- Associated Press - Saturday, November 22, 2014

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - Colin Cudmore started volunteering at the Bloomington Community Farmers’ Market as a way to meet people after he moved to the Hoosier state from Cape Cod.

During a coffee break one Saturday morning, Cudmore sat and watched market patrons buying local plants, produce and flowers from booths and tents along Morton Street. He also noticed two Amish vendors trying to sell starter plants for home gardens.

“I saw all these people in the booths around them buying food, and in the 20 minutes, I watched these guys at a very busy farmers’ market, they didn’t make a single sale. In fact, people weren’t even looking,” Cudmore told The Herald-Times (https://bit.ly/1xzOKvI ).

He asked the vendors why they weren’t successfully selling plants that would grow the same food people were buying from other local growers at the market.

“They both said, ‘Oh, these days people don’t think they have the time,’” Cudmore said. “And I thought well, if we’re going to solve the problem, we’ve got to switch that mindset.”

Cudmore had already started working on a design and prototype for a home gardening and composting system for urban gardeners with limited resources, and home gardeners with limited space and time.

In 2010, he created the Garden Tower, a tiered planter with a central composting unit for table scraps and vermicomposting, which utilizes red wriggler worms to generate organic fertilizer.

Before inventing the Garden Tower, Cudmore had no experience in gardening or farming. In fact, when his mother suggested they go to a talk at Indiana University featuring urban farmer Will Allen, Cudmore says she practically had to drag him.

Allen is the founder and CEO of Growing Power Inc., a nonprofit center for urban agriculture training and building community food security systems. At the standing-room only talk, Cudmore learned about the concept of “food deserts,” or areas where urban, and often poor, populations don’t have access to fresh and organic produce.

“I thought to myself I could probably solve that problem,” said Cudmore, who has a background in inventing.

Environmental scientist Joel Grant and health professional Tom Tlusty joined Cudmore to advance the Garden Tower to its current design, the Garden Tower 2. The vertical tower takes up four square feet of space, rotates 360 degrees, and can hold up to 50 plants.

While the food grown in a Garden Tower won’t feed an entire family, it can add nutrients to the diets of those living in food deserts that they would not otherwise have access to.

“One of the biggest problems is poor people in cities don’t have access to land,” Cudmore said. “There are a lot of areas of the world where you also have transportation, distribution issues. And what the global community has decided to do is to ship them food. Well, with this you can ship them a tool to grow their own food.”

The Garden Tower 2 utilizes the concept of permaculture, which encourages the natural ecology of a habitat to takes its course with limited, or no, human interference. The plants in a Garden Tower can root directly into the compost system at the tower’s center.

“What makes that innovative is the fact that the plants can actually access nutrients that are being made available in the compost system,” Grant said. “Your nutrients are only leaving through produce, through the harvest.”

And unlike in an outdoor or raised bed garden, where water seeps deep into the ground, taking nutrients with it, water not absorbed by the plants in the Garden Tower collects in a drawer at the tower’s base and can be used to water the tower a second time.

“We’re able to really squish the plants closely together and get a whole bunch of plants in a very small footprint because they’re not fighting for nutrients,” Cudpore said. “They’re very happy, so you can literally have one next to the other.”

There are more than 4,000 Garden Towers in all 50 states, many used in schools to teach science classes about recycling, soil management and resource scarcity.

“A science department in a school system can get a lot of information about a lot of different subjects just from one product,” Tlusty said.

The Garden Tower 2 is in the midst of a Kickstarter online crowdfunding project, with a goal of raising $31,400 in 30 days. Through Kickstarter, backers pledge any dollar amount to a project, often with “perks” for donating a certain amount. For example, the first 100 individuals who donated $218 or more to the project will receive a Garden Tower 2 and free potting soil for pickup in Bloomington.

The first time the team tried a Kickstarter campaign, that one for the original Garden Tower, it failed. A second try to raise $28,000 in a month for the same product raised $88,000. And their current Kickstarter with a goal of $31,000 was fully funded in 48 hours. It had raised $197,998 as of Thursday morning, with 623 backers, making it the most-funded Kickstarter ever in Bloomington with 17 days to go.

“We will probably have more pre-orders for the Gen 2 than the entire volume of sales we’ve ever had to date of our first product . at the rate it’s going,” Cudmore said.

Years after his encounter with the unsuccessful Amish salesmen, Cudmore attended the farmers’ market with Tlusty, this time trying to sell his own gardening tool. Cudmore says he’ll never forget the enthusiasm of one customer in particular.

“Ten years old, and all he wanted for his birthday was a Garden Tower,” Cudmore said.


Information from: The Herald Times, https://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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