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Is the future of gardening indoors?

by | Green Living, Print Articles, Summer 2022

Would you like to grow incredibly healthy, pesticide-free crops with exceptional yields, all year round indoors? Odyssey’s Debra Robins connected with Michael Currin, the founder of Homefarm, an indoor farming technology start-up, to find out more.

According to the State of the Global Climate 2021 report “food insecurity increases by five to 20 per cent with each flood or drought in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Q. Was this this one of the motivating factors in the development of the Homefarm concept?
A. This was front and centre when this was conceptualised. Food security and access to nutritious food were two of the major inspirations behind our innovation. We want to bring the farm closer to the end user and we want to empower homes, families, communities and businesses to grow more of their own food. Investing in technologies which increase food security, access to nutrition and self-sustainability are vital! Especially in a country like South Africa. Indoor farming is an important technology and can be at the forefront of driving real impact and change.

Q. Is the Homefarm just another appliance for the kitchen? What is the Homefarm product exactly?
A. A Homefarm System is not just another kitchen appliance. It is a lifestyle, enabled by our beautifully designed indoor gardening systems – designed to fit seamlessly into your life, home or business. Our systems are fully automated and provide your crops with the ideal conditions for growth; from seed to harvest. From light and water, to nutrients and climate regulation you can be assured your crops are cared for and packed with flavour and nutrition, organic and pesticide free.

Q. How does the Homefarm work and what is a typical user experience?
A. Our customers enjoy a really easy and fun user experience. First off you need to own one of our farming systems. Next you’ll need to get some of the consumables like seeds and grow media, which we sell, really affordably. Our consumable products are packaged and curated to make for a quick and simple planting process. The intelligence of our systems make them friendly and accessible. The Homefarm App guides its farm owners through every harvest. It rewards them through gamified growing calendars, provides recipe ideas and inspirations. And soon our users will be able to track their nutrient intake from the consumption of their crops.

Q. What are the benefits to the consumer pursuing a holistic lifestyle in adopting this technology?
A. Growing your own food is beneficial on so many levels. Not only can you enjoy the financial benefit, but also the knowledge that the produce you grow is free from pesticides and herbicides and is packed with more nutrients than store-bought food, based on its freshness at the time of consumption. Gardening has been shown to have numerous mental health benefits including the reduction of mental health disorders, the easing of stress and the strengthening of social bonds over the communal nature of gardening. One of the things our customers say time and time again, is how they look forward to checking their crops’ progress every day and the satisfaction they get from harvesting the crops they’ve grown themselves.

Q. Which crops are best suited to indoor gardening set-ups and what sort of yield could an ‘indoor home farmer’ expect?

A. Indoor gardening is best suited to growing leafy produce such as herbs, lettuces and microgreens. Our smallest system currently on the market can grow up to 1Kg of produce per month, while our largest system can grow up to 15Kgs per month. We are also launching our Homefarm Nano system in December this year which has a yield capacity of 500grams and is a perfect countertop farm.

It was announced in September that Eskom had asked the National Energy Regulator of South Africa to approve a whopping 32.02 per cent electricity price increase for the 2024 financial year, to take effect from 1.4.2023.
A. The rising cost of electricity and energy is a global crisis and is having an inflationary effect across the entire global economy. We see it in the increased cost of food – in South Africa the year on year inflation of fresh food prices currently stands at 12 per cent. No sector of the economy will be shielded from these increases and, tragically, it is the consumer who bears the cost at the end of the day. It is for this exact reason that we all need to be looking at ways to become more sustainable and growing our own food is an incredibly powerful means to do just that. Our indoor farming systems are already highly efficient and, when coupled with a small solar panel, enable one to be completely shielded from the rising costs of leafy fresh produce.

Q. How energy-efficient is the product for those conscious households wanting to reduce their consumption and their carbon footprint, given that the power generation in South Africa is heavily dependent on coal?
A. Growing food with a Homefarm system is an extremely efficient and environmentally responsible method of sourcing ones fresh produce. Consumers often don’t realise what it takes for them to enjoy the convenience of refrigerated, single-use plastic packaged, leafy produce from their local food retailer.

Of course, many people don’t have the ability to grow their own food, whether it be because of access to space, arable land or simply because they don’t know how, or don’t have the time to tend to their own food garden. Furthermore, home food gardens themselves can be very inefficient, based on wasteful watering practices and crop failures due to climate, pests and mismanagement. Our system ensures highly efficient and optimised food farms with little to no waste. They use full spectrum LED grow lights which use very little energy and can be run off a small solar panel.

Q. On the subject of energy how will the rolling blackouts proposed by Eskom affect the system and the crop yield?
A. Our technology has been developed locally and so our engineering team has had to develop our technology with load-shedding in mind. We have been able to minimise the effect of load shedding on our systems to such a point where the effect is nominal. Examples of this are smart lighting and watering systems which compensate for any loss of power during lighting and watering sequences by providing additional lighting and watering when there is power. The on-board memory and battery also means that the farm’s settings are retained after power cuts.

Q. When one views Homefarm as a kitchen appliance, albeit a highly effective and beneficial one, the price point would appear to suit the middle to upper income groups and the commercial sector? Would this be correct?
A. Homefarm has products and offerings which can provide value across all echelons of the South African economy, both in the consumer and commercial sectors. Our systems, which can be rented on a subscription agreement, enable users to grow their produce at less than wholesale price. Of course if a customer wishes to purchase one of our systems, it would be viewed as an investment which can pay for itself within 18 months. We do understand however that an investment of this kind is out of reach for many South Africans and, to accommodate this, we introduced our subscription model as opposed to an outright purchase

The product launched in November 2022, watch this space for new innovations and far reaching benefits from this  ‘food to plate’ approach.

Michael Currin discovered his passion for indoor farming while studying for his Master in Design (MA and MSc) at the Royal College of Art in London.  During his master’s, Michael researched how to make cities and, moreover, urban communities, more resilient in the face of climate change. “Food security is a major factor when looking at the sustainability of cities and is also one of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. I wanted to empower people to grow more of their own food.” He came up with the concept of a product which could become a mainstay appliance in the home, one which could autonomously grow the most nutritious crops all year round. Initially addressing the needs of urban households with the Homefarm Appliance, the business has expanded its reach and product range by offering indoor farming systems to businesses and consumers.