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When Arlington resident Michael Morgan suffered an anxiety attack, he had no idea that the source of his recovery would one day become a business.
The attack was a slow burn. Morgan started feeling unsteady on his feet and a few months later, he could not get out of bed.
After seeking therapy, he realized his physical state stemmed from business and personal troubles: smarting from two startups that sank, due to legal and financial missteps, and reeling from his father’s recent cancer diagnosis.
He said the attack “was 100% related to the entrepreneur life” while the diagnosis “hit me like a ton of bricks.”
Morgan, a biochemist, has a green thumb, and his first steps outside his house were to his backyard, where he healed through gardening. He did not intend to turn his hobby into a company but his friends saw his gift and spotted the business opportunity. This year, Morgan launched Shimo, an organic gardening kit for novices with a little space.
Sustainability runs like a vein through his three ventures. Morgan’s last two ventures included a sustainable phone and Everblume, a hydroponic appliance that nearly made it to the business-launching TV show Shark Tank.
But unlike these two, Shimo grew more organically, he said.
“Entrepreneurs will often start by creating a product and finding customers,” he said. “This time, it was the customer saying, ‘I think you have a good product.”
Shimo takes Morgan back to the root of gardening, too.
“When you think about growing food, it’s really that simple: soil, seed, water, sun,” the biochemist and entrepreneur said. “Why over-complicate it?”
The kit ($50-$60) ships to customers’ doors and includes 100% organic soil, seeds, plant food and a grow bag made from recycled material. Morgan said Shimo makes growing food less intimidating for newbies.
“People ask me, ‘Why is this unique?’” he said. “I tell them, ‘Go to Lowe’s or Home Depot one weekend, go to the Lawn and Garden Center, and then tell me where you’re going to start. There are thousands of seeds and fertilizers to choose from. Then, they get it.”
Families can grow delicious lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, and more for as little as two dollars per harvest, which he said could be a boon to people who live in food deserts.
The bags and the soil will last several years and the recurring costs are just new seeds, fertilizer and an annual soil amendment, Morgan said.
“Shimo uses the concepts we’ve used for several thousands of years and puts a spin on it for an urban or suburban environment, where people don’t have space or access to land, but still are interested in growing their own fresh food,” he said.
With his bounty, Morgan said he has pickled unripe cherry tomatoes to use in martinis instead of olives, made sage sticks and lavender oil, and is working with a D.C.-based mixologist to craft a cocktail using the flowers from mustard greens. He is compiling these ideas and other tips and tricks for his website’s blog.
Ultimately, Morgan aims to cultivate a community of micro-homesteaders around Shimo. He envisions people swapping knowledge, experiences, stories, as well as their own recipes and DIY ideas.
“I know it’s cliché, but when you think about agriculture, society, and history has been, it has always been community-driven,” he said.
Photos courtesy Shimo