NOW WE HAVE THE SALAD –
FRESH GREENS FROM THE HIGH TECH CABINET
When I visit my family at home, the first thing we always do is take a stroll through the garden. My father speaks lovingly to his tomatoes and proudly presents his new raised bed. With the words “it doesn’t get better than this” he always sticks a fresh head of lettuce out of the ground.
Back in the big city, I wonder where my daily greens actually come from. How many kilometres did they travel before they landed on my plate plucked and washed? How can rural agriculture and urban life be combined? Industrial designer Max Richter and biotechnologist Henrik Jobczyk, the two founders of Neofarms, were also asking themselves these questions. The answers were provided by NASA’s technology; the aeroponics process makes it possible to cultivate plants without the need of soil.
The vegetables of the future: A fully automatic plant cupboard for urban self sufficiency.
FROM THE VASTNESS OF OUTER SPACE TO THE URBAN KITCHEN
If it works in outer space it’s also got to work in the kitchen at home, the two young entrepreneurs thought to themselves. The result was a fully automatic indoor greenhouse. Luckily, you don’t even have to have a green thumb for this; thanks to the sophisticated technology of the greenhouse, the cabinets control its nutrient, water and light balance independently. Between root and leaf green, there is a membrane layer, which produces a nutrient mist for the roots, the crunchy heads stretch towards an artificial LED light. During the day, the cabinet produces 80 to 100 grams of lettuce, which is around 30 to 40 kilograms per year. The current Neofarms prototype is the size of a refrigerator and consists of seven levels on which tomatoes, lettuce and carrots can grow. All you have to do is decide what you want to grow, the rest runs itself. If the plants do need human help, a notification is sent through the personalized app. In a relatively small space, the mini garden can integrate itself as a normal element of the modern kitchen and provides its owners with fresh and pesticide free produce.
NASA indoor plants: Max Richter and his colleagues from “Neofarms” bring space technology into the city apartment.
THE FIELD IN THE CITY
The company infarm does on a larger scale what Neofarms does in the kitchen. The vertical fields of the company are located in the heart of Berlin. And there hang the baby greens, not dissimilar to the hanging gardens of Babylon, in a closed irrigation system. Water flows from top to bottom, watering each level and is then pumped straight back up again. The growth of the plants is tracked by software which observes their progress and optimizes the system. Infarm concentrates on the technological expansion of the software and the distribution of the vertical extension in restaurant kitchens.
If you want to check it out for yourself, you can head to Good Bank restaurant in Berlin Mitte to try what’s coming out of their cabinets. Here you can enjoy fresh lettuce plucked directly from the vertical gardens behind the counter. Smaller versions of modern greenhouses are already available in selected supermarkets. Although the whole thing is far away from an organic farm and looks like the laboratory of a spaceship, it is absolutely environmentally friendly. In the future, this will help to avoid long delivery routes and reduce food waste, and direct consumption after the harvest makes fruit and vegetables more nutritious and flavourful than produce from the supermarket.
Fresh from the high tech cupboard: Vertical gardens will soon be increasingly used in restaurant and hotel kitchens. (Photo: Good Bank)
ORGANIC WITHOUT SOIL?
There is just one catch, however. Although no pesticides or chemicals are used to grow these delicate greens, the vegetables won’t be receiving an organic seal. The plants don’t grow in soil, which is why they do not meet the criteria for the strictly certified seal. This isn’t much of a problem for us seeing as that has nothing to do with their taste. But will these leafy green varieties also become established in restaurants, kitchens and hotels in the future? My father might continue to prefer his garden for a while and act as the gentle tomato whisperer. But now I can be supplied with fresh greenery in the city too, and I’ll know where it comes from. The way from the kitchen shelf to our plates has been revolutionized and who knows what will start growing out of the high tech plant beds in the near future. It remains exciting!