December 2, 2016

Green State Gardener offers DIY store

From left, the Green State Gardener crew includes Christopher Walsh, Kelsy Raap, Dylan Rapp and Acoy Cofiño.

Mike Reilly Photo

From left, the Green State Gardener crew includes Christopher Walsh, Kelsy Raap, Dylan Rapp and Acoy Cofiño.

BURLINGTON — Green State Gardener, launched as a Web-based business more than a year ago, added a retail store in Burlington’s South End this summer. Business partners Christopher Walsh and Dylan Raap opened the store on Pine Street, in a portion of the space previously occupied by Burlington Furniture.

Under a tagline encouraging customers to “grow your own health revolution,” the business offers a full line of products to grow medicinal plants, as well as other indoor- and small-space gardening solutions. These include indoor and outdoor medicinal plants kits, organic soils and fertilizers, grow lights and tents, greenhouses, fans, filters and ventilation equipment, planters and pots, and accessories for grow-room or outdoor gardening.

“The online business, which pre-dates the store by about a year, started with medicinal plants in general, of which cannabis is one,” Raap said. “We wanted to support this whole world of medicinal plants. With the opening of the retail store, that’s expanded to include home brewing and some culinary products.”

“We see ourselves as a DIY (do it yourself) store,” Walsh said, “originally for indoor gardening, but now home brewing and culinary. Kombucha, yogurt, make-your-own hot, Green State Gardener sauce, bitters — it’s all under the DIY umbrella.”

Along with products for home brewing and culinary supplies for food preparation, fermenting, canning, and preserving, the store offers selected beers, kombucha and cold-brewed coffee for carry-out in growlers.

Raap said the online business was incubated in office space at Gardener’s Supply. He said the store’s inventory is a reflection of the website, with the latter offering 10 times the product across categories. In November, that part of the business moved to join the retail operation, putting Green State Gardener under one roof. Four employees staff the store, which occupies 5,000 square feet of bright, clean space.

“Part of the goal was to present a clean and well-lit, modern look,” Walsh said. “Traditionally, DIY stores had this image of boxes on the floor and guys in sweatpants — not customer-friendly.” Customer service and accessibility to customers — particularly beginners — are hallmarks of the business’ approach.

“I think the word is out that we are beginner-friendly and customer-friendly,” Walsh said. “We’re knowledgeable in all aspects of DIY products we sell, because this is what we do when we’re not at work.”

Raap said, “There’s no posturing on who knows more — we get that right out of the way. We’re here to help customers.”

That accessibility helps negotiate discussions regarding medical marijuana. “Increasingly the stigma is falling away, and we’re talking about cannabis openly,” Raap said. “We’re going to take this out of the basement and normalize.”

According to Walsh, the medical registry program that allows cardholders to cultivate two flowering plants is starting to flourish. “I’m a card holder,” he said. “Customers come in and show me their card and I show them mine. Conversations are open and out of the shadows.”

Walsh said Green State Gardener did not carry an array of CBD (cannabidiol, one of compounds found in cannabis) products when it opened. “But we added them — the product line took off and is now our best seller,” he said. “We’ve spent a lot of time finding the best products and proudly display them.”

The store also proudly displays what Raap and Walsh believe are the only two hemp plants growing in a store anywhere in New England, perhaps in the country. And Raap noted Green State Gardener would soon launch its own line of CBD products, from organic Vermont sources.

The owners believe that, as the industry moves forward, Green State Gardener will be well positioned. “We’re ahead of the curve,” Walsh said. “We’ve tweaked systems, know what works and what’s selling. We still think some version of adult home-use legislation is coming, and it will be an enormous wave when it hits.”

Raap said for many people, cultivating medicinal plants, “is a rejection of ‘Big Pharma’ — it connects people to the way things were done for millenniums. In a way, we’re using technology to get back to (the) garden, and if we empower people to learn about and create (their) own plant medicines, we’re providing a service.”

While some have characterized marijuana as a “gateway drug,” Walsh said the business is finding cannabis to be a “gateway to gardening.” He said many beginning customers, particularly millennials, are branching into conventional gardening.

Raap noted that tomatoes and peppers share roughly the same soil and fertilizer requirements as cannabis to grow.

“Eventually, growing cannabis will be no different than growing tomatoes and peppers,” he said, “and anything we can do to push that along, and to eliminate stigma, we’ll do.”

In keeping with its focus on promoting do-it-yourself skills, Green State Gardener offers classes and demonstrations across its product lines, often partnering with other businesses and organizations. For medicinal plants, that has included sessions with representatives from UVM Medical Center and the Vermont Patients Alliance. “We talked about how you get your medical marijuana,” Walsh said. “How do you navigate that world?”

On the culinary front, the store recently offered a DIY Hot Sauce demo focused on Thanksgiving and the holidays, and Full Barrel Cooperative Brewery & Taproom partnered on a “Home Brew Social.”

The events have proved to be popular with customers, according to Raap, and there are plans to offer similar events with fellow South End businesses Citizen Cider and Zero Gravity Brewing. Walsh said he thinks the store’s strategic location “at a foodie/brewing crossroads” helps.

Raap agreed, and noted the arrival of other businesses in the former Burlington Furniture space, including M/E Design and, soon, Dedalus Wine. “Commerce is coming to the arts district,” he said.

Green State Gardener is located at 388 Pine Street in Burlington. Retail store hours are Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The phone number is 540-2097 and the website is www.greenstategardener.com.

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