by Sue Ann Rybak
Greenology, 8232 Germantown Ave., is not your typical green store. Almost every store or manufacturer these days claims to be “green.” You don’t have to look very far today to find products that claim to be “Earth-smart” or “nature-approved.”
Greenology doesn’t just sell environmentally safe products, it promotes sustainability by educating its customers about the benefits of organic gardening and other environmentally friendly products, such as a garden hose filter for chlorine and chloramine that protects your soil’s microbiology while watering your plants and providing safe drinking water for your pets. Other items include Stevia, a hard to find sweet herb that is 300 times sweeter tasting than sugar but is all natural and doesn’t contain glucose.
Ken Hay, co-owner of Greenology, is passionate about getting kids excited about nature. He recently donated some seedlings and organic soil to J.S. Jenks Elementary School to help teach kids about organic gardening.
Hay, who has three boys – 7, 13, and 17 – said he got tired of his kids always being on the Internet and playing computer games.
“I wanted my kids to be more involved in natural hobbies,” said Hay, who recalled spending his summers at his grandfather’s house in El Dorado, Arkansas.
“My grandfather used to pay my brothers Reggie, Darrel and me a penny for every bug we picked off plants in his garden,” Hay said. “It was a way to get us outside and involved in farming and gardening.”
Hay, a former IT manager, credits his grandfather with planting the seed for his love of nature and organic gardening.
Now 40, Hay admits before having kids he was a processed food junkie who didn’t really think about sustainability or eating organically.
“Aquaponics was a great way to get my kids involved in nature,” Hay said.
Aquaponics is the merger of aquaculture and hydroponics. For example, in a Koi pond, the Koi feed the plants and the plants clean the water for the Koi.
Hay added that his kids loved going outside to feed the Koi and transplanting plants in the rock bed. He keeps Koi food at the register so kids can feed the fish while their parents browse the store.
“When kids connect to that sort of hobby, it puts them on a path to healthier living, because they start to thinking about sustainability and where their food comes from,” Hay said. “And once you eat vegetables you’ve grown, you realize they have a different taste then the ones you buy at the grocery store. Because they are picked fresh off the vine, they have the highest sugar content and are the most nutritious.”
Hay said his seven-year-old is a bit of a food snob.
“If you ask him if he wants a tomato, he will ask you if it’s a pineapple tomato because he doesn’t eat just any grocery store tomato – he only eats pineapple tomatoes, because he knows how sweet they are,” he said.
Hay said Chestnut Hill is the perfect location for the store because it is a vibrant, walkable urban eco-community.
“People are more aware and are actively working to create a sustainable community,” he said. “As a parent, I am the protector of my kids. Parents really are the ones who are ultimately voting with their dollars.”
Hay quoted Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals,” saying, “If food has a commercial don’t feed it to your kids, because it has been productized to some degree of processing with preservatives – like a Twinkie.”
He said it’s one of the reasons obesity in children is a growing problem in the United States.
A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association predicted that a child born in 2000 has a one-in-three chance of developing diabetes. An African-American child’s chances are two in five.
“Today’s children may turn out to be the first generation of Americans whose life expectancy will actually be shorter than that of their parents,” Hay said.
It’s why he is passionate about teaching kids about eating healthy and the joys of organic gardening.
“Water is critical to organic gardening,” Hay said. “When you have a water source, you have frogs and reptiles that eat the bugs in your yard. Organic gardening is all about maintaining balance. Nature needs water to be balanced. If you have a thriving organic garden, you can sit in your backyard and not be eaten alive by mosquitoes without putting expensive pesticides on your plants. One frog can eat hundreds of mosquitoes in one night.”
He said one of the biggest complaints he hears from owners of ponds is that they are dirty.
“The problem is when you buy a Koi pond, they give you a small filter and bury it in the ground,” Hay said. “But, that’s not how nature cleans the water in streams. Nature cleans water as it runs through beds of rock and uses plants that actually clean. So, aquaponics is just mimicking nature in a small scale for the homeowner.”
He said that by making a few simple modifications residents can create a sustainable Koi pond and never have to clean their pond again.
“In organic gardening, nature does the work, so you don’t have to buy product after product to maintain a well-balanced garden,” Hay said. “Nature does the work so you don’t have to.”