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


Who will you meet?

Cities are innovating, companies are pivoting, and start-ups are growing. Like you, every urban practitioner has a remarkable story of insight and challenge from the past year.

Meet these peers and discuss the future of cities in the new Meeting of the Minds Executive Cohort Program. Replace boring virtual summits with facilitated, online, small-group discussions where you can make real connections with extraordinary, like-minded people.


 

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

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.  

The Pandemic, Inequality, Housing Affordability, and Urban Land

The Pandemic, Inequality, Housing Affordability, and Urban Land

Since the Great Recession of 2008, the housing wealth gap has expanded to include not just Black and Brown Americans, but younger White Americans as well. Millennials and Generation Z Whites are now joining their Black and Brown peers in facing untenable housing precarity and blocked access to wealth. With wages stuck at 1980 levels and housing prices at least double (in inflation adjusted terms) what they were 40 years ago, many younger Americans, most with college degrees, are giving up on buying a home and even struggle to rent apartments suitable for raising a family.

What makes it hard for policy people and citizens to accept this truth is that we have not seen this problem in a very long time. Back in the 1920s of course, but not really since then. But this is actually an old problem that has come back to haunt us; a problem first articulated by Adam Smith in the 1700s.

Multi-modal Transit and the Public Realm

Multi-modal Transit and the Public Realm

More than ever, urban transit services are in need of sustainable and affordable solutions to better serve all members of our diverse communities, not least among them, those that are traditionally car-dependent. New mobility technologies can be a potential resource for local transit agencies to augment multi-modal connectivity across existing transit infrastructures.

We envision a new decentralized and distributed model that provides multi-modal access through nimble and flexible multi-modal Transit Districts, rather than through traditional, centralized, and often too expensive Multi-modal Transit Hubs. Working in collaboration with existing agencies, new micro-mobility technologies could provide greater and seamless access to existing transit infrastructure, while maximizing the potential of the public realm, creating an experience that many could enjoy beyond just catching the next bus or finding a scooter. So how would we go about it?

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!

Wait! Before You Leave —

Wait! Before You Leave —

Subscribe to receive updates on the Executive Cohort Program!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This