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This Co-Founder Wants You to Make Happiness and Health Dirt Simple. Here’s How

I don’t know about you, but like other millennials, I put a pretty high value on health and wellness. And, just like other millennials, my stress cup often runneth over. Little wonder then, that I miss the small, 7-acre farm I grew up on and the huge garden always nestled in the heart of it.

Idan Cohen feels my pain. As a kid in Israel, he grew up on his own fresh munchies, too. But then New York called. Suddenly, instead of a decent plot of land, all Cohen had was his rooftop. He tried pulling a gardening solution together with equipment from his local hardware store, but the only thing that grew was his disappointment.

“There were just no high quality, easy-to-use products for building a garden,” Cohen says. “and there was no single resource that could answer all of my questions on what, when and how to grow.”

But Cohen knew in his mind what he was looking for, and that vision led him to develop GROW Duo, a smart planter designed to take the guesswork out of small-space gardening. The product comes with dirt, seeds and nutrients. It also features a water-saving irrigation system that automatically waters whatever you’ve planted.

But the coolest part is the sensor and app integration. The planter can collect data about environmental conditions like moisture and the weather, so you can pull information about what your plants need from day to day. The app even can tell you what plants are best to use for where you are, when you should plant them and what the ideal care for them is. So even if you have zero experience gardening, your odds of seeing your plants thrive gets a huge boost.

Admittedly, GROW Duo might not appeal to every consumer–seniors, for example, might be less eager to rely on their smartphone to grow their plants. And if the sensors or app have trouble due to damage or connectivity issues, customers are back to square one, having to trust their own observations and other information sources. Smart planter competitors like Droponic, NooCity Growbed and Niwa are out there, too. However, they typically don’t combine all three of the elements–sufficient size for outdoor use, app integration and plant education–GROW Duo has.

Harvesting beyond the plants

Cohen says his product is about more than just something green on the patio or roof. “Our modern pace of life leaves very little time for special moments outdoors with family and friends, or for the simple joys of cooking a meal from fresh-picked garden ingredients,” he explains. “We started this company to make growing food simple, accessible and ubiquitous. We’ve lived firsthand the transformative power of spending time outdoors with friends and family, enjoying nature and healthy food, and we want to make that experience available to everyone.”

Cohen adds that gardens force you to observe environmental changes and serve as an ongoing lesson in learning from failures. They also stimulate creativity, as you have to figure out how to use your yield. The simple routine of the garden also can be a way to spend time with family, improving connection.

“[My garden] keeps me learning and curious,” he says. “Every day there is something new to discover and it is exciting and rewarding to see the literal fruits of our labor.”

And there’s plenty of science behind the lifechanging power of gardening

  • A meta-analysis of 22 case studies from the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East found that gardening improved health outcomes in areas such as depression, anxiety, body mass index, life satisfaction, quality of life and sense of community.
  • A review of research conducted from 1992 to 2015 concluded that horticultural therapy can benefit those with mental health conditions.
  • Therapeutic gardens have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety in the elderly, improving attention while decreasing fall risk, pain and the need for antipsychotic medications.
  • The National Institute of Health recommends three to five 30-45 minute gardening sessions a week as part of a strategy to control obesity.
  • Research studies have found that kids who participate in gardening have better self-understanding and the ability to work in groups, are more likely to bond with parents and other adults, are more likely to eat and prefer fresh fruits and veggies and even score higher on achievement tests.
  • Research suggests that exposure to the microbiome within dirt actually might be beneficial for health, affecting not only the immune system, but also the brain’s ability to produce serotonin and help you feel happy. In fact, injection-based exposure to bacteria commonly found in soil has been shown to improve quality of life for cancer patients.

And if you absolutely can’t garden?

Cohen says you still can connect to the above benefits through other outdoor activities, such as hiking and camping. Visiting local farmer’s markets will let you connect with others in your area, and cooking is a functional, creative way to spend time with people, too.

“You read all the time about founders and executives ‘hacking’ their lives to be able to have it all,” Cohen concludes, “but I must say, I haven’t figured it out 100 percent. There aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything I want and need to. I really do hope I will be able to build a company that embraces family as a key value and prioritizes that balance.”

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