Nominee: Jos Zamzow
Home Digs: Nampa, ID
Fast Fact: Jos has worked in the retail lawn and garden industry for close to 20 years, carrying on the family name first introduced in Boise, ID, in 1933 with his great-grandparents’ livestock feed store, Zamzow’s.
Nominated By: Debra B, | Star, ID
You call yourself a fourth-generation “gardening hobbyist,” but you’re also a researcher, plant and pasture development expert, and Master Gardener. Tell us about your upbringing and your family’s influence on your passions.
I grew up in the garden, and my earliest memories are of working in the soft garden soil with my dad. My father is a scientist, and he always had an experiment going of one sort or another. We learned how to question the status quo and properly test theories using scientific methods.
At age 12, I attended a natural lawn care service training class with my dad in Chicago. I was fascinated to learn what they were teaching, and I realized that—even though I was much younger—I already understood many of the concepts better than the adults sitting next to me.
The Zamzow name is synonymous in your region with healthy soil, plants, animals, and—most recently—people. Through your work, what have you learned about the relationship between all four?
At this point in my career, it is very clear to me that nearly everything that contributes to good health begins at the soil level. I believe very strongly that the conditions that create healthy soils are virtually the same factors that make healthy trees and tomato plants; healthy cows, dogs, and horses; and healthy people too.
You’ve said you’re an “ultra-curious learner” when it comes to permaculture research. Tell us about a few of your family’s most beneficial discoveries.
I’ve been blessed with a huge opportunity in my life. Our family and company have been working to keep plants, animals, and people healthy for more than 80 years. My great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, and my sister and I have sat around the dining room table, so to speak, solving problems together. It really gives me confidence that small companies like ours can find and create great products that work and help people, because we’ve done it so many times before.
We’re known for our focus on fertilizer, but it goes far beyond that.
In the early 70s, my dad saw a man with a line trimmer working in a park while we were on vacation. Dad went and asked him what it was—and there was a pallet of line trimmers headed to our warehouse before we got home. Dad would simply plug one in and show customers how easy it was to use, and they would buy them on the spot!
Nobody had ever seen anything like it, but the same was true for the first hydroseeding machine in Idaho. My dad was also the first Scotts Lawn Pro in Idaho … we introduced IAMS dog food to the state … and on and on. And don’t even get me started on the fertilizer side of it!
Please share the main tenets of the Zamzow method for maintaining a chemical-free lawn and garden.
We could do a whole series on lawns, so I’ll try to be brief!
I like to remind people that when we try to grow a lawn, we are breaking all of the traditional rules of agriculture. What I mean is that we grow the same crop year after year, never rotating or resting the ground; we fertilize heavily, which tends to burn out the carbon in the soil; and we harvest once per week!
We also immediately kill out any plant that moves in naturally (clover, dandelions, etc.) in an attempt to balance the situation. This process is really rough on our soil—and we don’t put that type of pressure on any other farm ground in the world! So, our approach has always been to work on building the soil both from a carbon and mineralization standpoint.
My favorite story to tell is about how our lawn products were developed. Dad made his lawn foods using ingredients that we had at our feed mill—actual animal feed ingredients—because that was what he had available!
When he built a product to test, he would put the new product in the trunk of our old car along with the other brands he wanted to test. Off we would go to a soccer field near our house in the evening. He would jump out of the car, take a “Before” picture, fill his spreader, and quickly run a couple of test strips all the way across the field. He’d cram everything back in the trunk and we’d drive off quickly, returning every few days to take follow-up pictures and see how the products were working.
I laugh now thinking that there was somebody in charge of that grass who was wondering why the green stripes would come back every summer. Poor guy!
The main thing is that my dad wasn’t satisfied with a lawn that was “as green as” the other national brands could provide—he wanted the most rich, deep green he could get, and it took an awful lot of trial and error to get there!
With all the hats you wear in your daily work life, do you have a favorite?
I love to teach and share for sure, and I do that as much as I can. I speak to groups like churches and the Girl Scouts, as well as employees and customers—sometimes even at competitor stores.
If I see someone looking confused in the lawn chemical aisle at any store, I walk right up and offer to help.
Most recently, though, it’s been about YouTube. I’m blown away at how many people have viewed my “How to Grow a Monster Tomato” series. I made the videos to help train the employees of some Midwest garden centers that carry our products, but they’ve gone way beyond that, and I’m so glad people like the information. [TGN Community members, we’ve included Jos’s “Monster Tomato” videos below in case you haven’t seen them. Some great tomato-growing tips in these!]
The Grow Network is a global network of people who produce their own food and medicine. We’re the coolest bunch of backyard researchers on Earth! We’re constantly sharing, discovering, and working together to test new paths for sustainable living—while reconnecting with the “old ways” that are slipping away in our modern world. We value soil, water, sunlight, simplicity, sustainability, usefulness, and freedom. We strive to produce, prepare, and preserve our own food and medicine, and we hope you do, too!