It’s Time to Grow Your Own Hydroponic Herb(s)

No space or time for a garden? Here’s your small-scale solution.

(Photo: Modern Sprout)

Sep 3, 2013· 2 MIN READ
Taylor Orci is a writer living in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared on NPR and and in New York Magazine and The Atlantic.

Let's say you're browsing through your favorite recipe site when you come across the perfect dish for tonight's dinner—that is, until you realize it requires multiple herbs. Maybe you have a go at it and scramble to multiple stores because one was out of mint and at another the cilantro looked funky. Finally, you make your dish. You eat your dish. You store your herbs in the fridge until weeks later, when from the recesses of the crisper you retrieve a bag of leafy mold water. Or maybe you try and store your extra herbs in neat little ice cubes, a time-consuming homestead-type project that ends up staining the tray and making a mess. Not exactly the reward you were looking for when you started in on this whole "cooking food" thing.

Enter Modern Sprout, an innovative and stylish hydroponic system that allows you to grow herbs and veggies in your home. Chicago-based founders Nick Behr and Sarah Burrows worked hard to come up with a solution so you don't have to. "We tried container gardening, but we really struggled with it," says Burrows. "We tried hydroponic gardening, but there's a lot of tubes and buckets; it's very utilitarian." Not to mention time-consuming, especially if your main gig isn't growing weed—the crop most commonly associated with hydroponics.

Behr and Burrows drew up plans for an indoor gardening system that's easy to use, nice to look at, and built from components sourced from as close to Chicago as possible. They began a Kickstarter in April to see if they were the only ones who weren't satisfied with their indoor gardening options. "It was like a rope dropped out of the sky," says Behr. "We were fascinated by how we could skip so many steps by using Kickstarter to determine market interest." The community they've helped form has in turn helped them simplify the design. "The planter is sleeker now and can fit on a window sill," says Burrows. "Also, the timer is very simple. People said they wanted that."

The planter itself comes in four different finishes: chalkboard, white, weathered gray wood, and reclaimed wood from Rebuilding Exchange, an organization in Chicago that helps create jobs for the underemployed and educate the community about material reuse.

That’s not the only way the company wanted to try and shrink their carbon footprint. Another question the couple had was if folks wanted a solar panel option in place of a plug to operate the air pump. Despite being significantly more expensive, their community overwhelmingly said yes. "We didn't know if it was something the market really wanted," says Behr. "Turns out, almost one-third of our backers were buying solar-powered planters."

Additionally, high-quality hardware is used in place of the cheap stuff—a brass valve, for example instead of a plastic valve. "We know some of these things cost more," says Behr, "but we think it's worth it, and so do our community of backers."

Behr and Burrows have big plans for their community and for the product itself. "We'd like to figure out a way to make the initial backers be the forum for the website—testing out things, answering questions. They would be a good resource," says Burrows. "We also would like to release some product extensions like grow lights in the future." All toward the goal of making growing food easier for the indoor gardener. "We live in a small apartment in Chicago," says Behr, "so I love telling people we're full-time farmers."