Urban farming innovations are cropping up throughout the country, but getting more people to grow their own greens is trickier than you think. That’s because personal farms take time, a lot of care and the right weather conditions.
But the California-based startup CityBlooms is looking to eliminate the fuss over urban agriculture and get more city-dwellers on board through its growbots — lightweight, hydroponic greenhouses that can fit into any odd-shaped rooftop or space. The modular unit uses cloud technology, so users can track their growth and control conditions such as irrigation, humidity and plant nutrition, Fast Company reports.
Aside from is ability to produce a large quantity of produce — think: tons of lettuce, not a baby tomato here and there — the growbots technology is incredibly mobile compared to other greenhouses. For example, some traditional systems may weight 50 pounds per square foot, whereas growbots are only between 15 to 17 pounds per square foot, making it much easier to outfit any rooftop.
“The modularity also gives us the ability to scale very easily,” says Nick Halmos, founder and CEO of Cityblooms. “So we can size a farming installation appropriately to the demands and consumption patterns and profiles of the community that the farm is built to serve.”
CityBlooms’ technology also protects produce from exposure to air pollution and lead — which, as research has shown, is a problem with urban farming. A recent Cornell University study found unsafe levels of lead in nearly half of root vegetables and problems with air pollution, but Cityblooms’ system seals off the plants in a greenhouse and uses recirculated water.
The company contends it’s not trying to replace traditional farming, but contends that this version of farming could reduce food waste and keep produce closer to urban centers, while also freeing up farmland for other crops. The global population is anticipated to hit 9 billion by 2050, which means farmers will need to produce 70 percent more food while facing drought conditions and other costs, as Fast Company points out. As more city dwellers embrace urban farming, innovations like growbots could help alleviate some of that burden.
“We’ve tried to chart a course with our development that gives flexibility and ease of installation so we can get farming happening now,” Halmos says. “We’ve all seen the pictures of rooftop skyscrapers that grow food, and that’s a wonderful goal, but is that going to happen within the next 50 to 60 years? Maybe not. We’ve really been trying to identify the solutions that get us moving in the right direction.”