Indoor Farm Boxes Promise Little Work and Lots of Fresh Produce

In a dark apartment corner, a head of lettuce glows—and grows.
(Photo: Courtesy Replantable)
Aug 28, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Gwendolyn Wu is an editorial intern at TakePart and a junior at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

For many city-dwelling apartment renters, securing a home with a sprig of green space is a tall order, let alone a place that gets enough sunshine or rain to cultivate a fresh vegetable garden. A pair of designers have found a way to bring farms to homes—no outdoor space required.

“There’s a lot of people who have tried to start a garden to have fresh-picked food at home,” Ruwan Subasinghe, lead product designer of the start-up Replantable, wrote in an email to TakePart. “But their garden never lived longer than a single season, because the soil was poor, or the plants didn’t get enough light, or they didn’t have a green thumb, or most often because they just didn’t have the time to keep up with it.”

Enter the nanofarm, a roughly 18-by-14-inch wooden box that uses LEDs in place of the sun to nourish greens. Subasinghe has also created specially designed plant pads for the boxes. The fabric pads are woven to trap moisture and nurture the crops—including lettuce, arugula, beets, and bok choy—all without the use of pesticides.

(Photo: Courtesy Replantable)

“Instead of trying to modify the crop through genetic modification or pesticides, indoor agriculture modifies the environment that the crop grows in,” Subasinghe explained.

Subasinghe and business partner Alex Weiss have turned to Kickstarter to fund their indoor farming project. The nanofarms cost $350, along with $25 for a set of five plant pads, which contain 16–25 plants each. With more than a month to go, the two have raised more than a quarter of their $50,000 goal.

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A plethora of urban- and indoor-farming projects have cropped up in recent years, but most require daily care. Subasinghe said that people would be able to forget about their nanofarms until the time came to pick the produce. “We already have too many things to keep track of in our busy lives,” he said.

The no-muss, no-fuss farm boxes simply require users to add water, turn on a timer, and wait for a notification light, which signals that the plants are ready for picking. So far, the nanofarm has been delivered to a handful of test users, all of whom report hands-off farming and plentiful harvests.

(Photo: Courtesy Replantable)

Subasinghe expects that his effort will help cut down on food waste—an environmental hazard that accounts for 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Antihunger advocates estimate that Americans waste about 40 percent of all food produced, most of which gets tossed out at home.

“When [consumers] buy a bag of salad greens at the grocery store, they rarely get to eat the whole thing before it gets forgotten in the fridge,” Subasinghe wrote. “The nanofarm lets people harvest minutes before eating, and only pick what they’re about to eat. The rest stays alive and growing rather than decomposing and shrinking. Our customers have shown us that they’re able to harvest every last bit of produce from the nanofarm.”

Subasinghe acknowledges that shelling out $350 for a nanofarm can be daunting for some buyers compared with a few dollars for a head of lettuce. But he hopes people will see the boxes as an investment. The nanofarm lasts for up to five years and only adds about $1 a month to utility bills. Replantable aims to have the first units out to buyers by August 2017.

Correction: Aug. 29, 2016
An earlier version of this article misstated the cost of the plants. A set of five plant pads costs $25, with each pad containing 16–25 plants.