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This article appeared in the July 2012 edition of Green Fire Times.

Walking into the warehouse at The Way We Grow, I was struck by the overwhelming tasks at hand for start-up entrepreneurs. Perhaps it was this comment from owner Sattva Ananda that got me: “We could be hiring 30 people in the next two years.” His face lit up and his smile curled into a Proud Papa moment. I guess when your business is about growing things successfully you don’t worry about growing the actual business that fast.

The Way We Grow is owned by partners Sattva Ananda, John Cross. Ananda and Cross are a couple of former construction guys who are doers. That much is clear when you walk into the showroom and tour the warehouse. Plants are thriving, sewing tables are clean and ready for orders, pallets are stacked with material to be cut and product ready to ship. The phone was ringing off the hook. These guys are busy doing—everything. Cross is the back-end guy—sewing, doing the books, shipping orders. Ananda is the out-front guy – prepping to pitch potential investors, tweaking the business plan, taking phone orders.

Growing A Little Idea

When things slowed down in construction for both Ananda and Cross a few years ago, Cross was growing garden starts on a small plot of urban land, and came up with a design for small fabric bags to grow the starts that would retain more moisture and avoid root balls that shock plants and stunt growth when transplanted. That idea turned into The Awesome Pot (patent pending), and a growing green business that’s committed to sourcing its materials as American-made as possible, hiring local employees to manufacture and ship product, and achieving a goal to be 99 percent waste-free. The Awesome Pot itself uses 80 percent less plastic than conventional pots.

With the “back-to-the-land” movement for urban gardening, the local food movement and indoor growing industries booming and growing bigger every day, these guys are positioned to explode with a product that could put Santa Fe on the map in a new way. Markets for their products include home garden centers, nurseries, tree farms, indoor and outdoor growing, urban gardening, parking lots and anywhere else you might want to put an herb garden or grow your own tomatoes. The Awesome Pot is designed with an adjustable drawstring top and keeps things insulated. Its self-mulching feature enables root growth to the top of the bag, maximizing root volume by 20%. The breathability of the Awesome Pot self-prunes roots and prevents shock. The roots reach the edge of the bag; self prune and then send out new roots, growing to maximum potential, and then can be successfully transplanted. You can even hang the bags inside in a sunny window.

Growing Local, Growing Regional

The Awesome Pot is cut and sewn to order by the thousands (up to 4,000 a month currently), then shipped out of the Early Street warehouse. As we toured the property, Ananda and Cross led me through their vision for the company. “It’s a place where we can grow our headquarters, grow a nursery that could provide food for the local food nonprofits to feed the community, employ a lot of people, create new spin-off businesses and keep the money right here in Santa Fe,” according to Ananda. That’s a grand vision for a small two-year-old start-up that is experiencing such rapid growth. Flash forward five years, and these guys expect to be in six major markets, producing all their products locally, hosting an online store, owning their own property, and of course, making money. Because there is nothing wrong with being a green business that makes serious green. And these guys are serious.

“We’re saving all our remnants from the bags because they are recyclable into plastic, and it’s possible that we could start our own injection molding plant to produce the cord locks ourselves,” Cross explains. The only material for the Awesome Pot they cannot source in the US is the plastic cord lock that keeps the bag closed tight to produce its own mulch. “If we make it ourselves and create a new business, creating more local jobs is even better for the community, right?” Right.

This model of creating a business to serve your own business’ needs isn’t a new one. It’s becoming the Re-New American way. More and more manufacturing is coming home to towns all over America to bring back lost jobs. The Way We Grow plans to automate their cutting and sewing manufacturing down the road, too. “The jobs wouldn’t go away; they would just change the way they do it,” Cross says, with a look of entrepreneurial relief in his eye.

Ananda rattles off more business ideas. “We also save all our cardboard rolls from the material. We could get into worm farms too, since the cardboard could be used as compost. It’s sort of endless. And as more orders become regionalized in other states where the markets are growing, like California and Colorado, we could open manufacturing plants in those areas to reduce shipping costs and our carbon footprint. We could be creating jobs for other communities by serving those communities and growing food in those communities.” This appeals to me. It’s local growing regional.

The idea behind it all, says Ananda, is to support the community through entrepreneurial ideas. As the market grows, their business grows, and other businesses become necessary to serve its growing needs. With negotiations already happening at over 100 stores all over the country, they are well on their way.

Growing Capital, Growing Success

After winning a grand prize of $5,000 last month in the MIX Santa Fe BizMix Challenge, they are now working with a mentor to prepare a detailed business plan and planning to meet with other potential investors. There is a lot to be done when you are an entrepreneur looking to scale-up and attract capital. Writing a business plan wasn’t among the things Ananda originally wanted to do. “I thought I’d just look online for someone to write a plan for us, but it doesn’t work that way. Only you know your business from the inside out and what your vision is for the future, so you are the best person to write it. I just dug in and learned,” he says.

“It’s a miracle we’ve made it this far on the funds we have, but we know it will work. Failure is not an option,” Ananda and Cross both say, nearly in unison. They both talk about the business and the future of owning a local green enterprise in Santa Fe with such conviction, I believe them.

Go to The Way We Grow online to learn more.