There’s plenty of excitement about urban farms using aquaponics and hydroponics. The idea of growing food closer to consumers means less fossil fuels burned, fewer chemical inputs, and fresher food. But logic says it should be possible to go further. Why stop with a farm somewhere on the edge of town? Why not bring it to the home and have even fresher food?
There are several home hydroponic systems on the market, such as this Internet-connected home garden, and even some involving fish. But what Grove Labs is talking about is more like an appliance, just like your fridge or washing machine.
Gabe Blanchet and Jamie Byron started working on the idea while at MIT. The aquaponic system Byron built in his fraternity was a hit, and, after graduating, the friends decided to work together on expanding the idea.
So far, they’ve built the software. The Grove OS web-connected automation system controls variables like water, pH levels, and air temperature from a smartphone. The next step is to develop the appliance itself, based around a fish tank, and modules for different plants.
“We imagine that people will start small with a micro-greens on their counter-tops, and then over time, they’ll have a full sized appliance,” says Blanchet, comparing the modules to Lego pieces that you stick together and pull apart. “Our vision eventually is they take over whole pantries or rooms, where they can grow 50% or more of their family’s food right in their home.”
You can get a sense of the Grove Labs vision from the rendering in the slideshow. The idea is for a multi-chamber cabinet with drawers for herbs, a tank for the fish (which produce nutrients for everything else), and space for larger plants like tomatoes. You control the whole thing with your handset.
To test out the OS, Blanchet and Byron are currently working with controlled-environment commercial farms in the northeast. Later this year, they’ll start prototyping the cabinet and piloting it in a few homes. The final product should be ready by the end of next year, Blanchet says. Grove has taken pre-orders.
One added benefit: The system should be ideal for growing marijuana. Blanchet recommends the tomato module, though he insists weed isn’t the main focus. “We want to help distribute food production,” he says.