With MARSfarm, UMSL alum Peter Webb makes agricultural technology more accessible to students
Somewhere across the globe, a student is watching dwarf tomatoes or basil growing in a temperature-controlled LED light box. That countertop-sized greenhouse is the brainchild of University of Missouri–St. Louis alum Peter Webb and business partner Drew Thomas, who cofounded MARSfarm in 2019 to bring the farm into the classroom. The St. Louis-based company seeks to provide a cost- effective way for schools and teachers to give K-12 students hands-on experience in STEM and agricultural technology.
Webb always wanted his own company and developed an interest in agriculture from an early age, collecting water samples from nearby lakes and examining the microorganisms under microscopes with his parents as volunteers with the Missouri Stream Team. But it wasn’t until he worked in the food service industry that his business plan began to take shape. “I wanted to have an impact on climate,” he says. “I care about the environment. I care about nature a lot. And I understood the waste that is associated with food.”
Over the past two years, MARSfarm has made half a million dollars, and currently provides its countertop greenhouses to nearly 600 schools globally, including in Colombia, South Africa, Spain and Turkey. In 2021, the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Miami, Florida, contracted the company to manufacture and distribute its product for its STEM program that’s implemented in Miami-Dade County Public Schools and funded by a NASA grant.
Webb’s time studying business at UMSL has helped him develop and grow MARSfarm. The managerial accounting courses have helped with bookkeeping, and the coding he learned helped him develop the MARSfarm web app used to virtually track plant growth and adjust the environment in the greenhouses.
As for the future of MARSfarm, with the business experiencing some traction, Webb is optimistic, seeing room for growth.
“We’re looking at the different products within the current market and the different adjacent education markets that we can sell to,” Webb says. “I think that’s a growth opportunity in the next two to three years. And then beyond that, it’s ‘how do we add?’”
With MARSfarm, Webb and Thomas want to make agriculture and AG-Tech more accessible. Webb also wants people to know that understanding agriculture is easier than many might believe.
“You can understand a lot about climate, nature, biology and the environment just by understanding one small climate system on a very small scale,” Webb says. “So that’s the whole idea behind the product.”
Short URL: https://blogs.umsl.edu/news/?p=100514