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Shorewood Student Builds Sustainable Business Around Terrariums

Perhaps the youngest person presenting at the Sustainability Summit in downtown Milwaukee is high school freshman Cole Compton. He launched a business called Green Earth Terrarium.

Compton's business came to life while interning with Teens Grow Greens.

The paid internship program teaches teens how to grow microgreens and baby peppers, among other things, and cultivates their entrepreneurial spirit. The high school students convene inside a greenhouse at Green Bay and Capitol on Milwaukee’s north side twice a week, after school.

“I heard some really exciting news that some of you have already secured people to buy the microgreens; that’s awesome,” Charlie Uihlein says. He teaches honors History – and designed the internship program.

Credit Susan Bence
Program founder Charlie Uihlein (third from left) meets with teen interns twice a week at Weber's Greenhouse.

"I want us to know about something that Cole is doing; and I wanted to hear what he’s creating," Uihlein adds.

Cole Compton steps forward. He’s one of the youngest in the group and the first to come up with his own product - Green Earth Terrarium. The freshman holds up two small terrariums, filled with plants.

“The cool thing about these is that they’re really simple. So what they are are air plants; and so basically what they means is that they have no roots at all – it’s basically the only plant in the world that can be without soil for its whole life,” Cole says.

Cole shares another selling point about his variation on green – they’re easy maintenance.

“That’s why everybody love the air plant: once or twice a week you just give them a quick misting; and in terms of selling these, I hope to sell them for about $10 a piece at farmers markets,” Cole adds. The young entrepreneur says he’ll donate some of its proceeds to the internship program.

A couple of weeks later, Cole was on pins and needles waiting for the delivery of his business cards and T-shirts. He and his mom designed them. “We did that over a two week period, so it took a while, but they look great,” Cole says.

Cole says his business inspiration came to him one short year ago – when he was in 8th grade.

“You look at the terrariums now-a-days and they’re $120 and up and I just wanted one that everyone could buy; the common person that just ones a small one for their desk at work or their table at home,” Cole explains.

Credit Susan Bence
Cole Compton and Green Earth Terrarium at the Sustainability Summit.

At 3:30 pm on Wednesday, March 26, the freshman will take the podium alongside educators and community advocates at the 11th annual Sustainability Summit. He will share his “path in history”.

“I do have a learning disability – sometimes the reading and writing is hard. But just to show people in general that even if you have any kind of disability you can do the same stuff as anybody else; you can exceed,” Cole states.

Bohdan Nedilsky founded New Horizons, the charter school Cole Compton attends.

“He is someone who has embraced this type of learning," Nedilsky says. "He sees in himself the power that comes with that; and the responsibility that comes along with that. And its our role to support and foster that curiosity and that passion so that he can make a difference for himself, but in the process for others."

Cole Compton’s immediate aim is to sell a lot of conference attendees on his “air” plants. He divulges a morsel of information; he is already contemplating other potential ventures.

“I don’t know if I can discuss it right now, but I do have a couple things in mind,” Cole says.

Business savvy seems to be taking root.

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.