background image
into the growing device; and ¡°SproutsIOGrow¡±
software that includes a mobile app that col-
lects and analyzes growth data and controls the
system. Currently, the system supports basil,
kale, wheatgrass, arugula, eggplant, peppers,
tomatoes, tea, and a variety of plants from root
vegetables to fruiting plants.
The SproutsIO system has a number of innova-
tions developed by the startup, stemming from
early research at MIT. The hybrid hydroculture
system, for instance, consists of ¡°hydroponic¡±
and ¡°aeroponic¡± growing, where roots are sub-
merged in or misted with water and nutrients.
Varying the watering process optimizes water and
nutrient use while supporting the growth of dif-
ferent plants at different phases. A tomato plant,
for instance, grows large roots during the fruiting
stage. The system can lift the plant up at that
time to let the roots grow larger, but still deliver
water and nutrients by misting.
There¡¯s also a custom LED light that automati-
cally adjusts, depending on need.
If the device is located near a window, where sunlight is plentiful, the light
will dim; if the sunlight diminishes or if the device is placed in darker areas,
the light shines brighter. The system uses about half the electricity of a 60-
watt incandescent light bulb.
Sensors monitor plant growth and transmit data to what Farah calls the
¡°backbone¡± of the system: SproutsIOGrow. The app lets users customize
their plants and monitor the plant¡¯s growth in real-time. Depending on light
and nutrients added, for instance, tomatoes can be grown to taste sweeter
or more savory.
The app also provides predictive growth cycles and connects to personal ac-
tivity trackers, meal planners, and calendars to help with meal scheduling. A
built-in camera takes regular snapshots of growing plants for health diagnos-
tics and to create time-lapse images for users on the app.
Growing plants in such a controlled environment boosts growth efficiency by
six times and cuts the length of growth cycles by 50 percent over traditional
gardening, according to the startup.
Farah says people often ask her if all the technology tends to remove people
from the growing process. It¡¯s the exact opposite, she says: ¡°Technology
creates a whole new lens on the growing process. Most of us don¡¯t under-
stand how plants grow because they exist on a totally different time scale.
But we show people how the plants grow over time (continued on page 3>)
¡®Smart¡¯ Microgarden Aims To Revolutionize Growing
SproutsIO system boosts efficiency 6 times; cuts growth cycle by 50%
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SproutsIO lets users optimize growing condi-
tions while cutting water and resource use
July 26, 2017: MIT Media Lab alumna Jennifer
Broutin Farah SM ¡¯13, CEO and co-founder of
SproutsIO, has spent nearly a decade innovating
in urban farming, designing small- and large-scale
gardening systems that let anyone grow food,
anywhere, at any time.
All this work will soon culminate with the commer-
cial release of her startup¡¯s smart, app-controlled
microgarden that lets consumers optimize, cus-
tomize, and monitor the growth of certain fruits,
vegetables, and herbs year-round. Moreover, the
soil-free system uses only 2 percent of the water
and 40 percent of the nutrients typically used for
soil-grown plants.
After piloting the system in Boston homes and
restaurants, and following a successful Kickstarter
campaign last fall, SproutsIO is ramping up pro-
duction and hitting the shelves in a few months.
Philosophically, the aim is to power a ¡°personal
produce¡± movement, Farah says, in which more
2017 AUG/SEP #8-4
people grow their own food, encouraging healthier eating and cutting
down on waste.
¡°Over the last 60 years, we¡¯ve gotten out of touch with growing our food,¡±
Farah says. ¡°But when you grow your own food, you care more about what
happens to it. You¡¯re not going to throw it away, you¡¯re going to know
exactly what¡¯s going into your plants, you¡¯re going to share your food with
friends and family. It gives a new meaning to produce.¡±
Customized plants
Tailoring plants for taste preferences may not be well-known outside of
the wine-making world, where grapes are grown under specific climatic
conditions to produce specific flavors. But produce and herbs have similar
peculiarities. Even within a given species or variety, individual plants can
have different characteristics and growing needs.
¡°Most of that is dependent on the environment,¡± Farah says. ¡°If you can
customize the lighting, the water, and the nutrients, you can really opti-
mize certain variations in the plants, according to how you want them to
taste. SproutsIO can reproduce these specific climatic conditions to a very
precise degree.¡±
SproutsIO consists of a growing device, which is a large basin with a curv-
ing, overhead adjustable lamp attached; a replaceable and compostable
¡°sIO¡± seed refill with growing media, seeds and nutrients, that¡¯s dropped
After piloting its smart microgardening system in
Boston homes and restaurants and following a suc-
cessful Kickstarter campaign last fall, SproutsIO is
ramping up production and hitting the shelves in a
few months. Image: Courtesy of SproutsIO Inc.