By Noah W. | 3DP4E
We met 3Dponics at this year's Maker Faire in New York, and thought what they were doing was so great, we needed to tell you about it. I interviewed Lucy Morrissey, their director of social media over email; and she consulted her co-worker Anja Pujic, the content director for 3Dponics.
Could you tell us what you do for our readers?
We are 3Dponics Inc., a San Francisco-based company and the creators of 3Dponics, the first 3D-printable hydroponics system. Our team, made up of engineers, digital marketing experts, and web developers, is currently building an online community, where urban farmers can meet and share their current projects and ideas.
In addition to building this online community, we are focused on putting 3Dponics inside K-12 classrooms, where the system—and the online community that accompanies it—can be used as an educational tool. We see building and operating 3Dponics as being a valuable, hands-on project for STEM-oriented teachers and their students.
Can you go over some of the benefits of your system compared to normal gardening?
3Dponics is beneficial in a few of the same ways a traditional garden is: you get fresh, affordable produce; you get to exercise your green thumb; you have greater greenery, etc. However, 3Dponics does have additional benefits.
Here’s what you get growing with 3Dponics over a normal garden:
1. Healthier plants
2. Faster plant growth
3. Increased productivity/greater yields
4. Decreased water and energy consumption: It’s easier to give plants the nutrients they need to thrive through water than it is through soil. Soil can prevent the plant’s roots from properly absorbing the nutrients that they need to grow healthy and strong.
Also consider space. City dwellers don’t have access to as much space many people living in rural areas do, and there’s no room for a traditional garden. What’s great about 3Dponics is it can fit basically anywhere you’d like it to, even in the most cramped corner of your small, city apartment.
What is your previous agricultural experience?
We were actually more involved on the 3D printing side of things than agriculture before developing 3Dponics. We started 3D printing customizable, branded parts, but it wasn’t long before we were itching to create a more meaningful project that more people could benefit from.
While we did have an in-office hydroponics system and were interested in hydroculture, we were not seasoned horticulturalists. Luckily, we knew people who were willing to share their expertise, and we’ve definitely learned a lot about indoor gardening in the last two years!
What inspired you to combine 3D Printing and hydroponics?
Great question! It’s definitely an unlikely combination, but it’s one that works. The 3D printing industry and the indoor gardening industry are both growing. They’re becoming more popular and their applications more practical.
Both industries address and help solve real-life problems. First, consider hydroponics: you can finally afford healthy, pesticide-free food and work toward greater food security by growing your own fruits, vegetables and herbs inside your home. Next, consider 3D printing: you get customized parts, such as prosthetics, more easily and affordably.
In addition to recognizing how 3D printing and hydroponics help solve some major world problems, our team had an existing interest in both activities. So, we meshed the two to create a sustainable, meaningful project.
Why make 3Dponics free and open source?
We made 3Dponics free and open source simply because we want as many people to benefit from it as possible. We want everyone to be a part of it, and work together to make it the most efficient system possible.
Would you recommend 3Dponics to someone who likes to grow plants like aloe or cacti in a small New York apartment, or is it more for those who want to grow food practically?
Certainly. While we haven’t grown aloe or cacti with our own systems, we do encourage people to try growing whatever they wish. Of course you might need to consider your growing conditions and adjust settings to yield the best crop.
Experimenting is crucial when you’re growing with 3Dponics. We have our own Chief of Community, Horticulture, in Ottawa, who’s primarily focused on finding out what works, what doesn’t, and how we can make the system more efficient.
It’s important to note that 3Dponics is for anyone. It can be used to grow anything, anywhere, so it all depends on your needs. The fact that the system is compact and modular certainly makes it appealing to city dwellers.
You mentioned how your Chief of Community, Horticulture. What are some of the most interesting things you've sucessfully grown with the system? Any hydroponic watermelons or durians yet?
We've grown tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, etc. We've stuck to growing pretty traditional vegetables and herbs actually, but that's just us! You can grow tons of different fruits and veggies with the system. We do have watermelon seeds here in the office though, so we'll have to plant them soon and get back to you! :-) I think it's important to ensure you have additional support for your system if you're growing heavier produce.
My coworker sent along this article just the other day. You'll see there is plenty to grow in an indoor garden.
Where you do see 3Dponics in 5 years? Do you picture a “TV in every home in America” situation?
There’s the possibility of that, yes, and that would great. However, we see it being most valuable inside K-12 classrooms. By having 3Dponics systems set up inside schools and classrooms all over the world, we hope that young people will see the importance of growing their own food, using sustainable technologies and adopting healthy, clean eating habits.
So, while a 3Dponics system in every home would be fantastic, we would love to see it in every school 5 years from now. Additionally, we’d love if instructors and their students were coming together on our online community to document and share their growing experience.
Do you envision full-sized 3Dponic farms somewhere down the line?
While a full-sized 3Dponics farm is not our main vision, it could happen. We’re not focused on creating large-scale 3Dponics farm so much as we are focused on putting single systems in the hands of many different people, in many different places, particularly schools.
How does democratizing agriculture affect pre-existing farmers?
We think of our system more as a learning tool than anything else; in fact, this system could actually inspire the younger generation to take interest and become more involved in farming. After all, with 3Dponics, you are applying modern, exciting technology (3D printing) to a less popular (but certainly no less important) profession in this day and age.
If anything, we believe our system will have a positive effect on today’s farmers, as there’s a good chance it will foster greater respect for and interest in the work they do.
You seem really focused about getting 3Dponics into schools. What is your cirriculum like, and how have students responded to the system?
Yes, we are focused on getting 3Dponics into schools. At this point, we've presented the system to one class: Michael Scott's grade 10/11 design students at St. Francis Xavier High School in Ottawa, ON. We have another presentation lined up (in another Ottawa classroom) for the end of November! Mr. Scott, for instance, was already going to assign his students a hydroponics project (building and operating a system, controlling lighting, etc). They are using 3Dponics as a test rig. And, according to Mr. Scott, the students have responded well so far. They certainly appeared interested and motivated to start when we first presented the system to his class at the end of October. We intend on returning to their classroom to watch their presentations mid-November. At that time we'll hear more about their thoughts & experience operating 3Dponics. For more on 3Dponics inside schools, please see this page.
Learn more about 3Dponics on their website
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