Sustainable Living Center cultivates lessons in recycling and wildlife

Gordon Wybo shows off plants in front of the Sustainable Living Center location on W. Center Street in Kyle. The store also includes a garden that produces food for local pantries and a wildlife habitat, providing food, water, cover and places for animals to raise young. (Photos by Veronica Gordon)

If worms are on your Christmas wish list this year, then there’s a place in Kyle that can hook you up. The Sustainable Living Center is crawling with holiday gifts from Mother Earth.

Owners Gordon and Jana Wybo have created a business model based on passing along environmentally responsible skills.

The Wybos are the only commercial worm providers in the area. They cultivate the worms for businesses in Austin that use them for growing hydroponic plants and composting.

The couple began the business at home with the worm production. Then, as the worms began to overwhelm their Kyle garage, they sought out a larger place with a larger vision.

“We knew that both of us like getting grounded with plants and we knew that with everything going on in the world today that some way or another we needed to make an impact and bring a lot of the stuff that was taught back in the ’40s and ’50s back, so that people can sustain themselves and help themselves out,” Jana said.

It took the Wybos nine months to get the business up and running. Most of that time was spent dealing with the city because the concept was new to the planning department, Gordon said.

“They didn’t know how to classify us,” he said. “They’ve never seen a business like this before. We teach, but we’re not a school; we grow stuff, but we’re not a farm; we sell plants and seeds, but we’re not a greenhouse; so we are actually listed as an emergency preparedness supply store.”

The Wybos have supplies on their shelves that can help people survive if there is a hurricane, tornado or natural disaster.

“After awhile people get tired of eating canned beans or tuna, so if you grow your own food, you’ll be able to survive a little better,” Gordon said.

The Wybos want people to know that you don’t have to change your whole backyard into a garden. There are small ways that you can grow plants in smaller areas, without taking a lot of time and effort.

“We can teach you that you can take a little part of your life and make an impact on it,” Jana said.

The gardens at the Sustainable Living Center also provide food for the the local food pantries and a learning environment for local schools.

The center is also a National Wildlife Federation certified wildlife habitat, providing food, water, cover and places for animals to raise young.

“We built the fence around our trees, so we didn’t have to take any of them down,” he said.

Gordon also sells items from local vendors, including plants, candles and garden towers.

“It’s similar to a keyhole garden, with 45 holes for planting different items and in the middle, you put your worms and compost,” he said. “Even if you are space-limited, you can always grow something. You can put this (tower) on your balcony and grow herbs and plants.”

The Sustainable Living Center includes classes and workshops on topics ranging from how to preserve food and herbs, rainwater harvesting, gardening, composting, plant medicine and soap and candle making.

“We teach the basics of how to make soap in our kitchen,” Jana said. “We show the techniques for how to layer them and decorate, especially for the holidays.”

“We tell our customers that if there’s a class that’s not being taught or offered, to let us know,” she said. “Chances are, (Gordon) has a connection who can teach it.”

Gordon, who served in the Air Force in the 1980s, is a decorated disabled veteran. He is committed to helping other service men and women by training them to be more sustainable and by hiring them.

“I want to show them that because their pension only goes so far, they can grow their own food and they can still do things they enjoy. They just have to learn to do it differently,” he said. “I’m going to show them how they can modify tools and how they can grow things in containers, up on tables.”

“We’re giving people who are typically under-employed or unemployed actual living-wage skills, as opposed to being greeters and doormen,” he added. “It’s a livable wage type set of skills.”

Gordon said that more people are becoming aware of “green” jobs and businesses, and that the sector will continue to grow.

Wybo doesn’t use chemical pesticides, so every year his soil gets better, which leads to the larger yields and healthier produce.

“We’re trying to give people examples of multiple solutions to make things easier for them,” he said. “So they can save money, eat healthier, improve their property and give back to their community.”

Jana Wybo, Sustainable Living Center’s co-owner, shows off seeds in her store.

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