• Antje Annika Singer

Our little farm.

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Plant-it-yourself. The start-up BerlinGreen wants to make the simple cultivation of salads and herbs at home or in the office easy. It thus brings the worldwide trend of urban gardening to Germany.

"To fulfill the dream of a house with a garden even in the vicinity of a city is hardly realistic in our generation," says Filip Wawrzyniak, founder of the BerlinGreen start-up, soberly. "The longing to cultivate food himself is, however, still present. That's why we bring the garden into the apartments."

And this is what its GreenBox will look like when it comes on the market in January 2019: a design piece made of wood and acrylic, based on the shape of a rectangular shopping basket with a straight handle. The basket holds ten blocks of coconut seeds on which lettuce and herb plants thrive within three to five weeks.

"We use coconut fibres as a seed block because they have proven their worth in hydroponics," says Filip Wawrzyniak, presenting his invention. "Your advantage: They absorb the nutrients necessary for the plants ideally, are organic and therefore environmentally friendly to dispose of, and planting with them is above all one thing: clean! "No earth in the house, and therefore no pests to bite the fresh green." There will initially be five sets of the company's own seed mixtures - in organic quality, of course.

A two-litre water tank integrated into the box constantly supplies the indoor farm with moisture. Sensors and a microcomputer inform the owner via an app when it is time to refill the water tank. Another plus: A light source is integrated into the GreenBox. First and foremost, of course, this is important for the plants. "But the box is also a real eye-catcher for lighting and conscious interior design," explains the 29-year-old Pole. "Some test subjects even programmed it as a sun alarm clock. LED light - in contrast to blue or red tones in greenhouses - simulates the pleasant white light spectrum of the sun and illuminates the plants for up to 13 hours, as well as the room itself."

The plantations can also tolerate real daylight and sunlight, so they can also stand close to windows. It only becomes more critical with more extreme temperature fluctuations. A constant 20 degrees Celsius is the ideal condition for regular harvesting. To ensure that the vitamin flow from the farm does not break off, the supply of ten seed blocks is automatically delivered to your home every month.

The satisfying feeling of having got your hands dirty with Mother Earth and of nurturing your plants according to the seasons may not be possible with the GreenBox. But the indoor farmer retains the sense of achievement of his own harvest and the freshness of the products - and a slightly better conscience. "The long distances between agricultural land and one's own kitchen are eliminated", Wawrzyniak emphasises, "it is absurd when kitchen herbs are grown in bulk in pots in the Mediterranean region and then transported across Europe to supermarkets - only so that under our climatic conditions they will soon wither away at the kitchen windows".

Thinking further, the principle of the GreenBox is not limited to salads and herbs. On the one hand, the range is constantly being expanded to include (edible) flowers, cherry tomatoes and chilli plants. In the near future, there will also be a special offer for primary schools to impart biological knowledge to pupils with extended software and interactive games. On the other hand, the founder also pursues the vision of a Green Wall. "It will not only be used for fresh harvesting, but above all for the extensive greening of walls in sales rooms, offices, restaurants and apartments. This will be interesting for all those who generally attach importance to design and sustainability in their assortment and overall appearance".

Filip Wawrzyniak had already studied architecture in Poznan, Hamburg and Berlin and had intensively dealt with innovative eco-concepts and developments of future cities. "The key question was there: How can urban, intensively used spaces be efficiently combined with nature and sufficient recreational value for residents?" This, however, always concerned only the public space. "I was also interested in the individual, private component - how can we bring greenery, herbs and salads home to everyone?"

Together with his youth friend from Poznan, Olga Blaszak, he puts this idea into practice at the beginning of 2018: "We always wanted to start our own business. First work, gain experience and then start a company," recalls the 26-year-old civil engineer, who studied in London and Aachen.

Urban gardening has long been a trend, especially in the Anglo-Saxon region. Studies by Harvard and Exeter University have shown that a working environment without natural green has a tiring effect. "I've seen this for myself. That's why I was immediately enthusiastic about bringing nature into city apartments and offices," says Blaszak.

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In order to satisfy the vegan and more conscious nutritional demands of a young population at the same time, several companies with similar approaches have already emerged in the USA: Farmshelf, for example, offers complete shelf units for growing 288 salad plants and 288 herbs each for the catering trade. Aerogarden focuses on small units and is aimed at private households. But their arm does not yet reach as far as Europe. "That's why we have to be quick. If we don't do it, others will," smiles Olga Blaszak. After all, there is competition here too. Infarm, another Berlin start-up, grows fresh vegetables and herbs directly in supermarkets, restaurants and shopping centres at 56 locations throughout Germany. Urban community gardens and various initiatives for the leasing of mini parcels for self-growing are very popular. "This underlines how strong the need of city dwellers for regional, healthy food is. They pay more and more attention to their origin and rearing. Local is the new magic word and the most local is at home or in the office," summarizes the young entrepreneur.

In search of test subjects for ten prototypes, almost 300 interested parties contacted us within a very short time. This positive response gave the young team confirmation. The first prototype was ready in just three months. Built in open workshops, financed by a small scholarship from Climate KIC and their Greenhouse program with a one-time grant of a few thousand euros.

In entrepreneurial terms, the founders now face a number of challenges. They are currently receiving the "Berliner Startup Scholarship" from several Berlin universities. In this context, they will be able to use jobs and laboratories until September 2019. In addition, they receive extensive mentoring and coaching from the participating universities during the market launch. The production facilities in Poland have already been established. Then the home advantage of the founders should pay off - after all, the production is cheaper than in Germany while still maintaining high quality. "All other necessary structures are currently being created," Filip Wawrzyniak gives an insight into the current status. "After the scholarship, we are still looking for a strategic investor and partner who will support us with start-up financing for production as well as with his entrepreneurial know-how". Then nothing would stand in the way of the (r)evolution of urban horticulture. ®

Author: Antje Annika Singer

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