How Urban Leaf Began

How Urban Leaf Began

Apr 26, 2017Nate Littlewood

Welcome. This is the story of how Urban Leaf began. 

Hi, my name is Nate and I'm one of the co-founders of Urban Leaf. 

In 2013 I moved to NYC for a job in finance. NYC is the biggest city I've ever lived in, and I've spent most of my life living in what most people would call 'the burbs'.

Food and cooking is a life long passion for me. In fact, my very first career aspiration was to become a chef. But my Mom talked me out of it by telling me I'd have to wake up at 5am every day. Back then I liked sleeping in.

I've also got very fond memories of accompanying my Dad to the local plant nursery on Sunday mornings every Spring. We'd buy trays of herb and flower seedlings, then spend the weekend planting them in the backyard. I was put in charge of watering and caring for them, and although I didn't realize it at the time - I think the gardener in me was born. 

Fast forward to 2015, and I'm living in a 1 bedroom shoebox in Chelsea NYC. The only way I could access outdoor space was by climbing up onto the roof of my building. I desperately missed tending to a garden, and the sense of satisfaction and fulfilment it gave me. Especially the feeling of being able to serve something I had grown myself to friends when I made them dinner. 

So, like any good engineer, I started tinkering. I scoured the internet looking for creative ways to grow food in my small apartment. I learned about hydroponics, grow lights, different types of cultivars, all sorts of fancy products, and much more. The photos above are from 2016, and show some of the early ideas we experimented with on our quest to come up with a gardening solution that worked in our NYC apartments. 

When Nate met Rob

It was around this time that I met Rob. Rob grew up on a wood farm in Massachusetts. We met at a presentation he was giving about his research, which had focused on ways to incorporate plants into urban environments. At the time Rob was a post-doc at the Earth Institute at Columbia University. I somehow convinced him that leaving the world of Academia and joining me to form a startup would be way more fun. And that, my friend, is how Urban Leaf was born. 

We spent years testing and trialing the various other grow-at-home offerings that were available. Perhaps you're doing the same thing at the moment. What we ultimately came to realize however is that none of them really scratched my gardening itch in quite the right way. Sure, they were (and are) great ways to grow basil. But just like a Nespresso machine is never going to teach you how to become a barista, these plug-and-play gardening machines aren't going to teach you to become a gardener, either.

We couldn't find what we wanted, so we decided to build it ourselves

We couldn't find a brand that made me feel the sense of pride I had felt when Dad put me in charge of the herbs in the backyard. We figured there must be other people like us out there, who also wanted to be able to garden in their apartments. We also knew that sharing this gardening experience with people who were new to the hobby is probably something they'd really enjoy - and like us, it might also help make life inside a 1 bedroom apartment more liveable. 

Rob and I have spent the last 5 years figuring out the best ways to create meaningful gardening experiences for people who live in small spaces. Our first product was launched via a Kickstarter campaign in 2017, and we've been steadily growing (pun intended) ever since. 

We pride ourselves on offering a safe and supportive space for people of any experience level to have a go at gardening in their apartment. This is why we offer the gardening industry's best refund and replacement policy; Any Time, and For Any Reason. 

Gardening offers a host of personal health benefits, and growing your own food is also a tremendous way to play a part in building a more sustainable, resilient, and transparent food system. 

Thank you for making it this far, and we look forward to continuing this voyage with you! 

Until next time, Nate (Co-Founder & CEO)

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Comments (1)
  • THANK YOU for your pursuits for helping us that love to grow things when nothing will grow outside in the Winter. I cannot find replacement/reorder ability anywhere for the Urban Leaf hydroponic liquid fertilizer. I have a bottle that is almost empty and I need another bottle or refill for this one . Amazon is out of stock and your site is out of stock. What do you suggest? I can keep this handy dandy bottle and refill it from a refill-bottle source. Do you sell it in refill bottles?

    Mary L Hartman
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