Lessons Learned from Successful Project Directors - CowPots
From Cow Pies to Cow Pots: A Creative Way to Manage Farm Waste
Ben and Matthew Freund of Connecticut received initial funding from the USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE), USDA Rural Development Program, and Phase I and Phase II funding from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s (NIFA) Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) to develop and market their product, Cowpots.
Dairy farmers constantly struggle with managing nutrient runoff from the farm. Ben and Matthew created a digestion and dehydration process to overcome the troublesome odors and high nitrate content in cow manure. The remaining manure fibers are then formed into a variety of shapes and sizes to create CowPots, which can be planted in the ground to fertilize plants.
CowPots are easy and convenient to use for every level of farmer and gardener. CowPots are sturdy enough to withstand months in the greenhouse, but begin to degrade shortly after being planted in the ground. As the pot dissolves into the soil, it feeds the plants.
The easy to handle, odor-free, non-toxic CowPots benefit society by reducing the manure load on the farm and contributing to a cleaner environment. As CowPots degrade, the nutrients released into the soil produce bigger, better plants for consumers. Because CowPots are biodegradable, there is no need for petroleum-based plastic pots that break over time and are discarded in landfills.
Following their father's example of environmentally sound farming, the Freund brothers began this project to develop a value-added product from the nutrient-rich cow manure. These second-generation farmers live by an edict that good stewards of the land should utilize the most advanced technologies to preserve the environment.
The Freund brothers received the 2007 Mailorder Gardening Association Green Thumb Award for outstanding new products. The inventors of CowPots have been featured on the Discovery Channel's Dirty Jobs show and CNN's Larry King Live.
Question and Answer with Ben Freund
How did you learn about NIFA competitive grants programs?
From our Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) district conservationist.
What made you successful in your first grant application?
We had a great project, as well as good advice and support from NRCS and community members.
Why did you decide to use SBIR as a funding source?
We fit the program and it took us where we needed to go, in terms of product knowledge and testing, to get to a viable commercial project.
What intellectual property agreement do you have between the university and your small business for this project?
We used the boilerplate university documents.
What is your relationship with the small business?
We are the principals of the business; Matthew is the manager.
Did you continue to pursue project-related research at the university after receiving SBIR funding?
Yes, the university has been very supportive and helpful each step of the way, from extension to research to friendly advice.
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