It will always be spring in your kitchen. That is what the "Plantcube" from Agrilution promises; a fully automated greenhouse that enables vertical farming even on a small scale. Maximilian Lössl, Co-Founder and CEO, spoke about the first experiments in his parents' basement, the new features of the second generation of "Plantcube" and why his personal mini-farm will never run out of basil. With a high-tech herb garden in a designer cabinet, the consumer gets a closed ecosystem where it's always spring. What could a mini-vertical farm like this do for us?
"Plantcube" / Image: Agrilution.
By mimicking the perfect spring conditions every day, the closed ecosystem grows herbs, lettuces and micro-greens with up to 30 percent higher density of nutrients; all without transportation costs, cold chains or plastic waste. The harvest will also land directly on people's plates, retaining the all-important secondary plant compounds, vitamins and minerals. It is a combination of special light frequencies, controlled climate and the hydrophonic irrigation that will ensure optimal conditions throughout the year, all without pesticides or seasonal dependencies. In this way, technology and nature can work hand in hand.
You first started farm-to-table experiments in your parents' basement. How did the idea come about?
The initial spark, the enthusiasm for vertical farming, came from a book by Dr. Dickson Despommier. On the author's recommendation, I actually went to Den Bosch in the Netherlands to study. But the theories were not enough for me. I became impatient and wanted to act. So I took the concept of vertical farming a step further; the idea of a "mini-vertical farm" in my own home was born. Philipp Wagner then joined me for the technical implementation. Our friendship goes back to our school days, when we played basketball together. We started experimenting in my parents' garage and founded Agrilution together in 2013.
Which lettuces and herbs exactly do you grow in the "Plantcube"?
Our portfolio currently includes over 30 different plants - from common kitchen herbs to tatsoi, leaf lettuces and mixes for pesto to more unusual microgreens such as bronze fennel. The selection is based on the needs of the market, but we also want to offer something unusual that is unavailable in the supermarket or organic market. In addition, growth speed is decisive so that our customers do not have to wait too long. Generally, the harvest time is between one and four weeks.
And what demand is the unit designed to meet?
Assuming a daily consumption rate, the capacity ranges from a single person to a small family - depending on how planting and planning is done. Our app provides insight on growth, advice on harvesting or maintenance, and also allows online ordering of new seedbars that carry the seed.
Won't we lose that particular feeling of taking care of your plants in the field, garden or balcony?
We don't see ourselves as competing with people who want to have big gardens where they grow their own plants. Rather, we address city dwellers who do not have a balcony or garden in urban centers, are seasonally limited due to their location, or who simply lack a green thumb. Of course, we focus on vegetarians, vegans and flexitarians, but we also address culinary connoisseurs who are looking for that special aroma. And technology-savvy early adopters who want to outfit their smart homes with the lastest tech.
You recently launched the second edition of the "Plantcube". What exactly has been changed or improved?
What's new about the optimized "Plantcube", in addition to its black redesign, is the revised drawers system, which can now be equipped with nine seed bars each on two levels. This offers a much greater variety for planting and the new, portion-sized seedbars are even more aligned with daily needs/the daily harvest opportunity. We have also expanded our plant portfolio and divided it into three categories so that our customers can get a particularly quick overview: Dailies, Essentials and Chefs. In addition to all this, the Seedbar substrate is now 100 percent biodegradable thanks to the use of natural materials.
There is also a so-called "Cinema Mode". What is this in essence?
Cinema Mode is also one of the latest adjustments - it came about as a result of valuable customer feedback and allows the greenhouse to be set to silent and dark for up to two hours. Some users will position the "Plantcube" directly in the living room as a design statement. Its light can be disturbing when people are watching a movie, for example, which is why we have added this option.
You probably own a "Plantcube" yourself. What do you grow in it and why?
The "Plantcube" in our private home is always well stocked. We eat our greens every day. Since I love Asian cuisine, we always have fresh cilantro for salads or as a topping for avocado bread. But our regular assortment also includes tatsoi and wasabina leaf mustard - nice and spicy. And don't forget the basil. My girlfriend is Italian.
Are there any recipes specifically using plants from the Plantcube?
We are constantly developing recipes with greens from the "Plantcube". Our website provides inspiration, as does the app. We also regularly cook together in our office, which is currently only possible to a limited extent. Otherwise, however, we always come up with highly recommendable creations. We also cooperate with KptnCook and chefs who use the "Plantcube" themselves. My favorite dish is "Asian Pak Choi Stir Fry", which I modify according to my mood.
What impact has the lockdown had on interest in your Plantcubes? Fresh greens from one's own home sounds like an enticing option right now.
Sales have really taken off; because customers will always have something fresh and healthy in the house, and for the first time it's becoming very clear to all of us that local cultivation can't always meet the demand for natural products. As a result, we're sometimes faced with empty vegetable shelves. Also, in general, a more conscious, healthier life is becoming more and more trendy right now.
Source: AD Magazin