In recent years, food has been one of the tech industry's hottest areas. Startups like Blue Apron and Plated, for example, deliver meal kits to those who want to cook at home but don't have the time to get to the grocery store to shop for ingredients. Instacart, meanwhile, does the shopping for you and then delivers the groceries to your doorstep.
Now a Vermont startup has brought this Do-It-Yourself phenomenon to gardening, and Home Depot is getting involved. The company, Seedsheet, sells one simple product: the seedsheet, a kit for growing vegetables at home.
The biodegradable sheet comes with seed pods affixed to it; each pod contains seeds and a small amount of soil. All customers have to do is lay the sheet on top of a soil bed like a blanket, and water it. Once watered, the pods immediately dissolve, and the sheet serves as a barrier to pesky weeds.
The appeal for amateurs interested in gardening is obvious: do it yourself, without any expertise needed. You can set it up fast (30 seconds, the company touts on its web site), and Seedsheet offers six different sizes to fit even the smallest of spaces like a windowsill box or a New York City apartment fire escape. The kits run from $35 up to $250 for the biggest size, 10 feet by 16 feet.
Will hipsters really spend $35 or more when they could buy seeds for a few dollars and figure out on their own how to plant them? Home Depot thinks so. Beginning this month, Home Depot is selling Seedsheet online at its corporate web site. Seedsheet has already been selling the kits at its own web site, but the platform of Home Depot is a major score for the tiny startup.
"I was excited about it because of the growth with millennials in the container gardening space, and how simple it makes it for everyone to grow their own edibles," says Bethany Wood, an online buyer for the home-improvement chain. "We are seeing urban-gardening trending. Millennials are becoming more interested in growing their own food and in sustainable awareness—that movement is what we're keying in on. Gardening starts as an intimidating thing to do, and Seedsheet takes all that guess work out."
Indeed, Seedsheet founder and CEO Cameron MacKugler likes to say that with his product, planting a garden is as easy as making a bed. MacKugler came up with the idea in 2013, when he was house-sitting for two weeks at a co-worker's house on a dairy farm. At the time, he was working for a Vermont architecture firm as their LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) project manager.
While checking out the house's outdoor garden, he says, "I had this epiphany: I love having access to this amazing food, in my backyard, that I can harvest in my boxers. So how can I take the awesomeness of this experience and condense it into something a recent college grad, with limited money and minimal space, can cultivate?"
MacKugler "sprinted inside the house" and sketched out a version of what eventually became the seedsheet, a fabric layer that spaces out plants (so you don't need to worry about them encroaching on each other) and blocks weeds from sprouting up. At first, he tested various materials for the sheets: toilet paper, newspaper, paper towels, and craft paper.
"Lo and behold," he says, "they all worked. It's not too difficult to get a seed to germinate once it's in soil and exposed to moisture." He settled on two layers of dissolving paper, placed atop soil and watered. Then he sent it out to be tested in different environments around the country.
He knew he had caught on to something when a tester in Boston used it to grow something on her fire escape, and her roommate remarked, "I didn't think you could actually grow food in Boston." After the testing, Seedsheet took to Kickstarter last year and raised $30,000 in funding. The company has since raised two more small rounds ("tiny, just tiny" says MacKugler proudly) to get it retail-ready for Home Depot. To date it has raised $600,000, including the Kickstarter funds.
Seedsheet is headquartered in Middlebury, Vermont, where MacKugler went to college. The company's seven full-time employees occupied a co-working space with other Vermont startups until recently, when Seedsheet moved to its own factory.
Americans spent $30 billion on their lawns and gardens last year, according to the National Gardening Association, and one in three households now grows its own food. MacKugler says that even though Seedsheet is focused on urban millennials, he hopes it can access outdoor gardening veterans, too. "If you were to go outside, poke holes, and then meticulously weed around it, the cost-saving of our giant seedsheet is large," he says.
Home Depot, for now, thinks that younger gardeners is the sweet spot. "If you're 60 and an avid gardener, this probably isn't the product for you," says Wood, the buyer. MacKugler hopes that the online sales will prove otherwise.