Startup Looks to Coconut Husks as Solution to Meet Challenge of Topsoil Depletion
February 12, 2013 | Missy Smith
Several years ago, George Vidal and Emilio Perito responded to a personal calling to simultaneously conduct business and to do their part in preserving our natural resources. Realizing that water depletion and eroding topsoil were becoming major problems, the two set out to start a company that would address these environmental concerns by creating products designed to increase sustainability in farming.
“In the United States, topsoil is vanishing at a rate of 10 times faster than it can be formed,” explains Vidal. “Our current agricultural practices have already stripped our topsoil of many nutrients and minerals, which have a direct effect on our produce and grain that is fed to livestock, which leads to fewer nutrients to our bodies.”
The company’s answer to this disappearing soil? Coconut husks. In 2010, the two friends visited the Philippines and Mexico, and quickly learned that coconuts grow in abundance in both climates; in fact, in the Philippines the coconut tree is oftentimes referred to as the “tree of life”.
Two years later in 2012, the pair formed Santa Fe Springs, Calif.-based Coco Enviro, which manufactures Enviro Coco Peat, a planting soil alternative made with the fiber derived from coconut husks. “By mixing our peat with soil and using it as a cover, you achieve two things: you don’t use as much soil and water due to its moisture holding capacity, and the cover will protect nutrients, minerals and micro-organisms that are needed for nutritious vegetables, fruits and grain,” says Vidal.
Coco Enviro developed the Coco Peat (also available with its BIO-GROW 7, a natural growth enhancer) as an alternative to peat moss, which Vidal explains takes thousands of years to develop; and once you harvest them, they are gone. On the other hand, “if one [coconut tree] goes into the ground, within a year, it is already producing fruit,” says Vidal. “It’s a natural, sustainable and biodegradable product.”
Coco Enviro’s Coco Peat can be used in greenhouses, in horticulture and hydroponics. Vidal says that due to its porosity, resistance to mold and water-holding capabilities, the Coco Peat promotes a strong, healthy root structure that does not impede growth. “In a controlled environment that is protected from outside elements, the water-holding capabilities increase even more,” he explains. “This, we feel, is a perfect application to grow more with less, and it is 100-percent renewable.”
Vidal says that Coco Enviro has agreements with various coconut plantations in the Philippines to harvest the raw materials needed for its products. “Because they are considered a waste product in the processing of coconuts, [coconut husks are] very inexpensive to process, package and ship to the United States,” he explains. “With countries such as the Philippines—whose government made it a priority to work with overseas companies in producing quality products made from coconut husks—cooperation has been phenomenal and seamless when we developed our products.”
In the future, Coco Enviro will unveil new versions their Coco Peat to the public. Vidal says that Coco Enviro is in the process of improving its Bio-Grow 7 by introducing a neem oil (a natural pesticide) in powdered form, which the company hopes to start distributing by May or June. Vidal also explains that customers such as home gardeners and landscapers must currently mix the Coco Peat with soil, but Coco Enviro’s future goal is to sell it as a standalone product. “Even as a mix, it reduces our watering times,” he says. “We tested that theory over and over again, and it really does work.”
Though the company was founded just a few months ago in October of last year, Vidal says that Coco Enviro is ahead of its financial projections. “We knew that when we started the company that it was the off season,” he explains. “But, surprisingly by giving out samples, we were able to get some sales.”
According to Vidal, the future of the company looks bright, with the environment and sustainability at the top of its priority list. “The one thing that we really wanted to get across is that we as a culture have to figure out how to grow more with less,” he explains. “We feel that this product will help to do that.”