Hambro layoffs inspired trio to start their own business, and now they're looking to expand

A few short months ago, Kirk Sparks, his daughter Tasha, and their partner Matt Mattz suddenly found themselves out of a job, but it didn't take long for them to bounce back.

The three, who had operated Eco-Nutrients until its parent company, the Hambro Group, laid them off late last year, approached the customers they had cultivated and set out to form Native Nutrients.

About six months later, Native Nutrients sells liquid kelp soil amendments to farmers and distributors in California, Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Arizona, Sparks said. He is also establishing a liquid fish fertilizer plant in Coos Bay, which will be up and running in about two weeks.

"I've been friends with customers as well as business associates for years," Sparks said. "They trust me. They're just waiting for me to be starting up again."

Sparks was one of the original investors in Eco-Nutrients when it was established in 1993. He sold his interest in the company in 2005 but continued to work as its general manager until he was laid off last December.

Mattz had been laid off earlier that month, Kirk Sparks said. He said his daughter was laid off last October.

They immediately went about establishing Native Nutrients. Its main product, Kelp Help, is a plant auxiliary made out of bull kelp that's hand-harvested locally, Tasha Sparks said.

The kelp is taken to the business's processing facility in Siskiyou County to be broken down. Tasha Sparks said her father processes the material using a hydroelectric system and a water-powered mechanical mixer. Once it's processed, the material is shipped out on a big tanker truck.

"We process it with mountain spring water," she said. "We're not using a municipal source with fluoride and chloride. It's the cleanest water you can use."

Mattz, who has been working in the organic fertilizer industry for about eight years, had just gotten back in town after driving 950 miles over the weekend to make deliveries. He said he made a delivery in Cave Junction before driving up to Washington.

Mattz will drive back to Siskiyou County to help process Native Nutrients' material.

He was working at a transfer station in Klamath Falls when he met Kirk Sparks. At that point, he said he didn't know about Eco Nutrients, but he did have experience in processing garbage and recycling.

Mattz said he also had experience with fish, and liked the idea of reducing the waste stream, and working with Kirk and Tasha has allowed him the flexibility to be with his family.

"I work with good people, and I meet good people," he said. "It's amazing. It's awesome. I've always wanted to own my own company."

Once the fish fertilizer plant in Coos Bay is up and running, the products it sells to private individuals will bear the Native Nutrients label, Kirk Sparks said. The material he ships to large-scale farmers will be sold under the name of Rapid Growth Nutrients, he said.

The fish fertilizer plant will use the bones, fins and other waste products left over from processing for consumption, Tasha Sparks said.

"We take something that people throw into the dump and turn it into something beneficial for plants and soil," she said. "We're not reinventing the wheel on growing. People buried kelp and soil (for generations). We just make it easy and readily available."

For more information about Native Nutrients visitnative-nutrients.com.

Reach Jessica Cejnar atjcenjar@triplicate.com.