Home gardening can be a time-consuming, labor-intensive process. Even growing shorter-season crops such as greens or herbs requires an investment in time, resources and focus that can be hard to manage with other day-to-day responsibilities. Even if there’s a “carrot” being dangled — fresher, better-tasting produce — it’s sometimes simpler for consumers to go the store rather than growing their own. And for those who live in an urban area, growing might not even be an option.
Replantable, a start-up based in Atlanta, Ga., is trying to change how people approach growing at home. It was founded in 2015 by Ruwan Subasinghe and Alex Weiss, two Georgia Tech graduates who were frustrated that they didn’t have the type of access to fresh ingredients that they wanted. Like many people, they’d buy the ingredients to cook a meal, but the herbs or greens would go bad before they’d get put to use.
“What we like best [about gardening] is seeing and eating food that we’ve grown,” Subasinghe says. “What we didn’t like was the weeding, the watering — all of the little things that take up time.”
The basic concept
Both Subasinghe and Weiss were involved in a few different start-ups at Georgia Tech – the former making a new pickup for acoustic guitars, the latter developing a new rapid hemoglobin test — while pursuing their respective bachelor’s degrees in engineering. As they approached graduation, Subasinghe and Weiss decided to team up and tackle the issue of growing produce at home.
About a year ago, when they were both 22, they applied to Georgia Tech’s ‘Startup Summer’ program — which offers workspace, mentorship and education to aspiring entrepreneurs — and were accepted after pitching the idea for Replantable.
Replantable’s system is a nanofarm (a smaller, contained, do-it-yourself garden) that grows greens, herbs and some root vegetables. The crops bloom out of plant pads, which are layers of fabric filled with seeds and nutrients. The plant pads replicate soil without the mess and without the labor. All the user has to do is fill the nanofarm with water, put in the plant pad, set the dial and wait. It’s an indoor system that can fit easily on a kitchen countertop and features a smoked glass door that keeps the light from shining out into the home.
After learning from a few prototypes, they developed the current version of the nanofarm which can grow pesticide-free produce in three to six weeks.
“It’s a lot of work to grow the food,” Subasinghe says. “The concept of the nanofarm is that you fill it up with water, put in the plant pack and you forget about it. You could go on vacation for a month, come back and it’s ready.”
According to Subasinghe, early interest in Replantable stems from the fact that not everyone has time to garden themselves anymore. He says many of their early customers are like him and Weiss: They live in a city and/or lack the time to properly maintain a garden. Additionally, they’ve capitalized on many people’s desire to eat cleaner, fresher, locally grown food. To date, they’ve sold 106 units for $350 each via their Kickstarter campaign and plan to sell them directly from their website once the campaign ends.
It is also appealing because the produce grown in the nanofarm is fresher than most produce available at a store because it’s harvested immediately before consumption. Its quality isn’t degraded by cross-country travel or time spent on a store shelf. Subasinghe says nanofarm-grown lettuce, for example, is so sweet and so flavorful that it doesn’t even need dressing on top.
“Our main mission is to bring growing back to people,” Subasinghe says. “We want to make it as easy as going to your fridge to get an ingredient.”