Add to the list above, companies that convert used shipping containers into hydroponic setups and sell them to entrepreneurs to start hyper-local farms. Elon Musks’ brother Kimball does this with Square Roots in Brooklyn, New York. There’s also Growtainers in Dallas, Texas, Freight Farms in Boston, Massachusetts, Stud Pac in Dubai, UAE, and Local Roots in Los Angeles, California.
One grower reports bringing in about $15,000 a month from a pair of these containers by selling their wares mostly to high-end restaurants in the Boston area.
Many of the container farms use a patented vertical growing method invented by Nate Storey of Zipgrow (formally Bright Agrotech) which was acquired by Plenty a month before raising $200M. The vertical grow method incorporates what is essentially a vinyl fencepost with a slot cut along the length of one face of the extrusion for plants to grow through.
While Plenty aims to build massive indoor farms on the periphery of 500 cities to speed the delivery of fresh food from days or weeks to hours and provide Whole Foods quality at Walmart prices, Zipgrow sells the same essential components to educators, hobbyists, and entrepreneurs. https://zipgrow.com
When you get down to it, a lot is riding on this labor-intensive method
It’s clunky, spendy, and user-hostile, but it’s an advance over the prior art that attracted a $200M investment! And it’s made up of repurposed, modified or make-do off the shelf parts and pieces.
ZipGrow is a static plant container system. There are others; PVC pipes with holes for plants to grow through, or plastic gullies used to grow lettuce such as American Hydroponics uses, or buckets of rocks, and many others.
A static plant container system is one part of a three-part universal hydroponic system. A second part would be an electric appliance for automatic feeding, watering, and pH control of the nutrient solution. An enhanced version could upload data to the internet to help improve harvests and to send alerts when fault conditions arise.
The third part of the universal system is an optional trellis for supporting the plant container. In the case of ZipGrow, the trellis might take the place of a wall that a ZipGrow or other system gets hung on, or other structure used to hold them up. The trellis is not always needed, but it is a part of a universal solution.
Current technology can be used to manufacture the above appliance, about the size of a countertop microwave oven for less than $200, and it could supply 40 or more ZipGrow towers, for example. As an option, it could be powered using solar panels with battery backup.
Current technology can also be used to manufacture advanced, consumable plant containers that could compete with ZipGrow, for less than five cents per foot.
A small, fully automated garden, without trellis, could retail for $999.99 or less, could pay for itself in a single season, and it could expand to virtually any size.
In crazy high volume, the prices could drop dramatically, making the technology available to the broadest possible market, for the widest possible range of uses. So much so that we couldn’t begin to predict all the places it could be used or what they’d be growing.