Got Mice? EarthKind Makes Plant-Based Pest Repellents That Are Poison-Free

|Updated Feb 3, 2021
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If you store dog food in your house, you probably have mice. The little rodents love dog food, and if you keep it in bags instead of air-tight containers, chances are you are inviting pests into your home. This is the wisdom according to Kari Warberg Block, founder and CEO of EarthKind, which makes all-natural plant-based pest repellent, which is safer for us, our pets, kids, and of course the planet.

So when you think about the mice that made their way into your dog food closet, or those tell-tale droppings that appeared in the garage, or the ants that found their way into your kitchen last summer, you probably wanted these interlopers to go away, but not in an unkind way. Well, now you can harness the plant-based power of nature to get pests to vacate your house, without killing them. Warberg Block figured out an earth-friendly solution to get rid of pests and bugs. She has partnered with Mother Nature to create plant-based solutions that these creatures hate, including natural repellents for rodents, insects, spiders, mosquitoes, moths, and more. The idea was to bring natural ingredients the pests hate, which will convince them to take up residency somewhere else. "Why bring chemicals into your home, if you don't need to?" was her first inclination.

Her company, EarthKind, which also sells the popular line of all-natural pesticides Stay Away, gets these pests to scram, but do so by working with natural plant-based insecticides that occur in the forest and are emitted by trees and other plants. Stay Away offers fully plant-based and fully effective repellents, to make sure that our delicate ecosystem doesn't contain even more poisons or harmful chemicals, which inevitably get into our water system, our food, and our bodies. So that means these anti-pest solutions are better for the pests (who take up residency somewhere else) but also better for us humans as well as the planet.

The CEO of EarthKind and creator of Stay Away plant-based products, Warberg Block tells us that this idea grew organically out of her own need to get rid of mice when she was farming in North Dakota, and the little creatures found warm places to nest in the tractor cab. Now many years later, it is a huge success. But it started because of the field mice that sought refuge from the cold in North Dakota, and her understanding that they did not like to next in fir trees. It's an authentic and inspiring story that only she could have lived, written, and driven to succeed.

EarthKind is a plant-based pest control company. Its Stay Away product line is created from nature.

Warberg Block started her company over 15 years ago when mice got into the tractor cabs so she ingeniously created a scented pouch that hangs up like a rearview mirror scented tree, but this one is filled with balsam fir scent, something mice absolutely detest. (They also dislike peppermint but that wasn't a strong enough deterrent.) "The fir trees keep mice away because they eat Monarch butterflies and mice are the only creatures that the Monarch is not poisonous for. What the butterfly does for the tree, we don't yet know," she explains, "but they live in synergy. Fir trees send this natural odor through their root systems all across the forest, so we figured out how to make that into a natural mouse repellent."

Shortly thereafter, in 2007, she was selling enough Fresh Cab mouse repellent that her company took off, and in typical "let's solve this together" female founder fashion, she realized she had a hit. To grow the company, she brought to the table stakeholders who know more about the science of natural plant-based pest control than she did. As she learned more, about what insects hate and how to harness those natural ingredients, her company grew and now EarthKind makes a variety of natural pest control products that are plant-based and safe for kids, household pets, and the planet. "One of the stakeholders is actually the pests themselves," she explained in a call last week. Without insects, we would all be dead in about three weeks.  (She has just written a book about this type of company strategy called Gathering Around the Table, published by Conscious Capital Press. A byproduct of many CEO's success is a successful business book.)

Plant-based food is better for humans, so if we want pest control that’s better for us as well, while keeping the pests away, it makes sense to choose EarthKind’s Stay Away plant-based rodent, spider, ant, moth, mosquito and soon, cockroach, control. The Stay Away products are sold at most major home retailers and grocery chains. So the next time you see a mouse dropping near the dog food or the birdseed, find the Stay Away. Those are two areas that both attract mice, Block explains. So you may want to store them in air-tight containers and put the Stay Away on top. Now, during the pandemic, we have more pets and are gardening more, so the sales of her product have been on the rise. Here is the interview with Kari Warberg Block. It's as fascinating as she is, and includes many twists and turns along the road to overnight success.

The Beet: EarthKind is huge now. How did it all begin? Take us to the beginning?

Kari Warberg Block: I started the company and went full time in 2007.

We had a farm, and I had rodents -- wild field mice-- that would get into the equipment. We farmed wild field grains and barley, and these mice kept getting into our tractors and combines and didn't want to put down poison because of kids and animals and nature. So I invented something or borrowed it from nature,

Fresh Cab is named for the tractor cab, which is just like a truck cab. It's basically a pouch filled with ingredients, agriculture plant-based ingredients, cellulose from corn and balsam fir oil. It is patented and I got it EPA registered and three patents, including a utility patent and a design patent. Do you know those little trees hanging from the mirror of cabs? Ours is like that but it looks like a sash.

EarthKind is now in 20,000 stores including tractor and supply stores, hardware stores, and Lowes. Then I started "Stay Away" for insects and household pests. That's now in 11 different channels, a channel means grocery stores, hardware stores, boat and RV stores, and your everyday grocery stores.

