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Peat-free soil, a new addition to Back to the Roots' collection.
Back To The Roots
Forests are the focus these days. But bogs, or peatlands, can hold twice as much carbon as forests. Yet, only 3 percent of the land worldwide has this damp, waterlogged terrain. And they’re disappearing. Some of it might be in your garden.
California-based Back to the Roots launched a new line of soil products this month in Walmart stores across the country. There’s one key difference to their soil from the standard potting mix: it’s peat-free.
“All the major soils include peat, the seed starting cups include peat, and yet it doesn't need to be,” says Nikhil Arora, cofounder of Back to the Roots.
While this may be somewhat of a novelty, or lesser known issue, here in the US, avid gardeners in the U.K. have been encouraging people to buy peat-free compost and soil for years. In fact, the U.K., the Royal Horticultural Society, or RHS, which runs famous gardens such as Kew in London, and many others around the country, has made a pledge to go peat-free entirely by 2025. They’ve already decreased use of peat by 97 percent across the organizations. U.K. peat bogs store about 3 billion tonnes of carbon, by some estimates. That’s pushing home gardeners to advocate for a nationwide ban of peat-based soils in garden centers and nurseries.
Back here in the US, Arora and his colleagues had to rethink their formulation, if they were going to go peat-free because it’s such a commonly used material. “When avoiding peat, it definitely requires more effort on formulation to make sure we can still offer great moisture holding capacity.”
So they opted for coconut coir fibers (an upcycled waste stream from the coconut industry) and a natural saponin extract from yucca—a desert plant known for being able to go long stretches without water. This helps the soil retain water, which what gardeners are after: a rich soil that allows for aeration and stores water for longer periods of time.
“By using a combination of both of these we're able to offer our community the benefits of peat, without supporting the mining of one of the world's largest carbon stores. Damaged peatlands account for almost 6% of human carbon emissions,” Arora adds.
What may seem like an upmarket or eco-focused offering is available at Walmart locations across the U.S., and that ties into the company’s efforts to make gardening more accessible.
“We want to bring the most sustainable gardening products to every family and classroom in America,” Arora says. “Walmart has an incredible reach and influence across the U.S.—something like 95% of consumers shop there each year and a Walmart store is within 15 miles of nearly every American.”
This partnership also works in alignment with the retailer’s efforts to reduce its own carbon footprint. In fact, the company has made a commitment to reduce one gigaton of carbon emissions from their supply chains—and this is one more product that helps them get closer to that milestone.
“And it's not our first partnership with Walmart to bring innovative, sustainable products to the garden category,” Arora notes. “Just this spring, we also worked with our merchant to offer a fun Easter egg themed kids grow kit nationwide in Walmart stores. Each grow kit is made entirely out of recycled plastic in a renewable energy-run, women-owned plant in the U.S.”
Though Back to the Roots got its fame from mushroom-growing kits that they piloted in their college days, the company is now looking to transform a largely stagnant industry—gardening. With more Gen-Z and Millennials taking it on, especially during the pandemic, they have a like-minded audience who is interested in their eco-forward products.
The idea for soil came from customers, Arora says. “With our grow kits, we had already spent years testing and perfecting the best soil blends for growing herbs, veggies, fruits, and flowers. And we've had so many requests come in from our community too asking if they could just buy our soil in bulk. So in many ways, this launch is a natural progression of taking something we've been passionate about for years (soil!) and offering it in a more traditional form, the 1 cubic foot bags, that can help all sorts of new gardeners grow, not just those buying our grow kits.”
Eco-gardening makes sense as a growing trend. Gardeners are already nature lovers. So they’re likely to look at their own little operations with more scrutiny on how they can help protect habitats, and nurture new ones.
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