A Sarnia company is developing a unique micro-farming system aimed at a growing market for homegrown and healthy greens.
And the timing couldn’t be better, says Eddie DeJong, leader of the design team and co-owner of Vita, formerly New England Arbors.
Consumer interest was already high for fresh microgreens for salads, smoothies and garnishes. But the pandemic has increased the demand for greens grown at home and without fertilizers or soil, said DeJong.
And housebound folks are looking for new hobbies, he added.
“We’re super excited about it, and shocked that everyone talks about sanitizing and washing their hands, but not so much about building their immune systems with more greens and exercise to lower the chances of having COVID-19,” he said.
“People are using microgreens, but not a lot know they are 20 to 40 times more nutrient-rich, pound for pound, than full grown plants.”
DeJong purchased the Campbell Street business 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 tinkerer 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 realized this is a great idea for the future.”
The micro-farming system the team is developing will be small and attractive enough to sit on a kitchen counter. It doesn’t use hydroponics or soil. Instead, the tiny plants root in a unique growing tray that uses humidity to provide moisture from below.
Harvestable greens are ready in a few days.
“We took it as far as we could and then realized we needed science that’s outside our wheelhouse,” DeJong said.
He approached Lambton College’s Bio-Industrial Process Research Centre to work on lighting, water purification and electronics. Consumers will push a button or two after planting the seeds and let the system do the rest.
The college and Vita secured a $75,000 federal innovation grant and have worked on design and development the past 18 months, said DeJong.
The final prototype is anticipated in weeks, with an eye to distribution in about a year.
“Industrial designers will be involved now to create a product nice enough that you’d be proud to have it on your counter,” DeJong said. “The hard part will then be getting the right people to build it.”
Vita sells outdoor arbours, decorative products, as well as outdoor garden beds, and already distributes to big box stores like Home Depot and Costco.
DeJong anticipates the new countertop system will also be sold in those stores.
“The goal is to retail it for $199 by the end of 2021 or early 2022,” he said.
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