Category Archives: urban ag

Beacon Food Forest Permaculture Project in Seattle (Video)

This is a Seattle urban agriculture project in the Beacon Hill neighborhood, a project which began in 2009. The idea is to grow food to be available for the community over a seven acre space of public land – to be an edible arboretum offering a wide variety of food. Bee hives are included, too.

Any readers been there?


Website: http://www.beaconfoodforest.org/#

Video of Prinzessinnengarten, a German Urban Farm Model

Since 2009, The Prinzessinnengarten in Germany has operated as a mobile urban farm.

If you’d like to see local food growing become a culture, not just a food source, this looks like a fine model. People can enjoy this Berlin urban oasis by sitting and socializing while having coffee or food. Or, they may “cut their own” garden item to take home with them.


Website: http://prinzessinnengarten.net/about/

In Your Kitchen of the Future: Fresh Greens – As Local as You Can Get

You might have heard of Grove Labs by now, and if you have, that is quite an accomplishment, because it was founded a very short time ago (in 2013) by two seniors at MIT who wanted to see changes in the way that food is produced. They approached their frustration with the current system Gandhi-style as in his famous quote, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

Gabe Blanchet and Jamie Byron founded Grove Labs and have already amassed quite a team of assistants and advisors to work on their concept of producing a kitchen “farming appliance” that can grow edibles just a few steps away from the kitchen sink and dining room table.

The first time I saw the photos (included in this post today) I was intrigued by their idea, so I decided to catch-up with them to see how the project is going.

At first glance, I questioned whether something such as this could actually produce much fresh produce, and I also questioned whether people’s value systems might be ready to embrace dedicating precious floor space in their kitchens for a big incubator like this, and I also wondered how much work would be involved to keep the production going since only a certain percent of our population desires to do the work required to produce their own food.

Then I thought of all the trophy kitchens full of designer appliances, granite countertops and cabinetry galore and I realized that an appliance like this could certainly have a place in those over-the-top kitchens. And, perhaps the value systems of quite a few urbanites who don’t own garden space in which to grow food might like to have an indoor space in which they could, so I decided that the idea is a sound one. If warehouses are set up to grow food in a similar manner to this in cities, then why not just bring it even closer to where it is consumed to skip the transport to the grocer and then to the home, kinda like buying your own washing machine so you don’t have to go to the Laundromat.

Next, I contacted Gabe and he answered a few of my questions about their idea and their product, which follow. But first, here is another drawing of their concept/design.

Before we see their answers to my questions, know that the founders, Gabe and Jamie, admit that at this point there are many unknowns in this product development stage, but they will find out a lot after the first Alpha testing modules are placed in homes this summer.

In answer to my question about how much they think the appliance can actually produce and how much “work” is involved, they answered:

You’re right, it’s no easy feat to grow good tomatoes (or peppers) under LEDs and indoors — they need a lot of light and the right ratio of red/blue/UV wavelengths, but nutrition, transpiration, stress, and genetics also play big roles in getting good fruit from a system like this. Nature grows the best tomatoes, so as we build the environmental control systems and LED lighting for the appliance, we try to come as close to recreating the natural seasonal cycles (solar, water, nitrogen, climate, etc.) that a tomato would experience outdoors growing in it’s ideal location.

We’re waiting to release productivity numbers until we’ve completed our Alpha testing. But as a baseline estimate of productivity once the appliance is growing at capacity: A big bowl of salad greens for a family of 4 every day plus a constant supply of fresh culinary herbs from an appliance with 8 veggie modules (2 stacks, 4 modules high, ~1.5 ft x 5 ft footprint, ~ 6.5 ft tall).

Lighting, irrigation, nutrition, pH, and climate within the appliance is automated though our smart environmental control system called Grove OS. As we get more feedback from users about how well different plants grew and how the produce tasted, Grove OS learns how to produce better crops through better environmental control and everyone’s home farming appliance improves over time. The main user interactions are harvesting/foraging daily, planting, and topping off the nutrient and water stores every couple of weeks. Our users can purchase seeds of heirloom varieties and exotic species through our app to populate their appliance or transplant their own seedlings.

And in answer to my question about possible pest or fungi problems:

Many design considerations have been made to make is as difficult as possible for pests and fungus to survive/thrive in the appliance from air flow to surfaces. We think the risk of pests is minimal, but we will provide in app support for manually dealing with any pest problem using companion planting, manual removal, and organic pest remedies.

Next, about the potential for this to be given floor space in homes:

We realize that most people don’t have room for another large appliance in their kitchens. That’s a big motivator for why the appliance is built from smaller modules. People can start with a small tabletop system then expand over time. Eventually people will have these appliances incorporated into their remodeled kitchens and even build entire rooms to grow their own food (we call them groves), but we imagine our customers will start with a smaller system in their kitchen or larger systems in their living rooms, basements, or even porches (in warmer climates).

Another concern of mine was how much energy is required to operate the system.

Although we aren’t ready to commit to specific energy requirement figures, we have modeled it several different ways. In each case, energy requirements are minimal – we use only ultra-efficient LED lighting. In previous indoor growing operations (mostly commercial applications) people used high pressure sodium or florescent lighting; That was the real energy driver!

Finally, Gabe said that interest in their product has been “overloaded”. (Also, there is another kind of indoor crop which is quite popular that they think this appliance can also be used for.)

What do you as readers think? I think that we’d be wise to keep an eye on what these two innovators are doing, and on where they will go from here.

To learn more, visit Grove Labs website.