The crazy and beautiful thing about Indigo’s solutions is that they are found in nature. I feel like all of my peers at the Thoreau Foundation have found and followed beauty in nature.
High schoolNewton South High School
Lauren Ashbrook can trace her connection with agriculture back seven generations to when her first European ancestor settled in Illinois in the 1800s. It’s no accident, then, that she became “obsessed” at a young age with achieving sustainability in our food supply. “I grew up in Newton but spent summers on my grandfather’s soy and corn farm in Bloomington, Illinois, doing everything from driving the tractor to detasseling corn. I even worked for Syngenta one high school summer, cross-pollinating corn in test plots and getting a taste of ‘big ag’.”
Though family history looms large in her path, Lauren is now taking the family legacy in a decidedly 21st century direction. She currently works at Indigo, an agriculture startup in Boston whose mission is to harness nature to help farmers sustainably feed the planet. As Lauren explains, “We work with the plant microbiome, developing seed treatments based on naturally-occurring bacteria and fungi to improve crop health. During my Illinois summers, I saw clearly the need for ag solutions that better support both farmer profitability and environmental sustainability.”
In retrospect, Lauren’s path seems a natural one, but finding an agriculture job in Boston was something of a surprise. “Indigo was covered in the Boston Globe,” she recalls. “When I saw it, I decided to reach out. The company was smaller then, around 30 people or so. I came in for more of a general interview and was eventually offered a position in communications. The range of responsibilities at a fast-growing startup is really exciting. While on the communications team I worked on everything from PR to web content to scientific communications to investor-facing and consumer-facing reports.”
After two years, Lauren has transitioned to Corporate Development: “I’m working across functions to get new initiatives off the ground. Right now, I’m particularly focused on Indigo Research Partners, a global network of growers who test new technologies on their farms. We’re turning farms into labs.”
One can tell that Lauren’s family roots are never far from her mind. “Farmers typically rely on synthetic fertilizer and ag chemicals across their operations to turn a profit. There are few practical alternatives that can help them break out of this mold. I believe that the technology we’re working on at Indigo will replace a significant amount of the synthetic fertilizers, insecticides, and fungicides used today.”
Lauren considers her grandfather to be her best sounding board. “He’s skeptical because he has farming methods and partnerships and routines that he has grown accustomed to. He can also point to a track record of false promises offered to farmers over the years that turned out to be just ‘snake oil.’ At Indigo, we understand that, so our business model incorporates sharing risk with farmers. We buy their product at the end of the season and guarantee a premium above commodity price. This premium comes from buyers who are looking for high-quality, sustainably-produced crops.”
Years after Lauren’s application to the Thoreau Scholars program, she still retains the optimistic energy that led her to pen an application essay about her hopes to sustainably feed the world. “The crazy and beautiful thing about Indigo’s solutions is that they are found in nature. I feel like all of my peers at the Thoreau Foundation have found and followed beauty in nature.” With Thoreau Scholars like Lauren working within the sustainability movement, one can’t help but hope that nature’s beauty could help feed the world.
Lauren mans the Indigo booth at the Boston Fermentation Festival.
Lauren measures root biomass of seedlings exposed to different amounts of herbivory in Kruger National Park, South Africa.