Trendy Indoor Farms Will Allow You To Have Personal Produce
Trendy Indoor Farms Will Allow You To Have Personal Produce
Eve Turow Paul, I write about Millennials and food culture.
Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
Now, what if this simple houseplant could feed you too? Companies like Grove, SproutsIO, Aerogarden and Replantable are working to make your in-home edible garden a reality, with compact aquaponic, aeroponic and hydroponic systems that will seamlessly integrate into your living room, kitchen, or wherever your green-thumb strikes you.
With rising rates of “nature deficit disorder,” a raucous Millennial obsession with food, only 2% of Americans living on farms, and skyrocketing rates of stress, distraction, and anxiety, many entrepreneurs believe that in-home “farming” can alleviate many of modern society’s pain points . The goal is not necessarily to feed people exclusively from their countertops. The mission, instead, is far more philosophical. And a bit political.
“ I really believe that people need to have more of a connection to their food ,” states SproutsIO co-founder Jennifer Farah. Farah began her journey to in-home gardening via architecture, designing grow-walls and other mechanisms to bring nature into cities. Then, as a Masters candidate at MIT, Farah was able to observe the benefits of taking this concept down to a more personal level, as she watched young students interact with an early prototype of a SproutsIO growing system.
First and foremost, Farah believes that we, as a society, a better understanding of our food will ultimately lead to greater respect for produce and thus improve diets. But overall, Farah focuses more on the fun and creativity generated by putting seeds into the eater’s hands.
Grocery store produce sections are limited by the current supply chain: what produce can survive the travel time, the refrigeration, what’s worth the shipping and handling costs, what can be harvested in bulk, etcetera. Indoor growing systems allow consumers to explore thousands of varietals of tomatoes or lettuce or basil that simply aren’t available at the local supermarket.
And with Sprouts IO, users can even customize the environment of a plant to grow a product exactly as they want it. Think of it as personal produce. For example, if you like a more peppery arugula or a sweeter tomato, you can adjust the nutrient levels and misting of your SproutsIO system to cultivate ingredients with your desired characteristics. “These things are allowing us to get more nuanced flavors,” explains Farah. It’s for this reason that SproutsIO launched first with chefs. And it’s also part of what excites users: putting all the control and creativity into their own hands. It’s like building a recipe far before the measuring cups are taken out of the drawer.
Both Grove and SproutsIO put the act of “farming” into a plug-and-play setting, utilizing the benefits of technology to connect people with something truly un-digital: plant growth and the act of harvest. Both Grove and SproutsIO are regulated by app, allowing users to monitor and assess their units even while away from home. It also relieves the user of many of the unknowns and uncontrollable elements of traditional farming.
“When the microwave came out people didn’t know why they needed it or what to do with it,” says Farah, “but soon people gravitated towards it.” Why, Farah ponders, shouldn’t growing produce become ubiquitous in our lives? “When we’re cooking for friends and family, why shouldn’t some of that produce be grown in your home? I do think it will become more a part of people’s everyday experiences.”
The transparency and interactive design of these in-home units also encourage education and conversation, notes Grove co-founder Jamie Byron. “It’s social. The entire family,” he says, or your group of friends or a classroom, “really come together around this experience. It’s a shared responsibility.”
As an undergraduate student at MIT, Byron was able to witness the communitarian, as well as health aspects, of in-home gardens. Back in 2013, Byron built an aquaponic system with a “Rube Goldberg Machine”-like contraption of PVC pipes, lights, and bins that balanced in the window of his fraternity house where he shared a bedroom with Grove co-founder Gabe Blanchet. The eye-sore experiment eventually flowered into a mass of peas, chard, tomatoes, kale and more.
Though Blanchet was at first skeptical of his roommate’s fish and greenery creation, the benefits of his little jungle were obvious. While the fraternity hallway smelled like beer and body odor, Byron and Blanchet’s room provided an oasis of oxygen-rich air and attractive foliage. The two found themselves grazing on their home garden daily, thus increasing their vegetable intake. Inspired by this makeshift garden, the roommates graduated and founded Grove to create a clean-cut product that has already found its way into some school and homes. Byron hopes that one day they can put their indoor gardens in prisons and hospitals to offer not just physical benefits, but the positive emotional experience as well.
“There’s this joy that people don’t talk about,” says Farah. “When you’re planning your vacation, there’s a joy in setting up that experience, and then the vacation is the culmination of that. Growing your own produce can provide a similar joy. When I can also incorporate produce I’ve grown to make a dinner, it’s even more special.” Both founders, independently, observed that the true benefit of their products is actually not what they had originally thought it would be, that growing produce at home has ramifications far beyond great tasting food. Ultimately, they hope these units will become touchstone items for creativity, connection to nature, and perhaps, an tool for taking a deep breath of fresh air and enjoying the roses…or wheatgrass…or whatever you have growing in your kitchen corner.