In March of 2019, a United States District Court ordered Bayer AG, owner of Monsanto, the maker of the popular herbicide Roundup, to pay $80 million to a 70-year-old defendant who claimed the product caused his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Though regulatory agencies in the U.S. and Canada have stated that glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup and similar weed killers, is not a carcinogen, some studies have suggested there is a link between the compound and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and it is currently facing sweeping bans in multiple countries.
The science is still out on glyphosate’s link to cancer, but the controversy raises an entirely reasonable question: Is it really worth using such a questionable chemical compound to kill a few dandelions?
Coulter Lewis doesn’t think so. After purchasing a home, Lewis was dismayed to find that the options for lawn-care products at his local Home Depot were limited to pallets of chemical-ridden pesticides and herbicides.
“The challenge is that people really lack a lot of experience with lawn care, and if you’re going into a store, there aren’t a lot of choices,” Lewis says. “The way we’re told to take care of it is in this very antiquated, brute-force kind of way, where we’re covering our entire property in pesticides and herbicides just in case we have a problem, rather than addressing things as they arise.”
Having cofounded an organic snack company with his wife, Lewis saw an opportunity to do something similar in the lawn-care industry. He realized that as consumers become increasingly conscious of what they put in their bodies, the same thing could happen with their grass. And given that lawns blanket 40 million acres of the U.S. — more than corn, wheat and fruit trees combined — there’s room in the market for new takes on lawn care.
Sunday is Lewis’s solution: for $150 a year, the startup sends customers regular intervals of bespoke natural lawn-care products via mail.
“What we’re doing is taking some of the most innovative tactics from golf course and high-performance turf areas, where they’re trying to be more natural,” Lewis says. “We’re trying to bring that level of control and data-driven action to the household for the first time.”
To do this, Lewis hired Frank Rossi, a professor and turf scientist who managed some of the country’s most high-profile grass at places like Yankee Stadium and Lambeau Field. Together, Rossi and Lewis built a system that could be tailored to every lawn in America.
Sunday relies on a combination of soil data, historical climate data and satellite imagery that, according to Lewis, is clear enough to see spots and patches in the grass.
“We live in a quantitative world more than ever now. Access to data needed to characterize growing environments remotely is available,” Rossi says. “Data on light, soil and water conditions can be used to inform not just the products best suited to [a customer’s] needs, but best practices for them to have a successful lawn. Our focus on simplicity recognizes most lawns need small-batch blends of mineral nutrients and biostimulants to be successful.”
When a customer signs up for Sunday, they receive a kit to take a soil sample. From there, Lewis says Sunday will test the contents of the soil to determine what vital nutrients might be missing and needed to better promote the health of the grass. Customers then receive products — which are comprised of materials like organic food waste from grocery stores and seaweed — that are meant to fill in the gaps.
“[Soils that have] adequate organic matter and permit drainage, hold nutrients and support vibrant microbial life are important,” says Rossi. “There are issues where it doesn’t matter where you are — you need adequate light, good soil and good drainage.”
Sunday’s core belief is that a properly grown and maintained lawn is fully capable of rooting out issues like excessive weed growth on its own, but knowing that this approach isn’t infallible, it also produces a spot-treatment organic herbicidal soap and an iron-based dandelion killer.
It can be tempting to write Sunday off as an organic lawn-care subscription box, but the company’s considered, data-driven take on lawn care presents a genuinely new way to care for a backyard, a take Lewis believes to be helpful beyond a tidy yard.
“Almost nobody is an expert in this area, and that’s okay,” says Lewis. “That moment of being in Home Depot and feeling totally lost can be disparaging, because you feel like you should know what to do but you don’t. We’re all about providing that kind of comfort.”
Consistent: Three shipments a year
Location sensitive: Uses GPS data to assess sunlight deficiencies
Clean: No glyphosate used in any product
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