By Jonathan Alvira, Arizona State University
ASU student and entrepreneur Stephen Rusnock has a proposal for the garden of the future.
Recently, he showcased his vertical hydroponics gardening initiative for the Phoenix locavores at the Ignite @ ASU gathering, an event that gives students and members of the community a chance to talk about their ideas for creating a more sustainable city.
Rusnock’s company, Farmiculture, released a prototype of its vertical gardening hydroponic system on March 9 on the company’s Facebook page. Farmiculture’s business plan is to create upright gardening systems in vacant commercial buildings, warehouses and high rises in downtown Phoenix. The soilless gardens will run on large water systems that maintain the garden by recycling the water through a series of water lines and PVC piping.
Although the company is in the early stages, Rusnock says he already has the help of Daniel O’Neill — ASU lecturer and program director for the Technological Entrepreneurship and Management program — and Brandon Sargent, co-founder of the company Ecoscraps.
“Brandon has a lot of clients in his Rolodex and has partnerships with at least 200 growers,” said Rusnock. “With his help we could expand the business and continue to make it grow.”
Rusnock hopes to market the company’s produce to the “niche” market in Phoenix — health-conscious consumers who live downtown and frequent the Phoenix Public Market. The idea of Farmiculture is to bring fresh, organic produce to the city at reasonable prices and create more efficient crops that conserve more water.
“Its tough as hell to grow anything out here,” said Jeremy Hennessy, manager of Casa Grande Hydroponics. “During the summer it takes a lot more water to maintain the crops, depending on the size of the garden, you could double or triple the amount of water usage on a soil garden compared to a hydroponic garden.”
Since the plants aren’t grown in soil and don’t have to break down the water through the minerals and nutrients, the hydroponic garden supplies the plants with mineral nutrients added to the water supply and produces full-sized plants about 25 to 50 percent faster, according to Hennessy.
In 2011, the Chicago Department of Aviation and the Future Growing LLC created a 928-square-foot vertical garden in between terminals at O’Hare International Airport. The garden grew a variety of produce such as vegetables, fruit and even edible flowers, which were used in airport restaurants.
Other startup companies have created smaller-scale vertical hydroponic systems for home use. ClearDome Solar Thermal Company was in Phoenix last weekend at the Juice Plus+ Spring leadership conference to launch the Tower Garden. The home hydroponic gardening unit retails for about $500 and according to the website, the Tower Garden can be paid for in payments of about $43 a month.