From Singapore to the USA and all around Europe, Edible Innovations profiles food makers that engage in improving the global food system at every stage, from production to distribution to eating and shopping. Join us as we explore the main trends in the industry from a maker perspective. Chiara Cecchini of Future Food Institute — an ecosystem with a strong educational core that promotes food innovation as a key tool to tackle the great challenges of the future — introduces you to the faces, stories, and experiences of food makers around the globe. Check back on Tuesdays and Thursdays for new installments.
Today we sit down with James Hunt. James got in touch in hopes of participating at Maker Faire Bay Area. He and I were both interested in having him show off his work, but, in the end, he wasn’t able to make it. However, all is well, as he will be flying to Maker Faire Rome to share what he’s been building. He’ll also be speaking on Sunday, December 3 at the AGRIFOOD: MAKE, HACK OR TECH? panel, where we will talk about how technological transfer, in an Agrifood4.0 framework, can favor virtuous practices, minimise energy waste, and automate processes.
James describes himself as an urban farmer, ag-tech enthusiast, artist, and activist. “I’ve been building urban garden installations and working with agtech companies for the past four years,” he told me. “I love to explore the design and art element of urban farming. I got started on this topic in Oakland, CA, and, early on, was involved with the Maker Faire where I displayed Urban Mini Farms called GreenCubes, which have provided the inspiration for ViRiDi Urban Farms – namely making gardening simple and accessible for more people in urban and suburban spaces.”
James, can you tell us more about ViRiDi?
ViRiDi is sort of for gardening what “Blue Apron” is for cooking. We provide a refined, simple step by step method and the materials to succeed at urban agriculture. We’ve got 2 versions – one is “non-perishable” and will grow when you are ready to start (from seed). The other one we’re launching this spring – and it’s a mail order live plant service. Both types are designed to work with the self-watering aluminum planters we make. We’ve also built a mini-vertical farm to support the live plant service in Richmond, VA, our home!
What materials do you provide, and how did you build them?
We have our aluminum vases custom manufactured. They are designed to be self watering and we have a very careful set of instructions designed to be intuitive, educational, and fun, sort of like a craft activity. Gardening is very hard if you don’t know what to expect simply because there are so many variables – so our process was to identify and remove as many as we could for an improved at home growing experience. We applied a similar experimental process to setting up our vertical farm – including taking time to learn from experts at Agritecture Consulting on how best to set up small scale indoor farms.
Growing food and gardening has been a part of our culture for so long that we’ve found that most of our questions about plants have answers in old books, clubs, and organizations dedicated to gardens. We also owe much to groups like Planting Justice and City Slicker Farms in Oakland, and Tricycle Urban Agriculture in Richmond, for their educational leadership in urban regenerative farming.
We’re taking elements of this knowledge and packaging it in a simple format for folks with less time, but who still have an interest in gardening – in the hopes that by sparking their interest we can further the cause of urban gardening everywhere!
What type of impact are you aiming to create?
This is the part that I like the most – these plants are designed to be transplanted after they are grown inside people’s houses. The sleeve we use for our seeded and live plant products is biodegradable and starts to break down after 10 months. We’re also headed towards connecting our subscribers directly with urban agriculture projects. We want our customers to feel so good about growing our plants and seed kits indoors that they’ll be inspired to garden outdoors, too. We believe in this direct relationship to plants is important – and one way to foster a collective ethic for a better environment, more local food, and more beautiful urban space.
All this sounds great, James! Any lessons you can share with your fellow makers?
I’ve learned that urban farms and gardens can be anything we imagine, and for those who know and enjoy plants (and have the tools to grow them themselves), the possibilities are really endless. I also believe the most powerful agent for change is small actions done by many people. By helping people take delight in growing plants, I believe we can play a small role in creating a something closer to a “Garden of Eden” in our urban areas through!