From the slow-food to locavore movements, more and more people are taking control of how their food is prepared and where their food originates. And while backyard gardens are as old as dirt, it’s only recently that indoor urban farming is becoming a reality. GrowCubes is a device that can be used in areas as small as a studio apartment that will grow fruits, herbs, and vegetables without the need for sunlight, soil, or pesticides. All you need is space to fit the dishwasher-sized module (which can fit under a kitchen countertop), seeds, electricity, and an Internet connection. Says Chris Beauvois about the project he began three years ago: “GrowCubes democratizes agriculture by placing the power to grow back in the hands of individuals and communities.”
No soil or sunlight to grow food is a groundbreaking idea, but it is not a new one. Aeroponics has been used successfully for many years–both commercially and for individuals–yet GrowCubes goes further and makes it easier to have a fruitful harvest. “Our controlled, pressurized environment keeps pathogens and bugs from getting in, so you don’t need pesticides,” says Beauvois. “And the patented misting technology penetrates even the most complex root systems, which brings unprecedented reliability.” That means that people who have difficulty keeping a houseplant alive can find success with vegetables (everything from lettuce to squash to tomatoes), berries, herbs, wheatgrass, flowers and even hops for the budding beer maker.
GrowCubes resemble fancy, see-through rotisserie units. Inside the chamber are six built-in 3-D-printed trays, situated on various parts of a wheel. This wheel rotates the trays under a low-power, high-yield LED light that allows for photosynthesis. Water that is mixed with nutrients is misted from a device attached to the top of the Cube at timed intervals. Misting allows GrowCubes to use 95% less water than traditional farming methods, and it also prevents overwatering.
The steps for using GrowCubes are elementary. After placing seeds on the trays, users download the GrowRecipes app and choose the name of the food they are growing. The app then tells the Cube how to control the microclimate, from grow time to watering schedule. It also allows the most amateur farmer to become a foodie. Through cloud-based crowdsourcing, users can leave notes on how they tweaked a recipe, including changes in grow time. “Over time and as more people grow things, the recipes will improve, meaning more variations will become available. You can ‘hack’ your food, say for a more peppery arugula or a more lemony Thai basil,” explains Beauvois.
The first units will be available in the spring and Beauvois plans for the consumer model to be priced under $1,000. He imagines that aside from at-home growers, another significant market will be schools who want to teach students where food comes from. Though a recent interviewer on MSNBC joked with him that GrowCubes could be the boon that closet marijuana growers had been hoping for, Beauvois has much more noble, not to mention legal, goals in mind for his food-growing innovation.