By Kevin Joshua Rebultan

What started as a passion project is now a key player in developing the urban gardening landscape.

In a span of just two years, MNL Growkits has changed perspectives about the agriculture industry. Through its offerings of organic plant kits, farming is made attractive, accessible, and sustainable among young city dwellers. 

This has always been the vision of Carlo Sumaoang, founder and CEO of MNL Growkits. He admits, however, to being dubious about pursuing a career in the agriculture sector at first. As a graduate of Business Administration, Sumaoang’s interests were always about advertising and the arts. But as the youngest member of a family that owns several agri-businesses, Sumaoang eventually ventured in the same field. 

YES TO URBAN GARDENING. Plants at home are not only beneficial as ingredients for the daily cookouts, but also as designs to our humble abodes.

“Mga four years na ako sa family business and I got bored. I felt the need to create something. I had been thinking of an agri-product that would also show my artistic side,” shares Sumaoang.

Early in 2015, Sumaong worked on the first MNL Growkits prototype. He recalls how elated he was in finally creating his own brainchild; from picking the seeds, designing the box, labeling the packaging, choosing the color motif, to writing the copy.

In March of the same year, after trying it for himself, the basil seed he planted sprouted its first leaf. “I had never tried growing anything in my entire life, up until that point. So whenever I tell the MNL Growkits story, I always say na it was the turning point. It was magical. I told myself, ‘Hey, I can do something about agriculture. It is promising. It is fulfilling,’” Sumaong shares.

Since then, Sumaoang continued to develop the product and offered it to family and friends. The seeds were growing and so was the business. It didn’t take much time until it became a full-fledged company; MNL Growkits was officially introduced to the market in March 2016.

Inside the Kit

MNL Growkits has six product lines namely Herb Kits, Vegetable Kits, Ornamental Kits, Seedling Kits, Tree Kits, and Garden Kits, with around 50 products. An instruction manual for preparation, seed sowing, and harvest is also found inside the kit. At the back of the manual is a recipe guide using the harvest.

All plants that grow from the seeds—some of which are tomato, hot pepper, lettuce, basil, sunflower, and marigold—are organic. 

INSIDE THE KIT. An instruction manual for preparation, seed sowing, and harvest is found inside the kit. At the back of the manual is a recipe guide using the harvest.

“We purchase the seeds from companies like Allied Botanicals. The pots are locally sourced from Davao. All the other components such as the soil and fertilizer, we source them from family business,” explains Sumaoang. 

MNL Growkits’ target market is millennials. Sumaoang asserts that the switch in perspective must happen among those who have little to no idea about agriculture and farming, “If it happened to me, it can happen to anyone. There’s a possibility that we can convert more people to start growing.”

Sumaoang adds that one way to engage young people with agriculture is to offer them products that are modern, and perhaps just as importantly, photogenic. “Sabi nila, mahirap and pangit daw ang agriculture. Here comes a growkit: it’s convenient and easy. You can take a picture of it and post in your Instagram.”

Outside the Box

“Seeding the difference” is MNL Growkits’ mantra.

“We’re in this to change perspectives. People need to realize that agriculture is the source of almost anything. So it’s a bummer na wala silang paki,” he laments, saying that many people take agriculture for granted.

With that, MNL Growkits collaborates with other brands to further promote agriculture through urban gardening. The collaborations aim to educate young people about the value of growing your own. Some of its significant partnerships are with The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and the Coffee Heritage House.

From being a novelty gift item shop, MNL Growkits aims to shift its focus to becoming an educational-agriculture company. 

SEED AND SEE THE DIFFERENCE. There are six product lines with around 50 variants; some of which are arugula, hot pepper, zinnia, cilantro, lettuce, and sunflower seeds.

“Selling plants as gift items is the easiest way to get in the market. But that’s not our ultimate goal. We want to have more collaborations with medical and scholastic institutions,” says Sumaoang. “We go out there, we do our workshops, we talk about the problem, and we communicate how these institutions can help address them.”

Aside from information dissemination, MNL Growkits’ “grow your own food” concept also helps the environment. “Walking only a few steps away from your table to get your food cuts down carbon emission, which is computed in distance,” Sumaoang explains.

Whether the plants are used for the daily cookouts or as additional designs to our humble abodes, MNL Growkits makes urban gardening suitable to everyone’s lifestyle.

MNL Growkits currently has 40 retail partners, majority of those are located in Metro Manila. For more information, visit their Facebook page and website.