CHENNAI: Are you an organic food lover and have you ever wanted to grow your own vegetables or herbs at home but is unable to do so for lack for space?
If so, here is a Mumbai-based start-up firm U-Farm Technologies that is using hydroponic gardening technique to customise modular farm for an individual apartment complex or for a supermarket.
A group of four, comprising three graduate students from Birla Institute of Technology and Sciences (BITS) Pilani and a horticulturist came with an innovative idea of building an automated, Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered small scale vertical farming appliance for farming in the city (supermarkets, restaurants, schools, hospitals and households).
Utsav Gudhaka, one of the founders, said the idea was to grow fresh organic food at one’s place. “There are large-scale hydroponic farms in places like Hyderabad and Pune located 100 km away from the cities. The nutrition value comes down by half by the time it reaches the customer and there are complaints of wilting. To overcome this problem, we came-up with this idea,” he said.
He clarified that U-Farm is not the first hydroponic start-up. “There are a few players, but the difference is they give the set-up and you have to manage, which is found to be difficult in most cases. Here, we will set-up the farm and our professional growers will come everyday doing the routine and the only thing that is required is subscribe to our produce. Our business model will work in an apartment complex having a minimum of 40 families. We are still working on revenue sharing formula with supermarkets,” Gudhaka said.
He said the project was initially supported by Department of Science and Technology (DST) through IIT-Bombay receiving a grant of `3.67 lakh per year and now under Carbon Zero Challenge-2018 the team has received `five lakh to develop the prototype. The team received applause from the jury.
While one can grow almost anything hydroponically, some vegetables thrive more in hydroponic systems than others. “We have chosen plants that don’t mind moisture and that don’t get too big for our set up, such as wheat grass, lettuce, herbs, microgreens and leafy greens.
On the price, the team said it would cost the same as quoted in “Nature Basket” for organic produce. For instance, spinach (250 grams) would cost around `65.
What is hydroponic gardening?
The science of soil-less gardening is called hydroponics. It basically involves growing healthy plants without the use of a traditional soil medium by using a nutrient like a mineral-rich water solution instead.
A plant just needs select nutrients, some water and sunlight to grow. Not only do plants grow without soil, they often grow a lot better with their roots in water instead.