Believe it or not, those mushrooms you had in your go-to restaurant’s nightly pasta special were grown in the back, between the walk-in fridge and the spice cabinet.
Home grow systems are the buzz, keeping in mind that not everyone is blessed with a green thumb or the time and energy to maintain an indoor herb garden or heirloom tomato plants. Sensing an opportunity that could be solved using IoT technology and a dose of innovation, Brooklyn-based Smallhold has brought remote-maintained minifarms to the food industry.
Smallhold was among the 17 featured finalists at the recent Food + City competition in Austin. Recently, Smallhold was also one of four companies selected for a new program, Techstars Anywhere, a virtual accelerator program that is an offshoot of its prestigious brick and mortar origins.
“We believe minifarm technology and distributed agriculture is the future of farming,” says Smallhold co-founder and COO Adam DeMartino. “We see fresh and nutritious produce as the new norm no matter where you are – be it in midtown Manhattan or in Sub-Saharan Africa.”
Smallhold Networked Minifarms employ the concept of vertical farming. The units fit in small spaces and are outfitted with Wi-Fi, which are monitored at company headquarters. The service starts with the company shipping its clients produce that is 75% grown, to be housed in a self-contained chamber, equipped with advanced lighting and water recirculation. With this approach, deployed at two restaurants and a Brooklyn produce hub, Smallhold is able to achieve 40 times the output per square foot of a traditional farm with 96% less water usage. The produce hub also supplies area restaurants and stores with gourmet mushrooms.
Adam and co-founder/CEO Andrew Carter met as roommates at the University of Vermont and became best friends. Andrew was heavily involved in the urban agriculture scene in New York, and started developing technology around mushroom production. Carter went on to work with startups in ag/tech space while DeMartino’s entrepreneurial spirit took him to startups Ghostery, Datorama and Futureclaw where he developed marketing and sales strategies.
While its IoT technology allows scale, Smallhold is patient in its approach with a vision of moving beyond servicing restaurants and grocery stores and making a mark in the consumer space. “We are very selective with our initial customers,” says DeMartino. “We want restaurateurs that will appreciate the produce and give us valuable feedback in how to improve our service, system, and produce. This information is almost worth more than the revenue.”
Smallhold is not alone in the home grow/IoT farming market. Farmbot is offering an Arduino powered, open-source robo-farmer that can completely automate the growth of enough vegetables for one adult in a year; Sprouts I/O has an app-driven personal produce system in the works; Edyn can track growth conditions with its remote sensor and Gro.Io has an end-to-end smart hydroponic system including lighting, grow pockets and sensors.