Black Lake Organic offers annual 'Bundles' as new business strategy

Gary Kline, 70, the owner of Black Lake Organic, has been trying to sell his business for three years, to no avail.

So he’s trying a new business model on for size this year, selling $40 annual memberships called Black Lake Organic Bundles that feature 12 items each month, ranging from 10 percent discounts on tools, fertilizers and other items in the store to monthly newsletters, South Sound gardening calendars and tips and profiles of area organic gardeners.

He’s offering a February trial bundle for free, then watching to see if the membership idea takes off as winter eases into spring.

For those of you who don’t know Black Lake Organic, it’s a rustic garden store and nursery along the shores of Black Lake, a place where Kline sells his custom-made batches of mineral-augmented organic fertilizers, which he started selling out of his garage in 1980.

Over the years, the business grew as a faithful following of gardeners coalesced around Kline’s belief that the right mix of minerals in the soil is the real key to robust and nutritious vegetables and fruits.

Those same customers are being asked – along with those new to the backyard-gardening movement – to join the Black Lake Organic Community, complete with blogs, online postings of community events and other Internet features found at

Who said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

The new business model is not to be confused with an attempt by some of Kline’s devoted customers to buy the business and run it as a cooperative. That idea is still alive, but not ready for prime time.

“The co-op is moving slowly, so I had to ask myself: How do we make this work? How do we expand this business?” Kline said.

Kline has seen mail-order sales and Internet sales through his store expand over time. So he enlisted some of the more tech-savvy members of his family to help him create the Web site.

One important reminder: You don’t have to buy a membership to be a Black Lake Organic customer. You just won’t get the 10 percent discount or all the gardening information Kline has accrued through the years.

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The economic recession was nowhere in sight at the Capitol Land Trust’s sixth annual Conservation Breakfast on Feb. 4 at Saint Martin University’s Worthington Center.

The Olympia-based nonprofit group dedicated to conserving and protecting South Sound’s special natural settings pulled in some $30,000 in donations from the 260 in attendance at the midwinter fundraiser.

It was a record crowd and a record haul, made remarkable by a tough economy and very little advertising.

The crowd was so large that the land trust might have to move into the university’s gymnasium next year to accommodate the event.

Honored this year were all the participants in last year’s permanent protection of the Decker Creek Wetland Complex, a wild mosaic of wetlands and forests in the Satsop River watershed near Matlock. They included the previous landowner, Green Diamond Resource Co., the Mason County commissioners and staff members, and a triumvirate of agencies that funded the purchase – the state Recreation and Conservation Office, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and NOAA Marine Fisheries.

Thanks to the land trust and all its supporters, more than 3,800 acres of prime fish and wildlife habitat has been preserved in perpetuity since the land trust formed in 1989.

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Five months after its creation, the D. Michael Sharar Water Education Fund stands at nearly $19,000 donated by more than 60 businesses and people.

The endowment fund managed by The Community Foundation of South Puget Sound is in memory of Sharar, the former administrator of the LOTT Alliance who died nearly a year ago at 61 from complications following heart surgery.

In addition, more than $5,000 has been raised in a separate fund to pay for a permanent display in LOTT’s new Water Education Center to recognize LOTT and Sharar’s role in shaping a regional long-range utility plan that emphasizes wastewater recycling and reuse.

When the Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater and Thurston County utility partnership moves into its new administrative and environmental education center in a few months, it will have the seed money to pay for programs, activities and displays that advance public education for a cleaner Puget Sound, someth-ing that meant so much to Sharar.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444