With more and more people moving to cities around the world, personal outdoor space is becoming difficult to find. Technologically advanced indoor gardening systems could be the answer, bringing nature inside and helping us grow our own food.
At the rate urban societies are expanding, we’ll need to produce 70% more food by 2050 than we do today. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to grow food within city limits. Even today, outdoor space in cities comes at a premium, meaning that the majority of urban dwellers couldn’t farm their own veggies – even if they wanted to.
A handful of inventive companies are on the case, though. From Urban Cultivator and Click & Grow to Grove and SproutsIO, innovative indoor gardening systems reject the assumption that you need a plot of land to grow your own food.
And while these companies use varying technologies to facilitate indoor food cultivation, they all share the same goal: to reconnect people with their produce and enable them to grow it themselves in an easy, fun, and sustainable way – all-year-round.
The Four Seasons, Google, and Disney work with Urban Cultivator
“The benefits are multiple,” says Tarren Wolfe, co-founder of Urban Cultivator, a provider of gardening systems from British Columbia, Canada.
After 20 years of providing automated growing systems to other companies, Wolfe decided he wanted to make systems specializing in micro greens, herbs, lettuces, fruit, vegetables, and fish. His customers now include Four Seasons, Google, and Disney, to name a few.
“Eating live food has far higher nutritional levels than eating pre-cut. Eating more micro greens versus traditional vegetables can produce more food more quickly, and there would be less food transportation.” And that’s not even touching on the freshness, taste, satisfaction, and well-being that fully organic food grown in your own kitchen provides.
NASA invested in gardening systems for its Mars missions
In-home gardening systems might still sound like the stuff of science fiction, but the idea actually goes back decades. In the 1970s, NASA started developing hydroponic (immersing a plant’s roots in a water-based nutrient solution) and aeroponic (suspending a plant’s roots in the air and spraying them with nutrients) technologies for its Mars missions.
Today, most of the world’s indoor farms use these technologies to grow food. But it’s only in the last five years or so that these systems have been shrunk down (often to the size of a bookcase or smaller) and made fully-automated for complete ease of use.
Click & Grow is super-easy-to-use
Mattias Lepp, the founder of Click & Grow, a start-up based in San Francisco and Estonia, saw a gap in the market for a super-easy-to-use, sustainable method of indoor food cultivation.
“With our Click & Grow system, you can grow plants in a growth substrate that is completely biodegradable. We offer pre-seeded plant capsules that make use of our indoor gardens the way a capsule coffee machine does: You just put the plant capsule in the garden, and you’ll have fresh herbs, fruit, salads, or flowers in just a few weeks. Our so-called Smart Soil is biodegradable and the nutrients are already in the growth substrate, so you don’t even need to keep adding them to make sure your plants are doing well.”
And while Click & Grow already provides an environmentally friendly way of growing food indoors, Lepp is always thinking of ways to improve its sustainability standing, recently switching to a new refill model that ditches plastic capsules altogether.
Grove raises fish in an aquaponic ecosystem
While Urban Cultivator uses hydroponics, and Click & Grow relies on its own Smart Soil, Grove cultivates an entire ecosystem of bacteria and microbes that helps your plants grow in an organic way – using aquaponics. The company operates out of Massachussetts, working on connected gardening systems and an app.
“In aquaponics, you actually have fish involved in that ecosystem,” says Grove’s CEO Gabe Blanchet. “You take it a step further by adding fish to the microbes and plants, all living in symbiosis and feeding each other.”
What you’re left with is a living micro world in your kitchen or living room – one that grows faster than an outdoor garden, uses only a tenth of the water, and can grow 50% to 100% of a family’s protein requirements.
SproutsIO from the MIT Media Lab uses smartphone app controls
Of course, we live in a world of technology. The Internet of Things is giving us effortless home automation at the swipe of a smartphone screen.
SproutsIO has made modern digital technology the core of its system. It was co-founded by two MIT Media Lab alumni based on novel research by CEO Jennifer Broutin Farah.
Using both hydroponics and aeroponics to varying degrees to optimize growth, home growers can control when to spray their plants with nutrients by using the system’s companion smartphone app.
Equipped with sensors that monitor plant and ambient conditions plus an electronic mister and high-efficiency LED lighting, all it takes is a tap of your phone to take care of your own micro garden. You can even watch your precious plants when you’re on vacation via the system’s camera.
“There’s so little transparency in our food,” said Jenny Broutin Farah, SproutsIO’s designer and founder, to tech magazine FastCo.Design. “We don’t realize how much energy and resources are wasted in the process of growing, packaging, and transporting foods from farm to table.”
By cutting out the middle man, SproutsIO conserves those resources, using 98% less water and 60% less fertilizer than more traditional farming methods. And since SproutsIO is modular, you could have chard growing in your kitchen, basil in your bedroom, and tomatoes in your living room – all controlled with one app.
So, what’s the future of indoor gardening? Will these systems become as integral to our kitchens as a fridge or cooker? Lepp believes so. “There’s no reason not to have at least a small garden in your home to clean your air, supplement your food, and offer you massive health benefits,” he says. “The goal is to make indoor gardening systems as energy efficient as possible. Maybe even by collecting energy from the plants one day.”