Market gardens are rising up to deliver eco-friendly, farm-fresh greens direct to your front door.
Picture a tower of leafy greens where each plant has its own finely tuned supply of water, light and nutrients.
This futuristic indoor vertical garden is becoming a reality on the outskirts of Perth (Australia) as its creators seek to combat soil degradation, water shortages and chemical residue.
Christian Prokscha, the cofounder of Eden Towers, describes his operation as an entirely new form of food production in the Australian market where sustainability and efficiency are critical.
The master plan is to build eight large vertical farms close to urban centres such as Sydney and Melbourne over the next four years, with each farm reaping about 120 tonnes of sustainable produce per 1200 square meter footprint.
And with a mission to sell their produce directly to consumers, they also hope to shave off hundreds of food miles.
“We are building the sustainable indoor vertical farms of the future. This is true farm-to-plate,” says Prokscha.
Part of their challenge is to grow the highest possible yield in the smallest possible space, and with the help of science and technology, Prokscha says each growing tray can be individually calibrated to reach harvest far more quickly and efficiently.
With a small-scale farm now producing daily in Perth, Eden Towers has been building up its technology and logistics as a working model to roll out to other cities around Australia.
“The whole idea is for people to understand that you can grow produce without sun and soil. Few people truly understand how this technology works and just can’t imagine how we could grow plants indoors.”
We are building the sustainable indoor vertical farms of the future. This is true farm-to-plate.
Cofounder of Eden Towers
To build the sophisticated systems necessary to run an indoor farm, he says Eden Towers selected technology vendors with experience and knowledge of sustainability and ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance).
By combining the Internet of Things (IoT) and robotics, it now manages its entire growing process from seed to harvesting in an automated way.
“It allows us to reduce water use by 98%, use a tenth of the space of a traditional farm, create close to zero emissions and slash our food miles,” says Prokscha.
“We also needed to be efficient on power and we didn’t want to introduce any chemicals into the system to enable us to recycle water and media.”
He and co-founder (and wife), Julia Prichodko, share an interest in disruptive technology, healthy eating and making a positive impact on the environment.
“When we looked at the fresh produce value chain we realised that there was a major problem in the system in Australia, today as we eat food that’s already days old before it goes on the shelves,” he says.
“With us in the future, it will be hours when it’s on the shelves, or minutes if it’s direct to home delivery.”
Complicated supply chains mean there are often up to ten steps from the farm gate to the plate, and most farming has become over-reliant on chemicals to remain viable.
Although they have experience creating small-scale farms overseas, Perth is the pair’s first commercial farm in Australia with a current output of 1.5 – 2 tonnes per year of mainly traditional leafy greens for salad, herbs and microgreens, as well as brand new edible flower categories for hospitality markets.
“We are developing some really cool produce, for example a rockmelon microgreen which takes only 6 days to grow and tastes just like rockmelon,” says Prokscha.
Eden Towers sells some produce to wholesalers but has been developing a direct-to-consumer model which it will launch when the commercial farm is ready.
“We harvest and deliver so our product is hours old not days old and the level of freshness and taste are exponential,” says Prokscha.
At Eden Towers each growing tray is six square metres and these are stacked 12 metres high to create 440 square metres of growing space.
Crop scientists help to identify ideal varieties to grow in the indoor environment, and the Internet of things (IoT) helps to coordinate the flow of resources to each of the growth towers in response to sensors that communicate their status. This way, Eden Towers can monitor the temperature of each of the trays within 1-3 degrees, and measure humidity, C02 and nutrients to monitor how well the plants are growing.
Climate control is also managed through an array of over 2000 LED lights per grow tray that emit different spectrums of light that can be separately tuned.
By calibrating each tray individually, they can harvest two to three times faster than a traditional crop. The software detects when the plant is ready to be harvested, and using robotics technology the tray is moved to floor level where a conveyer places it on a trolley and delivers it to the automated harvesting line with minimal human intervention.
Who funds it:
Eden Towers recently raised $673,000 via crowdfunding platform Birchal and is now in the process of seeking Series-A capital funding to help expand its operations.