Carrboro couple creates a startup dedicated to teaching gardeners how to harvest produce at home with gardening starter kits
By Marie Muir | Photography by John Michael Simpson
With the entire world on lockdown last spring, Ivana Vazquez and Arden Rosenblatt decided to take on a new challenge as a couple – gardening in their Carrboro backyard. Seeking advice on what to plant, Arden called his mother, a master gardener who lives in New York. But she was not familiar with North Carolina’s native species or planting seasons. As Ivana and Arden continued to do research, they discovered that most local gardening guides were difficult to find and even harder to understand.
Ivana and Arden turned their experience into a business concept, Wildweed Gardens, that sells gardening starter kits. The recently engaged entrepreneurs hope people will reconnect with the land by growing their own groceries, such as cherry tomatoes and salad greens. In July 2020, they launched with six beginner-friendly home gardening sets ranging in price and purpose – even people without a yard can participate.
“The Patio Kit is a popular option,” Ivana says. “All you need is a small deck space or enough space to get [your plants] in the sun.”
Each kit contains everything Ivana and Arden needed when they first started gardening – seeds, a measuring tape, bamboo plant stake labels, a miniature journal, step-by-step instructions and information cards that share the history, folklore and uses of each plant.
In October 2020, their wild idea won the NC IDEA Micro Grant for $10,000. Today, Ivana and Arden are tending to their business and watching it blossom right before their eyes. In the last 10 months, Wildweed Gardens has helped customers plant more than 600 food gardens, mostly in North Carolina, and the founders’ goal is to reach 1 million by 2025. “Now that we’re [successfully selling gardening kits], we want to start adding regions and [more] kits and [keep] building,” Arden says.
Luckily, the company is in good hands, since both co-founders have prior startup experience – Arden founded a 3D-printing toy company in Pennsylvania and Ivana a floral and event design company in Durham. While Arden had previous knowledge of foraging, Ivana had almost zero experience with growing food.
“I grew up in the projects of Boston, and my mom always had this avocado seed in a cup of water on the counter. It never sprouted,” Ivana recalls. “It was just part of the family, this non-sprouting avocado seed, for my entire life. My mom said she had a brown thumb and that our family was cursed and no one would ever grow anything.”
As “the green sheep” of the family, Ivana feels even more inspired to help people get into gardening. While Arden manages the business side of Wildweed Gardens, Ivana serves as “the brand, the voice and the vision.”
“Essentially, the theme behind each kit comes out of my own head,” Ivana says. “I’m inspired by what makes me feel happy and what I would want to see.”
This strategy has paid off. She has witnessed hundreds of customers name their plants, track their growth, cook their harvest and return to purchase the next season’s kit. Ivana and Arden invite customers to email them directly with any questions or feedback – a win-win business practice that illuminates ways that they can improve. At press time, Wildweed Gardens had received a perfect five-star rating from 30 verified reviewers.
“It’s not just about growing vegetables or a produce section in Harris Teeter – it’s about growing a connection with your land that you can watch,” Ivana says.
While eating tacos from Mex etc food truck at Present Day on Main, Arden points out a patch of weeds growing in the corner of the outdoor dining area. “There are weeds in this yard that you can use for a cut like neosporin,” he says. “Not that we recommend it, but people used to use carrot seeds for birth control … [gardening] completely changes your worldview. Maybe that’s why we’re stubborn and want to [focus] more on [educating our customers]. [They] are very hands on and want to learn something and be able to walk away with new skills.”
The entrepreneurs dream to one day have a proving ground – a garden venue, farmers market, cafe, bookstore and more – to serve as a place for people to learn and grow as a community alongside the environment.
“There’s a good quote at the bottom of our website from Ralph Waldo Emerson, which is ‘What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.’ And we feel like that sums up this learning curve.”