Year 1 - July 2013
It began 3 years ago while I was researching how to make my balcony garden more vertical. I came across vertical living walls. Living walls are vertical gardens, most often using hydroponics - a nutrient water instead of soil. The living walls grow typical house plants. This got me thinking, can it be done with veggies?
More research led to discovering greenhouses grow food hydroponically and so does NASA. I called up my friend Matt and told him my idea.We started with sketches and bounced ideas back and forth.
Here's what happened next:
- Simon Fraser University Business Accelerator
- Meeting with an engineering firm
- Discussing with the National Research Council of Canada what was new & innovative about our idea. And what IS New & Innovative about the VeggieWall? All other indoor gardens use pre-exsiting hydroponic water delivery systems. Vertical is rarely used because it involves drippers or sprayers, which clog & plants die quickly without water. All other indoor gardens are big, clunky counter-top, tub & tower, or cabinet-style systems. Who has room in their home for that?! They also grow very little for how large they are.
We set out to invent a new vertical system that would not clog. The VeggieWall grows the most food in the smallest Sq ft and it it's modular. That's what's new and innovative!
- Over the past 3 years, there has been a big influx in indoor hydroponic gardens. They are all counter-top units or bigger. For the same price, and often cheaper, the VeggieWall is still the only vertical garden!
Fast forward to March 2014
We made the 1st prototypes in Matt's backyard and sold them to some willing tester candidates. We grew food indoors! Of course there were a lot of problems, it was a prototype after all!
The biggest problem was water flow. We tried using a drip and then a spray irrigation system. Both clog. Plants would die overnight or when we were at work, when they were cut off from water.
So we hit the drawing board. Lots of sketches and over a dozen different prototypes, we tried to find a way to create a high-flow vertical water system. Current hydroponics use horizontal systems that allow for high-water flow to avoid the clogging issues of drippers and sprayers. We had many unsuccessful attempts but we were learning a lot!
The Breakthrough! Fall 2014
One day Jen asked herself, "how does water flow in nature?" She had her answer right away and set out to test it. It worked! We hired a designer to help us create a 3D print and test it further.
Success with the design for the 3D prototype was short lived. We discovered that it was going to be difficult to manufacture. We needed to keep the water flow the same but change the way it was made.
Summer & Fall 2015 - the Next Breakthrough
More prototyping. We were getting closer. Matt's handy skills from years in construction and all forms of art really paid off.
The prototype family, Matt & I made by hand in his backyard. Sophie, Matt's wife is an architect and helped us draft up AutoCAD files, which we then took to a manufacturer in Vancouver BC. The VeggieWalls were made by hand and we sold these to early adopters.
Again, there were issues with the design, but we were getting close. Real close! Our prototype owners in the Yukon, Whistler and Squamish were growing fresh food in their homes throughout the winter!
Whistler - bursting with lettuce, tomatoes, and cilantro - March 2016!
LED grow lights are very expensive. Using a pre-existing product was going to cost customers an additional $200, making the VeggieWall cost $550. It is really important to us to keep the cost as low as possible while providing a high quality product.
We met with an LED grow light specialist in Vancouver and discussed paying them for a consultation fee to help us source the LED chips and parts needed. The companies quote for their consultation, $100,000. Ya, that was a big "No!"
But we carried on. I researched LED lights. It took me about a month, but I was getting better at navigating the manufacturing world. I figured out what we needed and sourced a manufacturer!
September 2015 - Funding from the National Research Council of Canada (NRCC)
With funding from the NRCC we hired a design team from Emily Carr Art & Design University. Together, meeting every Tuesday morning, we spent the next 5 months finalizing the design and manufacturing process. This was a really rich experience for Matt & I to get to work with this team.
Lead Up to Kickstarter March-September 2016
The past 6 months has entailed meeting with local manufactures, receiving their quotes for production, choosing one, making our moulds and conducting a test run of the VegiieWall, which you see in our pictures now. We have sourced our LED lights, tested them, as well as all other components. The rest has been photo shoots, filming our kickstarter video, and filing our patent.
We are ready to bring the VeggieWall to you! We are really excited to see what you will grow in your homes, schools, offices, and cafes.
Help support our campaign Oct 4th and realize our dream of empowering people to grow their own food!