A very early experiment for a micro-agricultural product in development, which involves growing microgreens on a kitchen countertop. Submitted photo
A company from Sarnia is developing a unique micro-farming system aimed at a growing market for local and healthy greens.
And the timing couldn’t be better, says Eddie DeJong, head of the design team and co-owner of Vita, formerly New England Arbors.
Consumer interest in fresh microgreens for salads, smoothies and side dishes was already high. But the pandemic has increased the demand for greens that are grown at home and without fertilizer or soil, DeJong said.
And homebound people are looking for new hobbies, he added.
“We’re very excited and shocked that everyone is talking about disinfecting and washing their hands, but not so much about building their immune systems with more greens and exercise to lower the likelihood of COVID-19,” he said.
“People use microgreens, but not many know that they are 20 to 40 times more nutritious, pound for pound, than fully grown plants.”
DeJong bought the Campbell Street store 11 months ago with partners Alyssa Gingrich and Adam Alix after joining the company three years ago to work on product development.
“I’m a hobbyist at heart and started experimenting with a Tupperware container and aquarium bubbler to grow microgreens,” he said.
“The team in the office and I experimented with a few rudimentary ideas and found that this was a great idea for the future.”
The micro-farming system developed by the team will be small and attractive enough to sit on a kitchen counter. No hydroponics or soil are used. Instead, the tiny plants are rooted in a unique growing tray that uses moisture to provide moisture from below.
Harvestable greens are ready in a few days.
“We got as far as we could and then realized we needed science that was outside of our wheelhouse,” DeJong said.
He turned to Lambton College’s Bio-Industrial Process Research Center to work on lighting, water treatment, and electronics. Consumers press a button or two after planting the seeds and let the system do the rest.
The college and Vita received a $ 75,000 innovation scholarship and have worked on design and development for the past 18 months, DeJong said.
The final prototype is expected in weeks, with distribution in about a year in view.
“Industrial designers will now be involved in creating a product that is so beautiful you are proud to have it on your counter,” said DeJong. “The hard part, then, will be finding the right people to build it.”
Vita sells outdoor arbors, decorative products and outdoor garden beds and already sells them to large stores such as Home Depot and Costco.
DeJong assumes that the new worktop system will also be sold in these stores.
“The goal is to sell it for $ 199 by late 2021 or early 2022,” he said.
Do you have a great business story idea? Send it to [email protected].