January 8, 2015
In early December I wrote an article about CounterCrop, a local San Diego company that launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund their counter-top growing system. The product itself was interesting, but more so were the philosophies driving its creation and how quickly the team was securing backers for the campaign: they raised 25 percent of their goal on day one alone.
After he read my first article, CounterCrop founder Jack Abbott invited me over to his house for a closer, more intimate look at CounterCrop. I was blown away by the quality and functionality of the product.
But it wasn't just the hardware that caught my attention. Abbott is the creator of TEDxSanDiego and he draws a lot of water in the local startup ecosystem here. During 2011, at one of the talks he helped create, William Toone and Gad Shaanan spoke about uniting the worlds of horticulture and revolutionary innovation. As Abbott listened on, he felt the beginnings of an idea coming on that would ultimately morph into CounterCrop.
You see, CounterCrop isn't just your garden-variety grow box, no. Rather, it was inspired by a deep-set philosophy that calls for humans to reexamine the way they eat and grow their food and teach them new methods for sustainable growing processes. This was the start of a multi-year journey that would conclude with my meeting with Abbott.
I got the whole tour of the operation: there was a unit on display in the kitchen, but Abbott had an entire room in his basement packed with CounterCrop units growing vegetables. The skinny on the CounterCrop is actually quite simple, as Abbot explained to me, as it was built specifically for people who aren't great at gardening or growing things.
Suspended above the growing plants are advanced LED grow lights built by CounterCrop parent company Intelligent Light Source (ILS). ILS built the LEDs to perfectly mimic a full day's light, hitting the full ROYGBIV spectrum as the virtual sun rises, peaks, and ultimately sets. And since it's built to be on a counter, it will also receive the added bonus of real sunlight coming in through doors and windows.
Below the plants is an integrated Ebb & Flow hydroponic watering system that feeds the 50 dirt-free growing pods. Powered by an on-board water pump, you never actually need to mess with the watering tray unless you plan to clean out the bottom, which is recommended.
The icing on the cake is the remote control designed for total system automation. All you have to do, as a user, is add seeds, water, liquid plant food, and then you plug it in and press ‘go' on the remote. Boom. Done. CounterCrop takes over control of the system from that point forward, pausing only when you tell it to. That means you could leave home for a week and come home to flourishing greens with no worry.
Before I saw the CounterCrop up close and personal, I thought it would be a bit too small to yield any significant plant growth, but boy was I wrong. Since the plants aren't actually attached to the CounterCrop unit, you can constantly move the pods around to cycle growth stages or even make room for bigger, leafy greens. CounterCrop can even accommodate smaller root vegetables like radishes.
And since the light is completely optimized via the LEDs, the growing cycle is actually around three to five weeks shorter than normal, outdoor growing. It only takes four weeks for a fully growth cycle, and through some easy-to-learn trimming techniques, you can get multiple flowerings off of one root system – usually two to three.
Alongside an old partner from the 90s, Charles Gillespie, CounterCrop is effectively revolutionizing the indoor lighting and growing space by disrupting the food cycle we all know. To take this back home, they're transforming the relationship we have with our food.
“In 2015, gardening will go hand-in-hand with a healthy lifestyle. People are making conscious decisions to use plants and garden products as “tools” to increase their overall wellbeing, lead a sustainable lifestyle, and make a positive impact on their communities and the planet,” says Abbott.
The current model being funded on Kickstarter will inevitably undergo certain upgrades and changes as the team pushes forward. For example, Gillespie and Abbot want to build in Wi-Fi capability so users can turn their smartphones into a remote control and alert system.
One thing is certain though: they have no fear of hitting their Kickstarter goal. That is, only one week into the campaign they hit 100 percent funding – it's all stretch goals from here on out. There's still time left to back the campaign, but at the time of this writing CounterCrop had surpassed their initial $75,000 goal and hit $105,615.
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