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I still clearly remember the first time I used an Espoma product—their liquid indoor plant food to be exact. I had struggled so much with trying to find the right fertilizer for my houseplant collection, leading to a huge mess all over my kitchen from failed mixing attempts. But when I tried their simple liquid formula, I finally had the answer to my search, and healthy, thriving plants with gorgeous growth. And I became a lifelong Espoma convert!

Little did I know then about the impressive 95-year history behind this organic garden brand. Espoma has been family-owned for four generations, starting way back in 1929. As my passion for gardening expanded over the years, Espoma continued to be my go-to for quality potting mixes, organic fertilizers and magical “tones” to feed all my container plants and garden beds.

I’ve loved learning more behind the scenes over the past several years while partnering with Espoma on the Growing Joy podcast. The Brunner family leading this company today truly feels like family themselves in how they’ve supported my own budding planty business. In this episode, I wanted to highlight their heritage, expertise, and products that have nourished gardens for nearly a century.


In this episode, we learn:

  • [04:48] An overview of what four generations of Espoma’s 95 year-history looked like!
  • [18:03] How was Jeremy's first 10 years at the company after he graduated?
  • [18:25] How they address each other at work
  • [20:07] How has the family business influenced their company culture and relationships with employees?
  • [22:51] Where can you find the best-quality cultivated indoor plants?
  • [24:49] What does being “keepers” of the company mean for Jeremy? (Stewardship model)
  • [27:02] What is the Bank of Espoma?
  • [29:27] What's the history of their famous Holly Tone?
  • [33:19] How do they approach Espoma’s product development?
  • [38:43] On expanding and building a new facility!
  • [44:07] Why Espoma hid its sustainability approach? (organic before organic was cool!)
  • [49:10] How do they navigate the complexity of different certifications?
  • [52:05] On solar-powered facilities and sustainability commitments!
  • [53:50] Their greatest accomplishments as a family-run company
  • [01:00:40] How the Espoma brand has evolved on social media
  • [01:05:43] What does Jaime enjoy most about the business and working with her family?
  • [01:08:11] The story of how my lime tree Limey was successfully shipped to Florida!
  • [01:09:38] Where can you find Espoma?


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Roots Growing Back to 1929

Espoma was founded by Herbert “Herb” Sanders, seeing a need for safer, organic fertilizers for novice home gardeners versus harsh chemical/synthetic options taking over industrial agriculture at the time. The company began humbly creating plant foods using available local ingredients near their home in New Jersey—byproducts from regional egg, meat, and seafood production.

Business grew very slowly at first since widespread gardening hadn’t quite taken off yet. But the post-World War II suburbanization boom requiring landscaping for new home mortgages allowed demand to explode through recommendations at nurseries and garden centers. Herb also made a genius branding move in 1949 by trademarking the name “Holly-Tone” for “acid-loving” plant food—the first of its kind—and launching the iconic line of Espoma tones.

The next two generations focused on scaling systems and processes. Where founder Herb advanced things through pure entrepreneurial intuition, his son Dean brought more structure and record-keeping. Serge Brunner expanded further into automation and computerization upon joining Espoma in the 1970s. This allowed greater efficiency, capacity, and distribution into new markets.

Today, Jeremy represents the 4th generation leader of Espoma, supported by his sister Jaime in marketing. They continue building upon Espoma’s legacy through major initiatives like constructing a new production facility, improving supply, and even product quality. What started as a small regional business now extends across the entire United States. And Espoma’s organic heritage and gardening expertise span nearly a century!


Commitment to Organics from the Start

It still amazes me that Espoma was creating organic products decades before organic became a trend! Nowadays, people place such a high value on sustainability, making it incredible to look back on a company that was organic from the beginning.

Jeremy explains while organics gained recent popularity, they didn’t always advertise it clearly on older packaging which focused more on individual product brands. When the market exploded with new organic competitors screaming it loudly, they returned to featuring their OG status. I admire how Espoma organically evolved in sharing its commitment alongside consumer awareness. Now certified by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, gardeners can grow with confidence!


Cultivating a Family-like Culture (Bank of Espoma)

I find Espoma’s incredible employee loyalty as touching as their organic standards. In an age where the average worker tenure might span 2-3 years, they retain team members for over a decade typically. Several staff have even stayed for 30-40 years.

Serge attributes this to nurturing a culture where Espoma feels like a team, not just running a business. Workers receive assistance when needed much like family—loans, support during tough times, or even helping someone get out of jail. They are rewarded for dedication through bonuses, recognition, and retirement gatherings. Positions often pass between parents, children, and—yes—even grandchildren!

This familial environment stems from the owners themselves. Serge moved from academia to join his wife’s family business. Jeremy only earned his place by proving passion and ability like any employee rather than entitlement. With close intergenerational partnerships evolving at the executive level, it affects the entire Espoma organization.


Keeping Future Generations in Mind

When a company has sustained itself for nearly a century, leadership must keep a balanced eye on both legacy and innovation. Espoma demonstrates a “stewardship model” of building upon the framework inherited while anticipating how to elevate things further.

Jeremy highlights his duty to leave the business better for those that follow, whether family or not. His new production facility exemplifies that innovative mindset by solving supply chain issues and incorporating better efficiency. Espoma plans to continue nurturing gardens sustainably while exploring wider applications, like golf courses.

This mindset even touches something simpler like social media. While nearly 100 years of expertise rightfully focus their messaging, marketing head Jaime engages modern platforms to share authentic passion for plants. She helps gardeners “meet the company” through real faces from their family team.


Why Espoma Stands Apart

Reflecting on Espoma’s evolution leaves me even more grateful for our partnership over the years. Too often brands make promises without substance, or companies chase only short-term performance. But Espoma instead nurtures collective care across decades:

  • For regional communities that supply ingredients
  • For employees who reciprocate loyalty
  • For the environment through holistic practices
  • For gardens yielding healthier blooms
  • And for fellow plant lovers sharing this journey!

Here’s to 95 years and counting of Espoma organically cultivating beauty, joy, and generations of growing legacies!



Mentioned in our conversation:


Thank you to our episode sponsors:

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