Quad-City area native and entrepreneur Gabriel Price is partnering with small farms in an effort to reduce agricultural waste and boost soil health and crop yields.
After interviewing 250 farmers and gardeners over the past few years, 25-year-old Price, a graduate of St. Ambrose University, co-founded Earnest Earth, a startup that produces agriculture waste by converting it into eco-friendly fertilizer.
With success over the past two years, Earnest Earth's first product, two-pound bags of vermicompost — which is made by using earthworms — is now available for sale in the Quad-Cities, at Teske Pet & Garden in Moline.
"I got into it from my rural background," said Price, who grew up around farms near Orion, Ill. "I saw on different farms I worked at there were huge piles of waste and manure just sitting there, and farmers weren't able to do anything with them. So I started doing research, and found you can take this waste and turn it into a really valuable resource for soil and plants."
Price decided he wanted to help rid farms of waste — which can pollute water and lead to greenhouse gas emissions — by providing farmers with on-site bioreactors that use earthworms and microbes to convert waste into fertilizer.
He pitched the idea with his co-founder and longtime friend, Darrel Teague, at a startup event in October 2017. By December, they developed their first prototype, which took third place in the annual Cozad New Venture Competition, hosted by the University of Illinois.
Price, a PhD student who studies soil and microbes at the University of Illinois, is working with the iVenture Accelerator program at the Gies College of Business. Through that program, he said Earnest Earth developed its second prototype, which will soon be installed at a dairy farm near the university's campus this summer.
"(Price) is an extremely passionate grad student solving a big problem, and a highly visible member of the University of Illinois startup community," said Manu Edakara, manager of the iVenture Accelerator. "He has been extremely thoughtful in his role as an adviser to other startups, being a role model for entrepreneurship on our campus."
Eddy Mejia, who's earning his MBA at Gies College of Business, met Price through the program and joined Earnest Earth in January.
"I came on board at Earnest Earth because I truly believe we can make a positive impact on the agricultural industry and give back to people and the environment," said Mejia, an Army veteran, in a statement. "Getting our products in stores is an exciting milestone for us, and we can’t wait until people see what we have to offer, as well as start giving back to local farmers."
In addition to helping limit agriculture waste and improve soil health, the team also is partnering with small farms to help them earn some extra money.
"We provide farmers with the bioreactors for free, then we collect the fertilizer and sell it. And we split the revenue with the farms," Price said. "So it's a way to make some money from something that oftentimes is just sitting on their property."
While Earnest Earth is starting out on a small scale, Price said he hopes helping farmers effectively manager their waste will help make a dent in runoff and greenhouse gas emissions.
"Composting is great for the environment and helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions, so it's great for combating climate change," he said. "The compost stays in the soil longer and doesn't leak nitrogen and different nutrients into water sources. As we grow over the next few years, I think it'll make a great different for farms, so they can use less synthetic fertilizers and produce less runoff."