Home-Grown Solutions

NickOttensNickOttens Community ManagerAmsterdam, NetherlandsPosts: 896 admin
edited May 2019 in Innovations
Quoting from @SteveK8's introduction, I think this is worth it's own discussion:
By the end of WWII, 50% of households in the US grew 40% of the nations' produce in Victory Gardens in backyards, vacant lots, and on rooftops. This translates to a potential for something like 50 million Victory Gardens in the US today, and 1 billion worldwide. There's a lot of security and satisfaction in having a vegetable garden, but few among us have a patch of decent soil to work with, or the time for tilling, weeding, watering, fertilizing, etc.

What About Hydroponics?

Commercial hydroponic operations are popping up all over, but when will average people be able to use this technology?

Let's review the timeline of modern hydroponics:
  • 1929 Modern Hydroponics got its start at UC Berkeley.
  • 1940's Hydroponics was used on Pacific islands to help feed troops.
  • 1960's Walt Disney included hydroponics in his plans for EPCOT, which is still a premier showcase of what can be done with hydroponics.
  • 1970's & 80's Hydroponic hobby stores start opening, catering primarily to connoisseurs of cannabis.
  • 1990's Commercial hydroponics grew rapidly, with at least one operation in the US covering hundreds of acres under glass (you in the Netherlands can stop smirking).
  • 2000's Many hundreds of additional hydroponic hobby stores open in the US, but key technology is lacking for this to go mainstream.
  • 2010's Technological advancements in unrelated fields, along with new inventions can now be used to create hydroponic systems suitable for average people to grow thousands of pounds of food in a typical backyard.

Tens of millions of users could adopt this advanced growing technology in the way personal computers were adopted in the 1980s.

What will it take to get hydroponics in the hands of consumers?
  1. It has to be extremely easy to understand and to use.
  2. It has to be cost effective. If it pays for itself in a season, it's cost effective.
  3. It has to be aesthetically pleasing.

High-Performance Gardening
  1. Our systems are simple enough for beginners and sophisticated enough for advanced users. They scale from very small personal gardens to commercial sizes.
  2. They can grow enough of everything normally grown in a Victory Garden to be able to more than pay for themselves in a single season.
  3. The systems are simple, sophisticated, elegant and durable.

Who Cares?

In the US:
  • 42 million home gardeners (#1 hobby)
  • 16 million vegetarians (quality counts)
  • 31 million foodies (highest quality counts)
  • 4 million survivalists (independence is vital)
  • 1,600+ retail stores selling hydroponics (demand is there)
  • 3-5 million hydroponic hobbyists (evangelists ready for better systems)
  • 2 million raw food enthusiasts (hyper-aware of nutritional content)

Other regions of the world likely have different, possibly more urgent priorities, such as hunger, drought, political turmoil, etc.

In some regions, the current need for this technology is acute. In others, we can predict it will become more acute in the not too distant future, and mega-trends indicate demand for this technology will increase exponentially around the world for the foreseeable future. This will be true for commercial and consumer systems.

Comments

  • NickOttensNickOttens Community Manager Amsterdam, NetherlandsPosts: 896 admin
    @ChristineGouldTFF, @JRosichan, I'd be curious to read your thoughts on this topic!
  • SteveK8SteveK8 Posts: 43 ✭✭
    Nick, the title "Home-Grown Solutions" is like saying "Home Computers" back before PCs became ubiquitous. People then questioned why they'd want a computer in their home. Early models were clunky, user-hostile, and quite spendy. It would take time for the industry to mature, for standards to evolve, for a graphic user interface and other humanizing developments to make them approachable by 'the rest of us.'

    The market for PCs leaped forward with each "killer app"; word processors, spreadsheets, PowerPoint and desktop publishing. Then came the internet, email, and the browser.

    In the early days, PCs were for hobbyists and sold in obscure shops around the country. Over about two decades, as demand increased, the number of shops grew, then chains took over, and the 'introduction' of the 'Home Computer' was pretty much complete.

    The market for mainframe and minicomputers grew as well, but nothing like the explosive growth of "Home Computers."

    Today there are thousands of hydroponic retail stores in the US alone that cater to millions of hobbyists. The equipment is clunky, user-hostile, and quite spendy. Nevertheless, the industry is maturing, and real money is taking notice. In recent years Scott's Miracle-Gro invested about a billion dollars acquiring companies in the segment in the US and Europe.

    While large hydroponic greenhouse operations focus on crops like tomatoes and peppers, and mini-sized hydroponic enterprises focus on greens grown with LEDs, for the hobbyist the current "killer app" is cannabis. With legalization and demand trending sharply upward the technology will improve, prices of equipment and supplies will drop, and it will all become more and more user-friendly and available to be applied to more uses. Perhaps, growing other 'herbs,' medicinals, or different kinds of foods in odd places, not just the home will eventually become the norm.

