Just two years after graduating from St. Ambrose University, Gabe Price '16 has launched an award-winning start-up, applied for a patent, is writing a USDA grant, and innovating new ways to reduce waste and boost soil quality and crop yields.
Price also is building on his Ambrosian education, which included a bachelor of science degree in biology and second degree in philosophy. He is working on a PhD in the Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology (PEEC) program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
He and his long-time friend, Darrel Teague, operate Earnest Earth Agriculture (formerly known as Agrimy Ag) and developed a patent-pending bioreactor that uses earthworms and microbes to convert manure, crop residue and agriculture waste into fertilizer.
The bioreactor is a self-contained six-foot cube that is placed on-site at small-scale farms. "The waste goes into it and the reactor operates independently. It takes care of all the processing. In about two months, it converts all the waste into sustainable fertilizer that we can package and sell on behalf of the farmer," Price said.
Earnest Earth Agriculture sells the fertilizer, soil-enriching earthworm castings and potting soil online and at Teske Pet and Garden stores in the Quad Cities.
In April, the company garnered third place in the COZAD New Venture Competition hosted by the University of Illinois Technology Entrepreneur Center and the company was recognized with the Edwin Moore Agricultural Innovation Award.
Price said they are hoping to secure a USDA grant to continue research and development. "There is a lot we don't understand about how microbes in earthworms help break down waste and leave behind this valuable product people can use in gardens," he said.
"Now we are working to isolate microbes and use them to improve plant growth, prevent plant disease and promote drought resistance. We hope to incorporate what we learn into our products and eventually to sell them for industrial agricultural use, so farmers could spray their fields with a micro blend for extra crop protection," Price said.
He expects it will take four to five years of research and development before they are ready to approach the agricultural industry with a commercial micro blend product. In the meantime, Earnest Earth is focusing on building its consumer base for the at-home use of biofertilizer and potting mix, as well as refining the bioreactor for food waste.
Price said when refinements are complete, likely in the next few months, large businesses and educational institutions could use the bioreactor to reduce the amount of food waste they send to the landfill and at the same time, create a value-added, eco-friendly product.
Earnest Earth Agriculture
The start-up launched by Gabe Price '16 and Darrel Teague placed 3rd in the COZAD New Venture Competition hosted by the University of Illinois Technology Entrepreneur Center. Photos by L. Brian Stauffer, News Bureau/Public Affairs, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
There is great interest in reducing waste and doing so with the bioreactor Price has developed. He said Earnest Earth Agriculture was contacted by a realtor who wanted to use the technology within an eco-friendly housing development.
Price envisions even wider use in the future. "One of the greatest things about this process is it was designed to eliminate human pathogens and one of our goals is to make it efficient enough to deal with human waste. This could help huge cities redesign their waste management systems to become more self-sustaining and create a product that will boost soil health," he said.
Price said his interest in earthworms was sparked by Biology Department Chair and Associate Professor Amy Blair, PhD, who incorporated her own research into earthworms into ecology lectures. It was also at SAU that he became interested in soil microbes and plants, and participated in undergraduate research.
SAU was the only university to which Price applied, not only because his now-wife, Suzanne (Christensen) Price ‘15, was attending, but also because of the strong preparation he would get for medical school, which was his goal at the time.
Adding philosophy as a second degree was a great choice, he said. "I believe one reason I got into the PhD program at the University of Illinois was my philosophy degree. It has helped me create strong arguments for developing experiments, to make sure they have integrity and will stand up," he said.
"Everyone I interacted with at SAU was phenomenal," he said. "I had a lot of support, and a lot of people cared about me. It made going there very easy and it was one of the best decisions I've ever made."