After years in the sales and tech world, former South Surrey resident Jordan Mara decided to turn his passion for gardening into a new business venture. (Contributed photo)

After years in the sales and tech world, former South Surrey resident Jordan Mara decided to turn his passion for gardening into a new business venture. (Contributed photo)

Finding peace of mind in the garden

Soil business a grounding experience for former South Surrey resident Jordan Mara

The following feature appeared in Peace Arch News’ Indulge magazine, published March 26.


Jordan Mara couldn’t sleep.

This wasn’t anything new for the Semiahmoo Peninsula man who, back in 2013, had been become accustomed to tossing and turning all night, his mind racing as he watched the clock tick until the wee hours of the morning.

A few weeks earlier, he had split up with his girlfriend, and he found himself “just completely riddled with anxiety” about it.

“I was just in one of the worst head-spaces of my life. I couldn’t sleep, I was absent-minded and disengaged at work and I was just completely disconnecting myself from any social setting I found myself in,” he said.

“I didn’t really know how to deal with my anxiety in a healthy way.”

Leave it to his mom, Joan, to offer a solution that worked.

Mara, who lived in Vancouver at the time, had spent that particular sleepless night at his parents’ house in South Surrey, and found his mom in the kitchen the next morning.

“I went downstairs to make coffee and my mom asked me how I slept. I told her that I hadn’t slept at all, and she said, ‘Well, why don’t we head out into the garden and work on a little project today,’” he explained.

The two of them went out into the yard – next to the popular Spirit Garden, which was created out of a neighbouring vacant lot by Joan and her husband, Jon – and that’s when it happened.

“As soon as I started moving some rocks around, and started bringing some soil over, that was the first time that I felt the clamps of anxiety on my neck and chest loosen,” Mara said.

“I felt like I could take a deep breath for the first time in who knows how long.”

And though he didn’t realize it at the time, the seeds for his next career move – not to mention improved mental health – were sown.

“I remember it being a very visceral experience. I remember thinking it was interesting, so I kind of made a mental note that maybe gardening was going to be in my life in the future,” he said.

“I didn’t really know what that would look like or mean, I just knew that I had a really positive first experience with it.”

Fast forward to 2021 and the former White Rock Christian Academy basketball and track star – he competed at the University of Arizona as a middle-distance runner – is living in Squamish, where he owns and operates Mind & Soil, a less-than-a-year-old soil business that also promotes the mental-health benefits of gardening.

For some, starting a business in the middle of a global pandemic would seem daunting, even foolish, but Mara – who comes from a family of entrepreneurs and has a sales background himself – was undeterred by the challenges, and excited to have finally found an endeavour that he says “sets my soul on fire.”

Mara’s enterprise is based out of his garage, which he emptied and converted into what he calls his “soil warehouse.” The space houses his worm farm, in which thousands of worms feast on food scraps and other organic waste to create “worm castings” – fertilizer that he then mixes with soil, packages up and sells.

The demand has grown exponentially from what started as nothing more than a hobby and content for Mara’s personal Instagram account. Though still in its infancy, there is plenty of room to grow.

“I don’t want to give off the impression that it’s something that’s growing completely out of control – it’s going to take a lot of energy and time to make this a thriving business,” he said. “You need to move a lot of $22 bags of soil to make even $1,000 in revenue, but it’s going better than I could’ve ever dreamed.”

Getting from Point A to Point B – in this case, going from anxious insomniac to successful worm farmer – wasn’t a straight line.

Far from it, in fact.

After that initial ‘Aha! moment’ in his parent’s garden, Mara returned to his apartment and his career, working his way through the sales and technology world. Then, in 2016, he jumped at the opportunity to transfer to a new position within his company – in Sydney, Australia.

Australia, he quickly discovered, did not have any sort of composting program.

“All the kitchen scraps just went to the landfill, and I hated that – it’s terribly unsustainable. So I started researching what the best way would be to compost at home, in an apartment, and that’s where I found out about worm farms,” he explained.

“At first I thought, ‘What on earth is this?’ but I figured I’d give it a whirl.”

He went out and picked up a farm enclosure and 1,000 worms, and started tossing in his food scraps. A week later, he had an abundance of castings, which he mixed back into the soil of his apartment-patio garden.

“So you’re telling me that I can take a tomato from my garden, eat 90 per cent of it, and take the other 10 per cent and pop it into my worm farm, and then have them plow through it and then pump out the most amazing, natural fertilizer of all time, that I can then use back in my garden? That’s incredible,” he said.

“I just got so fascinated by it.”

After a while in Australia, Mara quit his job and started his own sales consulting business, which afforded him flexibility and the chance to work from anywhere – from Brooklyn to Bali – but it still wasn’t fulfilling, he said.

The new company took on a few iterations over a three-year span while Mara tried to find a route to personal and professional satisfaction.

“It was a journey, and I had to go down these different entrepreneurial paths. From the outside looking in, it could’ve looked like three years stumbling around and looking a bit lost, with people probably wondering what the heck I was doing, but internally… it helped me figure out what I wanted to be doing with my time and energy.”

Before ultimately closing up his consulting business, Mara would spent his Fridays – which he kept clear of work appointments – learning about mental-health improvement, specifically nature-based therapy and the positive effects of gardening.

For fun, he started filming his backyard projects – from the creation of a large, hot-compost pile to a vegetable garden – and posting them on Instagram. He called the series “Soil Saturday” and viewers dug it immediately.

