While tending his potato field in mid-summer, Michael McGowen felt the heat on his aching back and saw the growing task ahead of him and thought, “there’s got to be a better way.” He challenged himself to create a versatile tool that used solar power and an electric motor. He ended up with Carts & Tools, a store that will create, build and sell all kinds of tools for farmers and growers, and it calls Corvallis home.
McGowen has been a tinkerer and gardener all his life, even while he worked as a computer engineer at Los Alamos. He is also, apparently, an infectious enthusiast. His initial challenge resulted in the Tillie, a rechargeable, motorized tool that he knew would be useful to others. He needed some help getting it to market, so he walked into the Madison Ave. Collective and met Brad Attig who immediately saw the potential in the idea.
“It was like he was waiting for me to walk in the door,” McGowen joked.
Attig said, “There’s kind of an alignment of the stars.”
The partners want to address a neglected market for tools and equipment: those farmers and growers who work with smaller acreage. “We’re filling a need out there that has not been filled,” said Attig.
The Tillie is a nod to this segment’s challenges. It is a rechargeable tool that can work in the field, garden, raised bed, greenhouse, or hoop house—no fumes, lightweight, and a small footprint. Attig and McGowen wanted it sturdy enough for the farm, but sustainable and manageable for backyards, too.
The Tillie is versatile, but it is also attractive with hardwood handles and stainless steel. “I think of my garden as sort of like my art,” said McGowen. “I think aesthetics are an extremely important part of anything that we do, really. I think that to forget aesthetics misses the point in some way.”
McGowen has a barn that’s “jam-packed with stuff” and piles of notebooks filled with drawings and ideas. His motto seems to be “think bigger.” So when he starts by tinkering in the barn, he can’t help but develop a prototype, test it in other farmers’ fields, and use it as a launch pad to develop a whole series of products. Electric carts will be coming out later in the year.
Both he and Attig see Carts & Tools as a sustainable, local solution for both manufacturing and agriculture. The final assembly of the Tillie and their other products will be done in their downtown Corvallis office.
“We’re fortunate to be here in the Willamette Valley where it’s really ground zero for the whole organic, sustainable, local movement,” Attig said.
They plan to market to small farmers well beyond the Willamette Valley, but keep the business local.
“We have the right tool and the right market,” Attig said.
Carts and Tools can be reached at 541-286-3161 or at 280 NW 1st St .
By Bridget Egan