You don’t need a green thumb and a big backyard to grow baskets of fresh produce. In fact, according to Chicago-based Rise Gardens, you probably just need a bookshelf’s worth of space in your living room and an app.
Rise Gardens, an indoor hydroponic gardening system, has raised $2.6 million in seed funding for home-grown produce. The financing was led by True Ventures.
Rise Gardens sells a hardware and software indoor planting system. Customers receive a home garden kit and can assemble the system, which looks like a piece of furniture, in 45 minutes. Then, users can input Rise-provided plant pods in each row of the system to grow produce of their choice, from butter lettuce to tomatoes and arugula. The “garden” comes in three sizes, which Rise Gardens details as “matching the dimensions of an entryway table, a credenza and a shelf.”
Rise can offer this flexible solution thanks to hydroponics, a scientific method that grows plants using nutrients and water, rather than soil and sunlight. The planting system includes specific features to optimize growth. For example, Rise provides a meter for users to check the pH of the water.
From a software perspective, Rise has an app that tracks how often a user should water their plants. It also sells a subscription-based offering that brings new “seed pods” and nutrients to customers on a monthly basis.
While the system is intentionally designed to resemble furniture one would already have in the home, according to founder Hank Adams, it has a use beyond aesthetics.
The company uses vertical farming to produce food all on a vertical plane, and created a system that is both self-sustainable and flexible. In Rise’s case, it means that the user can grow root vegetables on one shelf, tomatoes and lettuce on the other.
Looking at Rise’s venture-backed competition, the concept of vertical farming isn’t new. It helps people bring more produce to fruition while staying conservative on space, because it builds up instead of out. Plus, the indoor system lets you grow year-round, instead of relying on Mother Nature.
Infarm closed a $100 million Series B in June for vertical farming tech targeted toward restaurants and grocery stores. Plenty has raised hundreds of millions for indoor farming technology. Other companies that have their eyes on indoor farming systems are AeroFarms, BrightFarms, Bowery Farming and Freight Farms.
But from a consumer angle, which is where Rise is coming from, the competition isn’t as fierce, claims founder Adams. He says that most solutions that exist in the market right now for consumers stick to growing a few herbs.
Avalow, for example, has built a self-watering, sub-irrigation-based and raised planter bed to help consumers grow herbs from the comfort of their homes.
Adams says that Rise wants to be a more wholesome solution.
“Our system was built to grow a lot of volume of food,” he said. “We didn’t want to grow something that was an overtly and purely visual interest.” He claims that Rise can grow a head of lettuce in 22 to 25 days.
Since shelter-in-place orders began, Adams claims that sales have increased 750% and Rise has sold 6,000 seeds per week in the last two months, which represents more than 1,500 pounds of produce. But he says this uptick in usage isn’t due to people avoiding the grocery stores, necessarily.
“We’re not telling you that you never have to go to a grocery store again after your system is a month old,” he said. “You will, but it does have an impact” on the total amount of groceries you buy.
So Rise is selling to someone who wants to supplement their food intake, not replace it with their own indoor farming setup. The hardware itself is more luxury than modest: Rise Gardens starts selling at $550. Adams claims that the system will pay for itself (in produce) after 16 months of usage.
So while an indoor farming system might not yet be a casual household appliance found next to the toaster, Adams finds hope for his currently luxurious company by peering at the past.
“In the past century there was a lack of appliances that felt like luxuries at the time, like dishwashers,” he said. “But now you can’t imagine living without a dishwasher or washing machine.”
A hopeful side effect of this pandemic is that nutrition will be more of a conversation, and priority, in all of our lives. With new cash, Rise Gardens is betting that that conversation around food sourcing will turn into action.