“I was like, ‘Wow, this is the most fun I’ve had in so, so, so long, and people really seemed to be enjoying it and getting some value from it,” he explained.

His hobby blossomed into Mind & Soil last summer. The first month or so, he personally delivered soil to his customers – even if they were as far away and the Okanagan – before finally adjusting to more convenient shipping methods.

“I didn’t care where you lived, I just wanted to get it into people’s hands,” he said. “But things have gotten (bigger) since then. I wouldn’t be sleeping if I was still doing that.”

Eventually, he hopes to expand the company beyond his garage, and one day envisions a multi-acre property that would not only house the worms and soil, but would include space for outdoor gardening workshops – perhaps even weekend-long retreats that would allow people to spend a few days in a slower-paced environment.

The demand is there, Mara thinks – pointing to the turnout at recent Gardening 101-type Zoom sessions he’s held for his new customers; called ‘Happy Hours’ some sessions have been virtually attended by more than 800 people.

“There’s a lot to learn, and that doesn’t always make it a relaxing, rejuvenating activity. Anytime you try something new, it’s stressful and can be overwhelming,” he said.

“What we want to do is take as much of that off the plate of the first-time gardener as we can, so they can feel confident and comfortable in their own garden, so they can tap into those mental-health benefits as quickly as possible.”

Mara said more people have likely gravitated to gardening over the last 12 months, as they search for ways to deal with “the angst and uncertainty of the pandemic” much the same way he was searching for a solution to his own mental-health struggles years ago.

Reflecting back on that period, Mara is reminded of a prediction that his mom once made while visiting him in Australia.

“My mom is a fairly intuitive, spiritual, intelligent woman and she saw me explaining to them how the worm farm worked. She saw the fascination I had with it, and she said right there, ‘Jordan, I have a feeling there’s going to be something big for you with all this.’ It’s kind of cool to think about that now.”

And while his mom may have planted in him an idea of what was to come, Mara admits he had moments along the way where he wasn’t so sure himself.

“Twenty-two-year-old Jordan would definitely be having a laugh if you went back and told him what 32-year-old Jordan would be doing,” he said.

“A lot of my friends that I worked with in the sales world are like, ‘You know, if you told me five years ago that you were going to have moved from working in enterprise sales to becoming a worm farmer, I wouldn’t have seen that one coming.’

“But having arrived at Mind & Soil, I just feel such a level of clarity now – I know it’s what I want to do.”

Featuresgardeningmental health

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary. March 2021. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
Reports of student attendance ‘dwindling’ at Surrey schools: teachers’ association

STA president said he’s heard from staff that students might not attend in-person for 4th quarter

(Photo: MOSAIC/Facebook)
Organization receives $10K from B.C. government to tackle racism in Surrey, White Rock

Funding to go toward forum for International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

A police officer aims a radar gun at oncoming traffic during a school-zone speed trap traffic blitz outside Peace Arch Elementary in 2017. (File photo)
White Rock council heeds residents’ plea for better speed signage

Roper Avenue concerns note proximity of two elementary schools

Rainbow trouts thrashing with life as they’re about to be transferred to the largest lake of their lives, even though it’s pretty small. These rainbows have a blue tinge because they matched the blue of their hatchery pen, but soon they’ll take on the green-browns of their new home at Lookout Lake. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: B.C. lake stocked with hatchery trout to delight of a seniors fishing club

The Cherish Trout Scouts made plans to come back fishing soon

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

B.C. homeowners are being urged to take steps to prepare for the possibility of a flood by moving equipment and other assets to higher ground. (J.R. Rardon)
‘Entire province faces risk’: B.C. citizens urged to prepare for above-average spring flooding

Larger-than-normal melting snowpack poses a threat to the province as warmer weather touches down

Vancouver-based Doubleview Gold Corp. is developing claims in an area north of Telegraph Creek that occupies an important place in Tahltan oral histories, said Chad Norman Day, president of the Tahltan Central Government. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO)
B.C. Indigenous nation opposes mineral exploration in culturally sensitive area

There’s “no way” the Tahltan would ever support a mine there, says Chad Norman Day, president of its central government

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Stz’uminus Elder George Harris, Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone, and Stz’uminus Chief Roxanne Harris opened the ceremony. (Cole Schisler photo)
Symbolic red dresses rehung along B.C. highway after vandals tore them down

Leaders from Stz’uminus First Nation and the Town of Ladysmith hung new dresses on Sat. April 17

A Western toadlet crosses the centre line of Elk View Road in Chilliwack on Aug. 26, 2010. A tunnel underneath the road has since been installed to help them migrate cross the road. Saturday, April 24 is Save the Frogs Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Progress File)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 18 to 24

Save the Frogs Day, Love Your Thighs Day and Scream Day are all coming up this week

Local carpenter Tyler Bohn embarked on a quest to create the East Sooke Treehouse, after seeing people build similar structures on a Discovery Channel show. (East Sooke Treehouse Facebook photo)
PHOTOS: B.C. carpenter builds fort inspired by TV’s ‘Treehouse Masters’

The whimsical structure features a wooden walking path, a loft, kitchen – and is now listed on Airbnb

The Attorney General’s Ministry says certain disputes may now be resolved through either a tribunal or the court system, pending its appeal of a B.C. Supreme Court decision that reduced the tribunal’s jurisdiction. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Court of Appeal grants partial stay in ruling on B.C. auto injuries

B.C. trial lawyers challenged legislation brought in to cap minor injury awards and move smaller court disputes to the Civil Resolution Tribunal

Most Read