'Smart Farm' will let you grow an entire garden in your kitchen - automatically

We all know we should eat more fresh produce, but sometimes it's tough to make it to the grocery store or farmer's market, and many of us aren't able to grow our own due to limited outdoor space, climate conditions, and, of course, the many hours of work a garden takes to maintain. Enter technology. A company called Click and Grow is pioneering a year-round garden system that can potentially grow enough fresh produce for an entire family — in their kitchen, living room, office or even in a closet.

The Click and Grow "Robot Garden" is a set of trays that can fit on the shelves of a rolling kitchen cart. Each tray can grow 30 plants — currently up to 60 at a time — using a proprietary growth medium ("smart soil") that grows and nourishes plants with almost no human intervention required. Efficient LED bulbs supply the light, and the garden's water tank can either be hooked up to your home water supply or filled up by you every two weeks. The smart garden is also connected to an app, so you can monitor and control your garden's progress from  your smartphone or tablet, and even compare it to those of your friends around the world.

"Most indoor garden systems on the market require expensive, complex pumps, harsh lights, large footprints, and constant calibration of multiple expensive sensors as well as dosing with chemical fertilizers, which many consumers and professional chefs find unappealing," Mattias Lepp, CEO of Click & Grow, said in a statement. By contrast, Lepp says, "the Smart Farm uses new low-cost, ultra-efficient technologies to remove these hurdles, so anyone can grow hyperlocal, fresh food in their home, school, restaurant or community center with minimal management and easy scalability."

As for what you can grow, the Smart Farm, which is currently offered as a made-to-order product with plans to begin shipping for retail in early 2016 with a projected price of around $500, offers seed cartridges that can grow salad greens like lettuce and kale, vegetables such as tomatoes, eggplant and chilis, herbs like thyme and basil, and many more. (Click and Grow's smaller 3-plant herb garden is already available for $59.95.) The idea is that after the initial investment, DIY home farmers will enjoy fresh produce for years to come for less than they would spend at a retail market.

So, once the Smart Farm is on the market, will everyone get one? "I see a huge market in the busy, stressed-out urban cubicle worker," says Shel Horowitz, a green business expert. "Its unique selling proposition seems to me to be the set-it-and-forget-it aspect — something that has undermined many earlier attempts to get busy people involved in growing veggies," he points out. Horowitz also sees possibilities for "institutional food service like schools, hospitals — even prisons."

As for how DIY indoor farming would affect current farmers, Horowitz sees potential wide consumer adoption as potentially similar to what has happened with coffee. "As coffee roasters have begun developing innovations such as compostable K-cups for Keurig single-serve machines, so farmers may be in position to participate at the product development level, either in conjunction with the manufacturer or going direct to consumers," he says.

Horowitz sees one potential drawback for home gardeners, however. "People who are bug-phobic probably shouldn't get one, as it will attract some bugs."

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