Getting people to grow their own tree from seed and then having a million trees geotagged and mapped out is the vision of two young ‘treepreneurs’ from Centurion, Sean Hide and Patrick Leckie from Grow A Tree.
“My big dream is to actually incorporate the grow a tree from a seed idea into the grade one syllabus,” said Sean.
And the name? “It was originally going to be Plant A Tree, but Sean found Grow A Tree spelt GAT, which was more … amusing. I think it should have been called Plant A Tree (PAT) because that is my name,” says Patrick.
Why did they start this business and why trees?
More arms to hang hammocks on
Sean came back in 2007 after spending 3 years in London. Amongst other work he sourced hammocks from a guy in Howick, Durban. That was when the idea occurred to him of being involved in creating more arms to hang hammocks from.
“I was on my ‘spot’ in Centurion, sitting in what I call an ‘air chair’ – it’s like a hammock but needs only one place to hang from. I was wondering how to get more sales of hammocks… How about I start a nursery and get people to buy trees from me and add a hammock… or at least come back to me in 20 years,” Sean wondered.
If he can grow a tree himself, he thought, how about he gets a pack together with seeds and soil and call it a tree starter pack… and so the name came out then and there – GROW A TREE or GAT, “because this starter pack is your gat where you grow your tree in.”
Coming home for trees
In Jan 2008 he had sold a couple of bags to some florists and started the tree business.
“Because I loved the idea, I was deep down always a greenie. I also wanted to have a product that I could learn a whole lot from and teach, and this was it. So back when I had the epiphany I knew that I had discovered why I came back to SA, and what I was going to do for the rest of my life.”
During April 2008 the business was launched in the Eternity hall in the Freedom park in Pretoria – aptly named Launch Hall.
“I invited like 200 press, and really thought here I come out with a bang … 8 people came to the launch. My parents, 2 friends and a crew from SABC news. I luckily got some airtime on 5fm’s new ‘It’s my business’ slot. That’s how we started.”
Losing 1000 trees in hot sun
Grow A Tree has distributed about 40000 tree bags, and including going to schools about 500000 seeds have gone through their hands. Sean came 5th in a reality TV show called Big Break Legacy. They supply Pick n Pay and Mass Mart.
So they have done well, but I wonder if there were difficult times too?
“We once lost a whole crop of grown trees due to lack of water. About 1000 trees. I went to Grahamstown for my first ever science festival out of Gauteng… 2 weeks later in hot sun and no waterer, they all withered.
“The other challenge was not finding adequate land to have an actual community garden. I wanted to have reached my target of a million trees by 2013. Yet I’m so far off it I think I’ll get there in the next 5.”
What did he learn from 5 years in the tree planting business?
Business grows as slow as trees
“Big learning curve: that my tree business grows as slow as a tree! It’s now 5 years old, it has a shape of a tree, but is not strong enough to hold fruit.”
“So basically I learnt that making money in the tree business is a very slow process. One has to understand that passion will have to be your fuel for many a day.”
Where can our readers find their tree seed bags?
“Readers can get them online. There are many retailers that stock Grow A Tree… We are trying our best to branch out. I am trying to target every person who has not experienced growing their own tree from a seed. That is my target market – basically every person.
What type of trees are in those bags?
“We have 30 varieties.”
Eco Logic youth finalist
So you are growing trees yourself and capturing the seeds? Do you have a tree nursery up there?
“Yes, at the moment we have about 3500 trees growing, like white stinkwoods, yellow woods, bushwillow, and pompons, and brown Karee. We only do indigenous trees… yet if a tree came up that is exotic I might still leave it to grow… there is always space for a tree.”
Sean was also a finalist for the Eco Logic award’s Youth Prize. Congratulations!