Just as fertilizer helps plants grow, a little help and encouragement helps new ventures expand.
Seeking guidance on how to scale its fertilizer operation, Cape Cod Challenger Green Fertilizer recently turned to EforAll South Coast, a nonprofit business accelerator that helps entrepreneurs, and ended up winning first prize in its online pitch contest.
Cape Cod Challenger Green Fertilizer is an extension of The Cape Cod Challenger Club, a nonprofit organization that provides sports and recreational activities for children and adults with disabilities. It was founded 16 years ago in Sandwich by husband and wife Kelvin Ing and Amy Lipkind so children could play baseball. The club expanded to offer soccer, basketball and social and recreational activities as well.
“It was such a success the parents said we should organize other activities,” says Program Director Andrew Todoroff.
As is often the case, as young people with disabilities get older, their options are limited. Three years ago, a parent with a son who was turning 22 asked the club if they could come up with a job for him.
So the club hit upon the idea of making fertilizer for gardens.
“It was a unique project he could be interested in,” explains Todoroff. It was also an employment opportunity. “That young man now works two half days and one full day. He’s our star employee.”
The club purchased a commercial dehydrating machine and set it up at Barnstable High School. They trained the Special Education Department to operate the machine, and began collecting food waste at Barnstable and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Sandwich.
They sent the fertilizer to be tested to determine its nutrient and control its consistency, and met with farmers and gardeners. After reformulating it with additives to meet the needs of Cape Cod gardens, they determined that people were interested in using it.
“Hyannis Country Gardens in Hyannis told us it would be good for hydrangeas,” recalls Todoroff. “We said, ‘let’s promote this.’” So they began packaging and selling it.
Every school day, students process the food waste and load it into the dehydrator. The machine cycles the food waste into an odorless, nutrient-rich mulch, the only byproduct is water. It’s then brought to the Challenger Club facility in Osterville where it’s mixed with the byproduct from Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital and blended with additional nutrients. From there members of the Challenger Club label and package the final product, ready for sale at local garden stores. They produce three formulas: hydrangea, tomato, and all purpose.
Students from Christine Spence’s special education transitional program at Barnstable High School do much of the work, gaining valuable job training skills. The club plans to introduce a curriculum for other local schools.
The club has since added a second dehydrator at their office in the Cape Cod Collaborative, and began collecting food waste from several restaurants as well. Since its founding more than 25,000 pounds of food waste has been repurposed.
The end product is two-pound bags of fertilizer, which are packed 12 to a case. Bags retail for $10 to $13 and are sold in 13 stores on the Cape, including Capabilities Farm, Agway, Scenic Roots, and Country Gardens. It can also be purchased online at www.capecodchallengergreenproject.com.
“We’ve got a great product with attractive packaging and labelling,” says Todoroff.
Last year they sold 42 cases. The goal is to reach 100 cases, at which time they’ll be able to use the services of a distributor. With their existing machinery, their capacity is 1000 cases per year.
With excess capacity, the question was, what to do next. For help, they turned to E for All, and entered their pitch contest, which was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The event was described as fast-paced and fun.
“EforAll was kind of a sounding board. We wanted to get some feedback on our idea and on its scalability,” explains Todoroff.
The feedback from the folks at EforAll was positive. They liked the idea, and gave the club practical advice regarding their overhead. They also awarded the club first prize of $1000.
The club plans to use the prize money to develop waterproof outdoor displays for garden centers. A prototype is currently under construction. It’s being made by a carpenter who’s a parent of a child with special needs.
“We want to be outside next to the hydrangeas and tomatoes and we feel if we can make an attractive display we can separate ourselves from the competition,” says Todoroff.
“The more fertilizer we sell, the more food waste gets recycled and the more jobs we create,” says Todoroff. “This process of turning food waste into fertilizer and creating meaningful work opportunities for people with disabilities is a winning formula.”