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Meet Jared Criscuolo of Upcycle and Company in Downtown

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jared Criscuolo.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Jared. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Upcycle and Company got its start in environmental activism. I planned on becoming an environmental lawyer when I got out of college but got waitlisted and was advised to get some real work experience, volunteer, and reapply in 5 years. I moved to San Diego from Connecticut to gain more work experience while pursuing a good work-life balance (surf, enjoy the beach and mountains, and live in a larger but laid back metropolitan area). I figured the rest would work itself out. A pivotal moment for me was getting sick surfing after a rainstorm during my first week in San Diego. That led to joining the Surfrider Foundation’s San Diego chapter.

For the past 10 years, I’ve wanted to start a business that solved an environmental problem but I didn’t know where to start. My activism and involvement with the local Surfrider chapter and other non-profits in the San Diego community combined with my professional experience ultimately led me to consult with wastewater agencies providing environmental outreach, communications and creative services.

This experience exposed me to the practical application of “resource recovery” or reusing the waste resources that come through wastewater treatment plants. With encouragement from one of my clients, I started Upcycle and Company with the goal of taking regionally/locally sourced organic waste and giving it a new life as gardening and agricultural products. This opportunity shifted my perspective on environmentalism and activism from fee-based litigation to one where capitalism can solve multiple environmental, health and sustainability problems at the same time.

At Upcycle and Company, our flagship product Native Soil Fertilizer is an all natural, chemical free fertilizer, using 100% locally sourced & sold nutrients that contains up to 5x more available nutrients than our competitors in the organic and synthetic fertilizer spaces, and Native Soil contains a diversity of micronutrients, trace metals, acids and protein with 25% lower carbon footprint at 25% less cost.

Has it been a smooth road?
It has its attendant stresses that any business and particularly a startup will face but like anything, its a matter of perspective, being flexible, changing tack when necessary, and being grateful for all of the good that surrounds us.

To that end, I’d like to share an incredible amount of gratitude that I have for the city we live in. I’ve found the greater San Diego business community to have a very collaborative and enthusiastic culture. Ours is a tough row to hoe (pun intended) as we operate in a very competitive space with a great deal of existing brand loyalty and price pressure.

Despite that, all of our retailers are small business owners who have given us a chance and are helping to get people excited about our product Native Soil Fertilizer. There are groups like the San Diego Venture Group and EvoNexus/the Vine who aren’t a natural fit for us, but who love and celebrate the startup culture and continue to provide support and resources that have helped shape our thinking about how to build this business.

Ballast Point opened up their doors and let us take samples of their brewers waste to test the viability of brewers grains in our fertilizer when this was still a backyard operation.

There are plenty of individual examples of people getting excited and pitching in to help as well ranging from introductions to potential customers and partners, to joint sales efforts with San Diego Seed Company, advice from local farmers and nursery owners, help from my girlfriend and her sister on our social media efforts and at the farmers markets we’ve participated in, friends who have come out to help fill up bags for samples and orders, and mentors who have patiently listened and given perspective from their own failures and successes.

I’ve often heard that San Diego is the “biggest small town in the country”. Our community and the support its people willingly provide is the asphalt that resurfaces the bumpy road.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Upcycle and Company story. Tell us more about the business.
Upcycle and Company makes home gardening and agricultural amendments and plants health products from organic waste. We strive to protect the environment and restore soils to a more nutrient-dense “native” state with our flagship Native Soil Fertilizer. Our fertilizer is 100% chemical free, is made from organic waste from breweries, algae growers and cities that is sourced within 150 miles of San Diego and has up to 5x more available nutrients than organic and synthetic fertilizer at 25% less cost.

We do this by sourcing and selling our materials and blends in Southern California, and we strive to replicate this business model regionally throughout the US and beyond.

I’m proud of the fact that our fertilizer is such a simple blend yet is so productive when compared to organics, has 75% less carbon footprint than many organic certified fertilizers, actually helps retain water in the soil, requires 4x less fertilizer to get the same results as many organics, doesn’t cause the same runoff and subsequent damage to watersheds as organic and synthetic fertilizers, and even though its not certified organic its more effective and more honestly organic and good for the earth than organic fertilizer.!

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
I covered a few topics here, it’s certainly not exhaustive but these are some key issues that are on my radar. While they are not all fertilizer specific they are very much interrelated and drive the end cost of nutrients and of growing healthy nutrient dense food.

