Nourishing Cities with Urban Micro Gardens

By Phil Weiner

Phil Weiner is the Co-Founder and CEO of Washington, DC-based Earth Starter, maker of all-in-one gardens that help city dwellers grow food and flowers. Earth Starter’s first product is Nourishmat, a garden pad with seedballs included to create easy, sustainable garden ecosystems and help consumers grow their own food. On July 1st, Earth Starter launched a Kickstarter campaign to change the way people think about food.

Jul 22, 2013 | Smart Cities | 0 comments

We all know that fresh, local produce is good for us. But it’s expensive to buy and hard to grow yourself – especially in cities. Whether it’s picking the right plants and seeds or matching it with the right spacing and planting times, gardening involves a lot of guesswork. Mistakes can prevent new or inexperienced gardeners from getting the results they want.

Americans are interested in eating local, fresh, organic food—so how can we reduce these barriers and get healthy produce into the hands of regular city-dwellers?

Urban gardens

While a small produce garden might not provide a family with all of its produce, The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has presented research showing that a well-tended micro-garden of 11 square feet can produce as much as 200 tomatoes a year, 36 heads of lettuce every 60 days, 10 cabbages every 90 days, and 100 onions every 120 days. If people in urban areas who currently have an outdoor space – even a tiny one! – grew edibles, we would be able to kick start some serious, local, homegrown agriculture networks.

But you can’t just expect everyone to know how to grow. Not only do people need an affordable solution, but they also need education and resources as well.

Earth Starter—an urban agriculture startup

Urban agriculture is ripe for disruption. There are so many opportunities for entrepreneurs to step in and solve some of these challenges. My co-founder, John and I, are on a mission to empower city dwellers to become producers by giving them easy tools grow healthy fresh food. We have designed two products – a 4’ x 6’ Nourishmat and a 2’ x 6’ Herbmat – with the goal of turning consumers into producers.

EarthStarter seedballs

EarthStarter seedballs

The mat comes with non-GMO seedballs (seeds mixed with clay and worm castings to enrich the soil, and chili powder to keep pests away). To plant, you simply lay out the mat on top of a bed of soil, then stick the seedballs for the 19 different vegetables and herbs in their respective holes. The mat also doubles as a weed barrier and holds in water. The Nourishmat includes an optional built-in irrigation so users with an available water source can easily tend to the plants.

The Nourishmat is a market-based approach to growing healthy food with limited resources. In order to get the product off the ground, we performed a 22-state beta test over the last year and a half. We chose plants that would grow in all USDA hardiness zones. The combination of cool and warm weather crops with a mix of herbs for the summer allows for more successful yields. Bio-diversity promotes more pollinators and the seedballs help protect seeds against harsh environments and pests.

Schoolyards, food deserts and empty lots

Our plan is to focus on schools and encourage municipalities to create edible schoolyards. We hope to put a Nourishmat in every school and make growing food part of a student’s curriculum.

Furthermore, empty spaces in cities are community opportunity zones to us. We aim to tag areas in need of nourishment and present action plans to city governments whereby we can help create edible neighborhoods using the Nourishmat.

There is more space than entrepreneurs realize to innovate and collaborate in grow-local urban industry. At Earth Starter, we hope to be leaders in organizing this space and are already exploring partnerships with companies like EcoScraps, which converts food scraps into organic soil.

We need more gardens in the world, so I’d strongly encourage you to start thinking about what you can plant in your outdoor space. And check out our Kickstarter page if you’d like to be part of the Nourish Movement.

Discussion

Leave your comment below, or reply to others.

Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org

Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology

If Companies Want a Diverse Workforce, They Need to Pay Attention to Transportation

If Companies Want a Diverse Workforce, They Need to Pay Attention to Transportation

A new toolkit has been developed to help businesses think through strategies to decrease mobility barriers to the workplace, which reduces turnover. When workers can reliably get to work regardless of their personal circumstances, it provides employment stability and the opportunity to build wealth. It’s a win-win. Developed through a partnership between Metropolitan Planning Council and a pro bono Boston Consulting Group team, the toolkit includes slide decks, an overview report, customizable templates, a cost calculator, and instructional videos walking a company through the thought process of establishing a baseline situation, evaluating and selecting a solution, and standing up a program.

Depending on the employer’s location and employees’ needs, solutions may range from helping with last-mile transportation to the transit system, to developing on-demand vanpools, to establishing in-house carpool matching systems. The ROI calculator gives employers the ability to determine the break-even cost—the subsidy amount a company can manage without hurting the bottom line.

How Affordable Green Housing Enhances Cities

How Affordable Green Housing Enhances Cities

Housing that is affordable to low-income residents is often substandard and suffering from deferred maintenance, exposing residents to poor air quality and high energy bills. This situation can exacerbate asthma and other respiratory health issues, and siphon scarce dollars from higher value items like more nutritious food, health care, or education. Providing safe, decent, affordable, and healthy housing is one way to address historic inequities in community investment. Engaging with affordable housing and other types of community benefit projects is an important first step toward fully integrating equity into the green building process. In creating a framework for going deeper on equity, our new book, the Blueprint for Affordable Housing (Island Press 2020), starts with the Convention on Human Rights and the fundamental right to housing.  

Johannesburg and Maputo Partner to Research Transport Needs and Investments

Johannesburg and Maputo Partner to Research Transport Needs and Investments

I caught up recently with Sarah Charlton who is Associate Professor at the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

The research she is leading, located in both Johannesburg, South Africa and Maputo, Mozambique, looks at the interface between the mobility use by residents and transportation investments by the state. The question guiding her research is “are ordinary households using the transport modes that the government is investing in and prioritizing?” The research is a partnership between two universities across two countries and two cities.

Sarah reflects on research during the pandemic across languages, countries, histories and cultures.

The Future of Cities

Mayors, planners, futurists, technologists, executives and advocates — hundreds of urban thought leaders publish on Meeting of the Minds. Sign up below to follow the future of cities.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This