With more and more rack-based vertical farms coming up, aponix introduced a novel shape to grow more plants in urban farms in 2016 with its ‘vertical barrel 3D-NFT’. The idea was to be able to utilize available height, maximize 3D space utilization and use natural sunlight if available. Going into 2021 the solution developed into a versatile and general modular platform to set up grow spaces to grow all sorts of plants irrigated by vertical drip irrigation from standard 2-inch net pots being grown from just a standalone unit or a larger chained and integrated setup.
One highlight here is the aponix Plug-Pot, a reusable alternative to single-use plastic net pots commonly used in hydroponics that provides also an optional metal trellis insert to support also fruiting and small vining crops. In indoor farming where light is generated from electricity, we are mostly restricted to leafy greens, microgreens, and baby leaf lettuce. With the vertical barrels, users can utilize natural sunlight too and expand into fruiting crops. The grow spaces are not designed especially for a certain crop so users can switch the crops any time too according to individual demand and season.
Use walls to add more jungle to the city
Green infrastructure will be needed more and more in urban areas. It will serve many important functions like catch stormwater, provide pathways and islands for biodiversity, manage microclimate in a natural way and provide a more pleasant atmosphere overall. Adding areas where also edible plants are grown in public or semi-public areas next to decorative plants will green up people’s lives and make a difference. In that way, walls are still underutilized. Taking a look at the existing living wall systems, aponix discovered that there are special requirements for the installation and the ongoing maintenance of such living walls. Over time they will probably be regarded as viable and normal parts of urban architecture and urban planning. The aponix living WallSystem was guided by a strict form-follows-function approach. It follows the same approach and mission as the vertical barrel: Uses very few parts, be very modular and robust, can be used outside and inside to grow a wide variety of crops on a wide range of wall types. Since it has an optional reservoir function it is already being planned to be part of stormwater retention projects.
New types of urban farms
Aponix regards all its components as infrastructure pieces that can be used to design many different growing or even plant dispensing solutions and it always needs well-planned implementation into the target context. Like with larger commercial farms, their smaller counterparts will also need to be planned well for efficient operations and also provide a usable value proposition within its urban context.
Being very close to citizens a whole new range of opportunities opens, just to name a few:
· Grow hyperlocal edible plants and use alternative distribution mechanisms like CSA (community supported agriculture), food-coops, or self-harvest gardens.
· Provide purposeful jobs for citizens gardening the urban jungle.
· Participatory maintenance of urban green infrastructure.
· More ways the prosumer can participate or grow part of his own edibles.
Most of the technology needed is already there. But it needs to be combined in new ways and formats if we like to run them successfully in the urban context. People will understand this and support it with their purchasing decisions if the package is attractive to them and they have the buying power.
A different mindset
Going for these new types of plant production and installations there are many beneficial aspects that will come with it: users work together, they learn from each other, they learn about the basic biological context and conditions how nature works, and materials should cycle through value chains. They will pay more attention to areas where permanent or toxic waste is generated, and they plan and try to avoid it working the way to a more conscious and plant-based regenerative diet affecting also other aspects of their daily lives. Any plant grown and consumed in such a context will be a win in multiple ways.
Nutrition and its distribution are complex. Of course, we also need carbohydrates and protein. There will be clever solutions and integrations for these too. Aponix believes if we leave it to the VC funded PFAL (plant factories under artificial light) we will just get some more premium products grown with the highest priority being a monetary profit for shareholders. Operating a business needs to be like that per definition. That is why aponix also likes to provide alternatives and diversity. The more the better.