Market Size:
Currently, the US market for fertilizer is $28.5 billion annually and pushing $195 billion globally. It is expected to grow to a global market of over $250 billion by 2025. A major struggle we face is the rapid decline of nutrients in plants. It takes 8 oranges today to provide the same amount of Vitamin A as 1 orange in the 1940’s, and tests by British and American organic products reviews show up to a 40% decline in a variety of key nutrients in various classes of commonly consumed vegetables.

Fertilizer Specific Considerations:
Taken in sum, macroeconomic pressures on fertilizer and food have led to the plant equivalent of “all hat no cattle”. By that I mean the bio-ag community has succeeded in genetically editing and modifying plants to provide higher yield and grow successfully in inhospitable climates but has not increased the ability of plants to take up nutrients.

Some of the bigger macro issues we face are:
– genetic modifications to crops and an emphasis on fruit size and yield over nutrient uptake since the 1950’s.
– mono-cropping practices.
– the maximization of cultivated land without regard for the environment (i.e bees/pollinator populations, riparian corridors, and other adjacent forest land or complementary crops).
– reliance on chemical and mined blends of nutrients to replenish organic matter (leaves, barks, wood, plant matter, etc).
– sale of farms to private groups and the lease back burden on farms and their balance sheets.
– federal subsidies for crops of national interest (corn, soybeans, etc).
– international competition, particularly from Mexican mega-farms and orchards.
– Depletion of and increasing dependence on foreign sources of mined minerals for large farms.
– Natural gas and transportation markets and costs.

Increasing Nutrient Quality & Environmental Considerations:
The demand for “certified organic” certainly helps with the nutrient density problem, however, it requires significantly more land – over 30% more per acre – to grow certified organic food, and up to 4x more fertilizers and fungicides to close out successful seasons. This puts a strain on a planet that has already experienced deforestation of over 25% of the world’s forests to make space for farming, a major issue from a global warming and oxygen production perspective.

I’ve read estimates that we will need to clear-cut up to 35% of the earth’s surface by 2050 just to meet the food demands of population growth. Bearing in mind that over 70% of the earth is water, and a quarter of the remaining 30% has been clear cut already we’re not leaving much margin for error.

Water Access for Irrigation:
Another big issue facing agriculture (and second largest cost of producing food) is access to and reliable delivery of water. This used to be but is no longer just an issue west of the 100th meridian (the line of latitude in the US west of Minnesota that demarcates where there is and is not enough rainfall to naturally support agriculture). Watersheds are being drained by bottled water companies who have bought and privatized water sources in areas that do get plenty of rainfall to feed the bottled water industry (over $60bn/year).

They are competing with municipalities and farms for access to water, and erratic snowfalls and warm snaps in mountain regions over the past 20 years and in many states in the midwest, southeast and northeast has resulted in dwindling groundwater tables and reduced river flow. This drives up the cost of available water and increases the need for technologies like San Diego based GroGuru to closely monitor water in the soil, and for amendments and farming techniques that minimize water loss through leaching and evaporation.

Trends to Solve These Problems
Current and coming approaches to address these problems are…

Geographic:
– increased reliance on hydroponics, vertical farms, urban farms in old warehouse/factory buildings
– shortening the sourcing and transportation footprint for ag starting with raw materials through growth to retail to the end consumer
– the shared economy for growing (micro/grassroots trend) pop up gardens in yards
– Increase affordability of and access to predictive weather and crop selection models
– improvements in routes, transportation, and fuel efficiency in trucking/delivery services

Nutrients:
– increased reliance on non-organic/ non-synthetic fertilizers (eco-benefits and plant health benefits)
– shifting reliance from mining to “upcycling” organic waste more efficiently
– utilizing fertilizers and soil amendments made from “organic matter”
– improving food scrap recycling and return to the agricultural land from end consumers (particularly urban areas)
– soil sensor/IoT based monitoring equipment
– refine biostimulants and microbial additives to improve nutrient uptake into plants

Water:
– refine existing evaporation prevention materials
– improvements in water recycling and reuse technology (remove salts from water)
– water and salinity monitoring equipment improvements
– expanding recycled water production and delivery capacity at the municipal and private level

Pricing:

  • 1 lb bag retails for $6.99
  • 4 lb bag retails for $12.99
  • 8 lb bag retails for $19.99

Contact Info:

Getting in touch: SDVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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