Design Challenge

Maison Verte - Product Design

Project Details

Organization

Categories

Agriculture

Skills Requirements

Design Strategy

Status

Completed

Brief

Current situation

We are urban farmers who are concerned about food system transparency and food security. We are looking to understand where we can bring value in the supply chain and would like to build a prototype to test vertical farming/hydroponic systems.

Goal

The goal of this project is to design a hydroponic system for home use, that is aesthetically pleasing but also utilitarian in its ability to grow produce & collect data. We are aiming to create awareness around the nutrition food has today, elevate members of the community who are working to build and educate people around sustainable food systems, create educational workshops and test tools that can promote sustainable and affordable growth. We want to empower people to grow their own vegetables. This specific project is trying to address an issue that will only get more attention, especially with the recent turn of events regarding COVID - people are concerned about who has handled their food and if it is safe to eat. In Canada, there has been a decline of skilled labour in Agriculture and we depend heavily on migrant workers to harvest crops -- these are early indicators farmers needing to understand how to develop crops strategically (ex. What we see in the green revolution) or signs of crop shortages and food price increasing. The prototype will be a tool to conduct further research on how to move towards a circular economy and to provide local access to sustainable affordable agriculture. Food is an issue that impacts all animals, if we continue to live unsustainably it can cause harm to our bodies, animals around us and as well our natural resources. Through sharing a design for an easy to build hydroponic system, we want people to be able to begin growing their own food. We would like for them to share their learnings to benefit the community at large (similar to citizen scientists). Through this we want to gradually build knowledge and expertise that can be shared to uplift each other’s ability to become self sufficient. Eg what lighting conditions worked for which veggies, what nutrients were used and how much, what were yields amounts & quality/taste of the produce grown at home.

Users

Users who we identified are:
  • Community Gardens
The pain points:
  • Access to know-how on hydroponic best practices.
  • Ease of use of equipment
  • Ability to track and monitor growing conditions
  • Aesthetically pleasing so that people are drawn to have fixtures at home. Typical hydroponic systems are unattractive, and lack appeal as a permanent fixture for peoples homes.
  • Space & cost

Scenarios

There are two flows we’re looking at right now at a very high level.
  • The user interacts directly with the tool either at home, at work, at school or in a community garden.
  • The user purchases produce that is harvested through the tool.
Users will get access to taste profile cards which will indicate how far the food has travelled or how to use the produce and educational information on how the taste is changing, how does the tool contributes to sustainability.

Principles

We want to understand which features matter most to consumers and the ability to experiment growing produce outside of leafy greens.

Potential Deliverables

A prototype of a hydroponics structure where we can run experiments.
  • Design Plan
  • Which metrics to collect & how to share them

Other Notes

  • There are agri-tech companies and people in the Waterloo Food Systems group interested in similar but not the exact same problem we are looking to tackle. We have partnered with groups and started building a network as we believe this is a pie that needs to be shared in order to see development/progress.

Final Executive Summary

The purpose of this study is to look at long-term sustainable methods of growing vegetables and fruits for the community using a vertical hydroponic system with nutrient film technique (NFT) in an enclosed 2.59m (height) x 2.44m (width) x 6.1m (length) shipping container. Unable to create a physical prototype, data from secondary research was used to develop the foundation of the growth model. This study uses the data from eight leafy greens and two fruit-bearing plants that grow optimally well in hydroponic systems This is to limit the trial and errors that would normally occur in a physical test and give it the best chance of successfully building a model and harvesting a good yield. Inspired by the community and a passion for change in the food system, Maison Verte formed in early 2020. Concerned with the high costs of food and the burgeoning impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on urban communities, the non-profit group became interested in exploring the option of growing vegetables and fruits in a cost effective and sustainable vertical hydroponic system. Maison Verte is not only looking at providing affordable produce but running workshops and creating content to build education in communities, uplifting communities and empowering the youth and families to become interested in where their produce comes from, and forming long-term research goals to meet a sustainable society in 2050. Maison Verte is ambitious and has developed valuable partnerships with various non-profit organizations in the community such as the Working Centre, PowershiftWR, Permaculture, Community Programming Reap, and Food System Roundtable. This case study looks at four different problems that may impact the decision and views on growing foods in a hydroponic system. They include increasing costs to maintain sustainability and source locally, production scalability and overall impact on utilities, accessibility, and finding a unique selling proposition (USP) in a centuries old method. Key points in this study involve basic plant growth, hydroponic growing systems, sustainability, ecological footprint, locally sourced material, on- and off-grid utilities, scalability, innovative technologies, fertilizers, user experience and user interface design, intellectual property rights, and unique selling proposition.