Let It Grow
A Chicago-based company's hydroponic growing kits could help keep fresh, healthy food on the table at home when the grocery store isn't an option.
The coronavirus pandemic is shining light on long-existing societal problems, as well as some potential solutions.
In the United States, the rush of people purchasing supplies caused shortages of some items. I don’t have to tell you about the toilet paper insanity we’ve faced in recent weeks! Some grocery stores had trouble keeping fresh, healthy foods in stock. That prompted a renewed interest in sustainable food production at home.
Hank Adams, the founder of Chicago-based Rise Gardens, had been thinking about home food production far before the coronavirus outbreak. He grew food-bearing plants like strawberries as a child and eventually graduated to a full-blown garden in his yard.
But the challenges of outdoor gardening — the Midwest’s short growing season, for one — started his search for year-round indoor growing options. Products like this exist already, but they tend to be small-scale, countertop models more suited for growing herbs than vegetables. Plus, they’re geared toward novice gardeners and “are not all a good quality,” said Diego Blondet, head of product and strategy at Rise Gardens. “[Adams] wanted more, being an experienced gardener.”
Adams previously was the CEO of Sportvision, a company that developed augmented reality for live events; it created the yellow virtual first-down line now standard on TV broadcasts of NFL games. About three years ago, Adams combined his passions for tech and gardening by launching indoor hydroponics startup Rise Gardens.
The hydroponic garden systems include an app that guides users in how to care for their specific plants. It provides information on how often to water, which nutrients to add and how often, when the water reservoir is empty, if the system has too much water and tips for pruning and harvesting each type of plant. “We've automated a lot of what the vertical farmer does so that the home user does not need to learn how to balance an equation [or] target electrical connectivity in the water to know that the plant has the right nutrients,” Blondet said.
Blondet said the systems allow for more environmentally friendly food growing because the produce does not have to be shipped via polluting vehicles. Hydroponics growing systems also offer the ability to grow more nutritious food than what is available through a typical supply chain, he said. “I'm from Peru, and the quality of food I can find in my city, Lima, is so much better than anything you find here. Even organic,” Blondet said. “[Rise Gardens] is allowing people to grow good quality, nutritious, healthy food and feed their families.”
Rise Gardens recently entered its second round of manufacturing. Blondet says Chicago is the right place for the company not just because of the local need for indoor growing, but also due to the city’s place in the food production and distribution ecosystem. “I came to Chicago because it is the center of the food industry in the U.S. This type of innovation… should come from here,” he said.
Do you have story tips about tech companies in your community whose products offer a potential solution to a pandemic problem? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect on Twitter @centereddottech to share ideas of who to highlight.
Other stories we’re watching:
Milwaukee startup Uncrowd’s platform went live in February to connect business founders from underrepresented groups with investors. The business is touting its ability to connect parties digitally to comply with social distancing guidelines. (Wisconsin Inno)
Nonprofit tech firm Cincinnati Cares is offering free tools to track the pandemic impact on charities, facilitate digital donations and recruit volunteers for online projects or those who can provide assistance in “Covid-conscious” ways. (The Chronicle of Philanthropy)