A Different Perspective Can Lead to a New Approach
You’re doing what? Francis Hunter screamed through the phone. Mr. Hunter teaches Soil Food Web Composting at San Louis Obispo California State University, Center for Sustainability. CalPoly is one of the best agricultural schools in the state. He was stunned at what SymSoil as doing to create product that met Dr. Elaine Ingham’s Soil Food Web endpoints for biology and biodiversity.
Coming from outside the industry, and focusing on the goal rather than the traditional process, SymSoil had found a way to scale SFW to make it scalable and a viable alternative for mainstream farmers. In some ways, this was akin Vivek Rnadivé’s experience, an outsider who changed the way his daughter’s team would play basketball,
Ranadivé had never played basketball. He was asked to coach a team that had little skill in dribbling or shooting. By focusing on the game’s goals, not the way it was always played, he coached them to the national championship. He did this by reconceptualizing the inbound pass and the midcourt 10 second rule. If you never heard of the founder of Tipco, take the time to read this story from New Yorker Magazine.
SymSoil has done something similar. Traditional Soil Food Web is made in small batches, by skilled craftsmen using artisan methods. The product, SFW or RC (Robust Compost), is very valuable to knowledgeable buyers, currently sold for $700 per cubic yard in Northern California (in contrast to commodity compost that ranges from $10 to $19 per cubic yard, and is likely to be free from your local community.) Soil Food Web compost is chronically in short supply.
Traditional economics would suggest the gap would be filled quickly – high demand, high price – therefore more suppliers would enter the market.
But Soil Food Web requires significant amounts physical labor and the type of skill which comes from experience – a minimum of 1,000 hours, or 6 months of 40-hour work weeks. To create a quality product, you need microscopy skills as well. Most farms who want SFW may send an employee to be trained, but then those skills are used 100 hours a year, and the skills never develop. Outside “consultants” while learning they are likely to be paid like any other farm worker. That is, minimum wage or less.
How do you become a skilled, experienced German mechanic? You have to do to work and put in the time and effort. Needless to say, developing SFW skills is quite challenging.
Before founding SymSoil, Elizabeth Pearce began by interviewing everyone she could who had failed in the attempt to scale SFW. Understanding the challenges, she created a new approach to the end goal, broad biodiversity within the microbe biome that added value for farmers, as an alternative to agrochemicals.
SymSoil’s new approach leverages these skills and pays experienced and skilled Soil Food Web Microbe Herders, a new job category for a new industry, comparable wages to the cannabis and wine industry. These are the farmers who care about the quality of their product, looking at their crop at the level of chemistry.
Healthy soil has thousands of species, hundreds of families of bacteria, archaea, fungi, and dozens of species of protozoa, beneficial nematodes and insects too small to be easily seen. There are a variety of other smaller categories of protists. The SymSoil process has taken 5 years and over $2 million to develop but, essentially it grows all these different life forms separately and rebuilds the soil microbial ecosystem, a life form at a time.
SymSoil’s Minimum Viable Product (MVP) was 400 cubic yards (250 tons), a number mind numbingly large to people familiar with SFW. The traditional, small batch methods, for reasons of biology and physics, max out at 8 or 9 cubic yards.
We have now proven that we can make 25 and 50 cubic yard batches with consistency.
But after almost 5 years and $2 million spent in development, it will take substantial funds to build a hub that can service 1 million acres in Iowa – and 20 times that to make enough RC to offset the entire US carbon footprint.
You can help today, with any amount of money.
Support our Kickstarter Campaign: http://kck.st/37OtttC
SymSoil (Soil Health B Corp) – Medium (Medium.com/@SymSoil)