Stay Away is exactly the same design, but each product is for a different pest. Stay Away covers ants, moths, spiders, and more: We have one for rodents which is the same ingredients as Fresh Cab, and then we have Stay away for ants and we have Stay Away for cockroaches coming out this spring. And we have Stay Away Spiders and Stay Away mosquitos.

It's all plant-based, third-party approved for efficacy. So it's been approved for use and is safe around kids and pets.

The Beet: And you did all this without being a chemist, or a scientist? Incredible!

Kari: I just wrote a book about it, called Gathering Around the Table. Basically, I talk about how to grow a business through purpose-based decision making. I gathered all the right people around the table and we each brought our own expertise. It's published by Conscious Capital Press. What it does is we take a stakeholder approach. We make sure there is value to all of our stakeholders. The pests are even part of our stakeholders. Because without them we'd all be dead in 3 weeks.

This is what we are calling the Year of the Monarch. It's marketing, as a way of explaining that we are all in a collaboration with the planet, that Stay Away is all about us living in harmony. That Stay Away is all about us living in harmony. So instead of killing each other, it's how do we learn to live together. It uses a bio-collaborative approach so instead of killing it or attracting it in, which pest control does now, it creates an environment they don't' want to be in. Each pest is different. A lot of observation. But it takes a lot of different types of thinkers to make a company successful: We have scientists. We cooperate with scientists, artists, all kinds of different people.

Ours is long-lasting so you can leave it there for three months. I tried to do peppermint and we can grow it. But it didn't work well enough for what I needed.

The balsam fir makes its own pesticide for mice. They are the only thing not allergic to Monarch butterflies. Balsam made natural pesticides to protect the butterfly. What the butterflies do for the fir we don't know. But the butterfly is protected by these trees.

So mice try to eat the butterfly so the fir tree needs it somehow. So they make pesticides.

There is so much research to be done. We know that Balsam fir trees send their pesticide across the root system all the way to the other side of the forest. The roots carry it for them.

You can put our products in your home or car or truck. Fresh Cab is safe for humans.

The Beet: How did you know so much about bugs? Where did it all start?

Kari: It goes way back to New Jersey, where I grew up. My dad took me to Kills dump. I saw cockroaches and mice and people and I thought why do people live this way? They were picking through the garbage. A lot of things didn't add up to me when I was young. I started to develop my own products when I was young. My dad was an entomologist and I grew up with a scientist and I watched what he did. He studied bugs. But all the emphasis was on killing. And he said how fascinating the bugs were and it made no sense to me. I asked him: "If you're fascinated by them, why do you kill them?" My dad died in 1995. Three years later, I died and came back to life. I was in a motorcycle accident, I was selling organic produce in farmers' markets, and I got hit. They took me to the hospital and for three minutes, I had no pulse. I was out for three minutes. I ended up in the ER and they brought me back to life, but my femur was broken and although they put me back together  I was on my back for the better part of a year. I had a lot of time to think about things. That was when I thought: Maybe I can make a difference here. And maybe if I take one step at a time I can make something that will make a difference. We had no money and we were living in North Dakota and we were farmers. So I thought, be brave. Put it back together. And that is what I did.

The Beet: That is so inspiring. To rebuild and do something that makes things better

Kari: It was a long process. I got remarried about ten years ago, and the business was growing so fast that I needed to move it to a place where we were near the main artery, like I-95, to be able to ship it out fast. We moved to North Carolina, and now Lowes is in our backyard and all our ingredients come from nearby farms. We are a zero-carbon footprint company and 80 percent of our ingredients are local and all of it is from the US. Not using petroleum products makes a huge difference. We are a certified bio company and we got USDA certification. If we were in North Dakota it would be a much bigger distance to ship it.

The Beet: So where can we get it? And how is the business going?

Kari: We are in all Lowes stores. You can get it on Amazon and our website.

Business is booming. During this last year, during COVID even though we were not in production for a while, when everything stopped, Year over year, we finished 30 percent up. We have an incredible team and demand is through the roof. More food is being stored now than ever (because of pantry stocking) and nothing is better for storage because it's plant-based and there are traps but then you have to drag it out. Not to mention what it does to a person when you see that. Our bodies are wired to react when we see a dead animal, even a dead mouse. So I thought: Let's not make that part of the solution.

Being hopeful,  people didn't see this all-natural option before with pest control. It's our purpose at EarthKind to imagine a world in harmony. When we do that, stress goes down and joy improves. They put the Stay Away in a place where pests are, and it smells nice and looks pretty, and does its job and they can feel good about it.

The Beet: Harmony, less stress, and living without rodents and bugs? It sounds good!

Kari: It is! I have been featured as a natural pest-control expert. I've been in Martha's Stewart and Good Housekeeping and Women's World as a pesticide expert. My advice to you: Cover the dog food. There is so much we can do! Dog food is the number one attractor to rodents. Next to that, it's bird feed and grass seed. This year it's a big rodent problem. We have more pets than ever in history, and we are doing more gardening than ever, too. We need to store all this in pest-safe containers. Stay Away sells bio-based plastic containers, they are the first in the US. It's made out of flax and you can put the pouch in there.

The Beet: Genius.