Put a tray of seeds in a new countertop appliance, push a couple of buttons, and a week later, the harvest light will come on: You'll have a fresh crop of microgreens. In 20 days, you could have bok choy. In a month, a crop of lettuce or kale.
Unlike some similar indoor kits for growing food, the Nanofarm doesn't require any other interaction. "Ours is the first appliance you can set and forget," says Ruwan Subasinghe, a recent Georgia Tech grad and one of the cofounders of Replantable, the startup making the new appliance. "No seeding, no watering, no adding nutrients, no adjusting the lighting. Once you hit start, it does its thing and only notifies you when the produce is ready to harvest."
Though it's technically possible to plant your own seeds inside the device, the company thinks most users will choose to buy "plant pads" in the mail—thin layers of paper and fabric loaded with organic seeds and nutrients, which can automatically wick water from a tray inside the Nanofarm. When the seeds arrive, you fill the tray with water once, insert the plant pad, and push a button to choose a grow cycle on the device, which automatically manages LED lighting and ventilation. When the food is ready to harvest, you can pick it as needed.
"The inspiration for the Nanofarm comes from my weekly frustration with produce that goes bad before I can eat it," says Subasinghe. "I'm always left with half a bag of salad in my fridge that I have to throw away. And when we looked into it, the problem was worse than we had imagined. More than half of all fruits and vegetables in the U.S. are just thrown away."
The device can grow vegetables like beets and radishes, salad greens, and herbs like basil and thyme. (The company also offers harder-to-find foods like fresh fenugreek.) It's meant for people who don't have space or time to garden, but want fresh ingredients.
"How can we put delicate greens on a truck and ship them hundreds of miles and expect them to be fresh on our plates?" he says. "Especially since the process takes weeks. We wanted to create a way for people to have fresh-picked food with none of the transportation."
Because it requires virtually no effort to use, the designers think people will be more likely to use it. "Our beta testers have found that they lose track of what's going on in the Nanofarm," he says. "They look at it one day and all of a sudden it's full of food. That's what we're going for."
The Nanofarm costs $350, and then plant pads cost slightly more than consumers might pay for the same produce in the grocery store (in some cities, the cost might be roughly the same). The spring mix salad plant pad, for example, grows the same amount of greens as would be in a box salad at the grocery store, and costs $5.
The boxes are stackable, and if someone wants a constant supply of fresh produce, it's possible to just add more. Replantable envisions that people could eventually grow most of their salads in their living rooms or kitchens.
"I think it's definitely possible to grow all the food you eat right in your apartment, like modern-day subsistence farming," says Subasinghe. "Would we want to? Probably not. There are foods we love that will most likely never make sense to grow indoors, like apple trees and grains like wheat and rice. But for the things that make sense to grow indoors, I think it's definitely possible with enough Nanofarms to grow all of it at home."
Replantable plans to launch a Kickstarter campaign in late August.
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