For anyone who's spent a day’s work in the backyard trying to sew a vegetable patch would know growing food at home is no easy feat, which is why this inspiring sibling duo put their heads together to create a sustainable—and seriously cool—solution.
Meet Tom and Prue Bauer, the creators of airgarden, a vertical garden that allows you to grow up to 30 plants in less than one square metre with no soil, pesticides, constant watering or green thumb required.
We caught up with the pair at their warehouse in Brisbane to chat about gardening, living an eco-conscious lifestyle, and how everyone—no matter your experience—can become an urban gardener and live that farm-to-table life. The best part? You can make your gardening dreams come true with $50 off your airgarden when using the code ULAG50. It's only valid until August 31, 2020 so get in quick!
What initially inspired you both to launch airgarden?
After plenty of failed attempts at growing our own food at home, we simply wanted to create a solution that made gardening easy. We’re also pretty health conscious and didn’t want to keep forking out for costly organic produce all the time. I think people love the idea of growing their own food at home because they get to control what goes on their plants and it means there’s no food wastage—you just harvest as you need. You never have to throw away wilted groceries you never got around to using. And so airgarden was born as a totally sustainable solution.
Can you talk us through how airgarden is different to traditional gardening and what makes it so easy?
Traditional gardening uses soil as the growing medium which comes with a few challenges. First, you need to commit plenty of time and energy digging, weeding, and caring for your plants—it requires a lot of trial and error. You’ve also got to consider things like do you have enough space, how much sunlight your plants are getting, and watering schedules. I know I’ve overwatered a few of my plants in my time.
By comparison, airgarden uses air as its growing medium which cuts out a lot of that manual labour I just mentioned. Airgarden uses aeroponic technology developed by NASA which allows plants to grow two times faster without soil when compared to traditional gardening and farming. It’s the process of growing plants suspended in mid air, leaving the roots exposed so they can soak up nutrients and water in an oxygen-rich environment. Airgarden has an automatic pump and timer built into the system that delivers the perfect amount of water to the plants so you don’t have to. Plus, airgarden uses 95 per cent less water than traditional gardening, it’s a vertical design so you only need one square metre of space, there are no chemicals, no food waste and no food mileage, you just pick and eat what you want when you need it.
When did you both become aware of the difficulties of growing food at home? Can you tell us about that lightbulb moment that led to airgarden?
When the possums ate it all! When we thought we had all the elements right but still we could never sustain our garden for long. We searched for real, helpful gardening hacks or alternatives and stumbled across the aeroponics technology which finally made our gardening dreams possible. That's when we decided to develop and manufacture our own product.
How did you both first get airgarden off the ground? What did that process look like?
It's certainly been an interesting journey and trust us, there were many times over the past two and a half years when we thought we’d never get it off the ground! But once we fleshed out the design and mechanics, we just needed to find someone to help us actually make it.
We had followed Flowhive’s story closely and really loved what they had done, and lucky for us their manufacturer is right here in Queensland so we worked closely with the Evolve Group to bring airgarden to life. They’re leaders in developing eco-friendly Australian success stories like Flowhive and Sea Bin so we’re truly grateful to be part of their stable.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome with launching your sustainable startup?
The biggest one for us both was probably the designing and manufacturing process. It was a completely foreign process for both of us which resulted in a lot of trial and error. It’s hard because you simply don’t know what you don’t know, and it’s difficult to know what the right questions are to ask, but it was an exciting learning experience.
And can you tell us what your biggest ‘pinch me’ moment has been so far?
For us, hearing the success stories from our customers who have seen quick success with their airgarden despite having no gardening experience or knowledge has given us the most joy. That's the whole idea: that anyone can do it no matter their age, whether they live in an apartment or have a huge backyard, or what gardening experience they have. The second part to that is they get so engaged and obsessed with it which is awesome for them, and for us!
COVID-19 really threw food security into the spotlight and prompted a massive resurgence in people growing food at home, do you think this growing trend is here to stay?
Absolutely. There’s an increasing desire from people to know where their food is sourced from, that it's great quality, packed with flavour, nutrients and that it’s sustainable and environmentally friendly. We continue to see population growth in the cities which is only going to continue in the coming decades. It's the perfect time for the world to bring production to where consumption is happening and that’s in the cities and at home. This is well supported by the multitude of farmers markets, community gardens and investments into more green spaces by the government, and we are so pumped to be a part of that and the movement to fix our food system.
Do you have anything exciting in the works that you can tell us about?
Watch this space! Since airgarden is vertical it means you can grow an abundance of crops in less than one square metre, so we’re passionate about taking airgarden commercial to help businesses become more eco-friendly. We’re working on a couple of initiatives with established hotel groups, retail precincts, schools and a community program which we are really excited about bringing to life. We just need a few more hours in the day.
There’s no denying sustainability is more important than never right now, what would you both say to people who feel being eco-friendly requires too much work?
We completely understand but it’s about doing something as opposed to doing nothing because small changes add up to make a huge difference. If everyone starts small then from little things big things grow.
What’s the best career advice you’ve both ever received?
Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better because all your limitations are self-imposed, and work for yourself—don’t believe the naysayers.
What’s the best and worst part about launching a business with a sibling?
We don’t hold back much like when we were growing up. We yell, we fight, we hug, and then we move on.
And lastly, what advice would you both give to someone who is wanting to start their own sustainable business?
Do it. Life is not a dress rehearsal, we only get one shot. The challenges are real but the rewards and growth you get along the way are worth it, and the impact you can make on people and the planet are worth it.
Image credit: Sam Theiss