (GMO) and the only way they can be sure they are not buying GMO is to buy organic foods."
Asked if he is getting rich this, Dean would only say that profits are plowed into research and development and equipment.
"We have a commitment to providing the best quality organic fertilizer to organic farmers and gardeners," he says. "We've been researching various products for over 10 years."
Dean is developing a more granular form of glacier dust for a Japanese fertilizer company that is test marketing the powdered product. Big league purchase orders could result. Dean has also hired Dr. Don Lotter, a renowned soil scientist, to conduct research on glacier dust at Summerhill Estate Winery, a certified organic winery in Kelowna. "The research will attempt to quantify the owner's anecdotal claims that rock dust produces sweeter grapes for him and as a result better quality wine," says Dean.
"Because we are expanding to a larger market we need to quantify results and publish a scientific paper that shows the differences we are getting from our products compared with conventional fertilizers. That will become news that we can market"
Until then, Dean is sticking with another Henley refrain - "If dirt were dollars, I wouldn't worry anymore."
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