    What the next "killer app" will be is anyone's guess. However, there will likely be a series of inflection points where the cost of the advancing technology drops enough to apply it towards as yet unrecognized demands or in new ways that will further expand the market, advance the technology, lower costs even more and then repeat the process as the next "killer app" emerges.

    Increased demand for food as a result of population growth will likely be a significant driver helping to bring this technology to much broader markets. However, the desire for high-quality food will probably play a more substantial role. As the demand for quality increases, more attention will go to the time of harvest instead of to the dead-end of the freshness spectrum, expiration date.

    More and more enterprising individuals will profitably use the technology to grow top quality foods and other plants in and for their communities. They aren't likely to do it in their homes, but they could do it in their backyards, or on rooftops, vacant lots, in greenhouses, warehouses, etc. And with mesh networking, an extremely productive system could be deployed across an entire community.

    Foodies, restauranteurs, the health conscious, even fast food chains could drive the adoption of the technology to satisfy the demand for better food, not just more food.

    I suggest changing the title of this topic of discussion from Home-Grown Solutions to Community-Grown Solutions.
  • NickOttensNickOttens Community Manager Amsterdam, NetherlandsPosts: 896 admin
    Thank you for sharing, @SteveK8, and interesting analogy.

    @Caroline, @SevagKechichian, FYI
  • Elaine71Elaine71 Posts: 8 ✭✭
    My experience with hydroponics has a certain negativity to it. I had no way to get rid of spent solutions and used up media. Due to the climate where i live it was necessary to do hydroponics in a greenhouse. I have found aquaponics to be a much easier system to keep in balance and it is very organic with much less waste. And of course, along with your vegetable you get fish.
  • jonathankolberjonathankolber Denver, CO, USAPosts: 22 ✭✭
    I know a gentleman who created a home aquaponics system, occupying a small area (10' X 10') and taking 100 watts of power. From that, he has fed himself and his girlfriend for years. Any other food they eat is purely for variety. It is, as Elaine71 says, a system with very little waste.

    In principle, I see no reason why this couldn't be reproduced billions of times and meet the world's needs for basic sustenance. (Of course, many of us would prefer to not kill and clean the fish. But that is a separate issue.)
  • SteveK8SteveK8 Posts: 43 ✭✭
    edited June 2019
    @Elaine71: I admire people who take on aquaponics. There's an added level of complexity to it that requires more education, but it can be a great way to get fish as well as veggies. Aquaponics is a natural extension of the basic hydroponic concept. It should be able to be adapted to work with most systems.

    I minimize or avoid the use of media altogether with my systems. Some media is needed for germination but it could be a little peat moss or something simple like that. However, I've never used anything like slabs of rockwool that don't decompose and would be difficult to get rid of. I tried grow-rocks a few times, but they aren't as reusable as you might think and they aren't cheap. To be viable I think media should be dirt cheap. After all, that is what it competes with.

    I recycle my nutrient solution or give it to nearby trees, shrubs, and flowerbeds. I do not maintain large reservoirs, so there's never much to get rid of.

  • SteveK8SteveK8 Posts: 43 ✭✭
    From USAID, "The Securing Water for Food Grand Challenge released its 2019 Annual Report. Marking its 6-year anniversary, the Grand Challenge's innovators have reached 6.2 million smallholder farmers, their families, and other customers and helped produce nearly 6 million tons of food."

    One thing that caught my eye is "Hydroponics Africa". ...The business model is comprised of direct sales of hydroponics units on a fixed fee per month basis, which includes complementary support and maintenance contracts. To date, Hydroponics Africa has installed 1,155 hydroponic units and helped grow more than 2,265 tons of produce.

    However, the website for Kenya Climate Ventures http://kcv.co.ke/?q=node/28 claims that Hydroponics Africa has so far installed over 3,500 hydroponics units in Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, Tanzania and Uganda to small scale farmers.

    Another item that got my attention is titled: Teach a Man Aquaponics, Feed Him for a Lifetime. The project has grown exponentially, from 8 growers in the first year to 32 in the second, 64 in the third, and 148 at the close of last year.

    On a nuts and bolts level, adding a fish tank can convert hydroponic systems into aquaponic systems.

    Today an advanced, automated hydroponic system costing less than $250 to manufacture could grow thousands of pounds of food per year in an area smaller than a tennis court, and that price will drop with volume production. Moreover, this base system expands to virtually any size, will use low-voltage DC and can go off-grid with low-cost solar panels and battery backup. A single control knob has five settings, Off-1-2-3 and Bluetooth. Settings 1-2-3 are for low, medium, and high nutrient solution strengths. Bluetooth gives advanced users access to a much broader range of controls via a smartphone or tablet, but using them is optional. Also, the systems can connect to the internet for enhanced functionality.

    An inexpensive plastic liner can be used to create an inground fish pond where its temperature will be more stable than in an above-ground tank.
  • jonathankolberjonathankolber Denver, CO, USAPosts: 22 ✭✭
    Do you have a link for Teach a Man Aquaponics, Feed Him for a Lifetime?
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