Rotofarm has been in the works for a few years, but a crowdfunded Indiegogo campaign that closed last month exceeded its $15,000 goal by a third of a million dollars. Farmer, despite his name, had no experience in this area; just 23 years old, he had been a web designer since the age of 12. But he’s scaling up fast, hiring teams in LA and Singapore, soaking up their knowledge (he was keen to assure me he’d hired a lot of 40-somethings for this very reason).
After a projected 2021 release date, Rotofarm’s business model involves making money on proprietary seed pods — though Farmer admits that “there’s a DIY aspect” where customers can make their own. His hope is that official Rotofarm pods will be competitive because they’ll have fewer germination failures, but he’d rather see a world where more people own the device itself. In that spirit, he’s making it modular — the LED light bar can be upgraded separately, for example, rather than making customers buy a whole new device. (As for cost, Farmer says he can’t comment yet — though Indiegogo backers were able to secure one for $900 a pop.)
Might the Rotofarm fail? Of course, just like any other crowdfunded project. Much depends on its price point, as yet unannounced. But it’s far from the only next-level, set-it-and-forget-it hydroponic station taking aim at your kitchen. There’s a Canadian Kickstarter called OGarden that also grows food on a wheel, albeit a much larger wheel. The OGarden was funded in its first six minutes online and is set to cost around $1,000 per unit. There’s Farmshelf, a $4,900 pre-order hydroponic device that looks like a see-through refrigerator, backed by celebrity chef Jose Andres. Users will pay a $35 monthly subscription to get all the seeds they need.
One of these models is the future; maybe all of them are. Right now, these are high-end devices aimed at early adopters (and restaurants, which get a lot of benefit out of showing off how fresh their produce is as customers walk in). But with scale, with time, and with the growing desire for grow-your-own food that Rotofarm and its brethren have revealed, they will get cheaper and more widespread.
After all, the first Motorola cellphone, in 1983, cost $4,000. It looked like a brick and had 30 minutes of talk time. Now sleek, supercomputer-driven smartphones are accessible to pretty much everyone. The same process will happen in home hydroponics.