Do you wish you could grow some of your own food or medicinal herbs? You’re not alone. Food gardening is growing across America. Every day, more Americans decide to grow their own foods so they can eat healthier, cut costs, help the environment, and build a more resilient community.
We want to help you grow your own!
More and more people share that wish, and the accompanying frustrations of not having the space or the carpentry skills for a full-sized greenhouse. Whether you live in an apartment with a small balcony in a large city, or a private home with enough yard but a challenging climate, or you have the perfect environment but worry about your ability to build a complicated, free-standing structure, My Terrace Farmer™ provides a sustainable solution.
People spend $300 to $3000+ for difficult-to-assemble greenhouses that often fail after a few windy or snowy seasons. Operating costs can be very high in cold environments. The outer skin of the My Terrace Farmer is an expensive translucent (83% light efficiency, 30% UV transparency) recyclable honeycomb triple-layer polyethylene called SolaWrap® that has been field-tested in Germany for decades. It is much stronger than traditional greenhouse twin-wall polycarbonate and it does not turn brittle with age. Despite what it looks like it is NOT bubble wrap!
Serviceabiity has been a design goal. If the SolaWrap is damaged, it can be patched using ordinary clear packing tape or replaced with simple window screen tools.
If you are a renter and have to move, you usually lose all the time, energy, love, and money you have invested into your garden. Not any more! Two people can assemble an MTF kit in one afternoon (panels, walls, base, and roof come partially assembled). If you don't have to take the frame apart during a move it's even easier.
Every attempt has been made to use earth-friendly components and local suppliers. Our hope is to create jobs in our mountain community. Each My Terrace Farmer is built using solar electric.
What We Are Making:
My Terrace Farmer is a sturdy intelligent, self-sustaining, modular greenhouse designed for urban, suburban, and rural environments. You can use it to grow vegetables, herbs, flowers – whatever you like. And while your plants grow, the optional Garden Genie® handles most aspects of your growing needs for you electronically. You can even check on it while you travel!
Using a yet to be developed cloud interface, classrooms growing the same plants have the opportunity to compare growing conditions and best practices in different climates.
Designed for gardening without the need to bend down, the Basic My Terrace Farmer (MTF) is 48” wide by 32” deep by 82” tall so it can fit on a balcony just five feet wide and three feet deep. The height is sized so that you can open a sliding glass door to bring the outside inside. One other benefit for a balcony or porch installation is increased privacy without drapes.
The Deluxe MTF also creates compost, collects rainwater, generates solar power, and, because it’s modular, you can easily group/link multiple micro-environment units to create a larger greenhouse for growing a larger variety of crops. Imagine a community garden where everyone has one or more "garden locker."
The Deluxe MTF provides emergency preparedness, too. Aside from the benefit of any food grown, we've designed the sealed no-maintenance batteries to operate the MTF grow lights and pumps up to two days even under no sun or electrical backup conditions. With a USB charger we include you can charge your mobile phone for limited communication. With a proven emergency water filter (recommended by one former Special Forces member of our team) you can use the water storage bladder during natural disasters.
Each MTF utilizes four lockable casters for easy movement for regular floor cleaning and safe relocation during a major storm.
Garden Genie maintains the right conditions for your plants, operating fans to supplement self-opening thermal vents for fresh air, watering when necessary, and recording the heat and humidity for later analysis. With all these features, you don’t need a green thumb. My Terrace Farmer makes it easy to grow all kinds of plants, from sprouts and kitchen herbs to tomatoes and winter vegetables. One of our testing goals is to better document best practices to help novice gardeners, and potentially, remotely assign initial settings per crowd-sourced neighborhood micro climate successes.
While the Basic MTF can easily accommodate aquaponics or hydroponics, the design goal of the Deluxe MTF was to come up with a greenhouse that minimized the need for external inputs. We use solar panels and no-maintenance batteries to power high efficiency NASA-inspired blue-red grow LEDs and compact reliable aquarium pumps, rainwater harvesting to minimize the need for supplemental water, and vermiculture (earth worms!) on food and paper scraps to eliminate supplemental fertilizers or fish food.
Food, energy, water, and community are among the themes behind the development of My Terrace Farmer. Although the greenhouse is targeted to take advantage of limited space, the technologies integrated into My Terrace Farmer address issues of urban food production, emergency preparedness, education, and community building no matter where you live. In an emergency, you can drink the stored water and power your cell phone, laptop, or emergency radio with the solar power stored in the battery.
But don't just take our word for how awesome the MTF is: in 2013, the Boulder Chapter of the Awesome Foundation for the Arts and Sciences chose MTF as one of twelve winners of their annual “Micro-grants for Micro Flashes of Brilliance”. You can see for yourself at http://www.awesomefoundation.org/en/projects/16731-smart-solar-greenhouse-for-small-spaces
Some bloggers that have discovered My Terrace Farmer:
eVox Television http://www.evoxtelevision.com/video/?id=257
Impact Hub Boulder http://www.impacthubboulder.com/stories/greg-ching-mtf/
Mindful Healthy Life http://www.mindfulhealthylife.com/2014/06/05/green-festival-recap/
Please send us a link if you blogged about this project and we'll update the above list. Thank you!
What Your Kickstarter Contributions Will Fund:
• Continued stress-testing of My Terrace Farmer prototypes.
• Build-out of pilot units to ship to supporters (who are also our beta testers) and deployment at schools, youth groups, community centers, and similar locations who have been requesting installations.
• Transitioning from hand-crafted prototyping to creating jigs for more consistent and trainable manufacturing
• Incorporating custom materials to increase reliability
• Testing our packaging, shipping, and assembly procedures. We are developing affordable delivery to your doorstep. Our goal is to maximize pre-assemby while shipping flat as possible so you can maneuver components through standard doors.
• Development of the infrastructure to support an on-line community of MTF users helping each other and a developing crowd-sourced database of neighborhood gardening best practices.
What Is Our Stretch Goal?
Between Kickstarter (campaign website) and Amazon (credit card processing fees) we pay about 10% overhead so $20,000 USD pays for only the construction of fewer than 10 pilot units. If we can reach $50,000 we will accelerate the Garden Genie's software development and economize on our initial run hardware costs.
If we reach $100,000 we will prototype many MTF hot weather and extreme cold weather designs imagined as part of a program of continuous design improvement. At $150,000 we can fund a van so we can display My Terrace Farmer at events and festivals throughout the United States.
Anything above that will be spent on ways to reduce manufacturing costs so this technology can reach more people. So far, we have spent very little of the self-financed $200,000 on labor. The money has gone into materials which are expensive but were chosen for their proven durability, performance, and sustainability. Reaching those conclusions required some expensive trial-and-error, but the result were definitely worth the time and money expended.
For example, the SolaWrap roof has multiple arch supports to handle snow load and melting snow. Even with one side panel open in the shade it doesn't require much ceramic heater output to guard against plant freezing provided the outside temperature is not too far below freezing and the winds are mild. We do recommend keeping the side panels closed during the winter!
Air insulation exists between the floor and the ground as four skateboard quality wheels support up to 700 pounds (317.514 kilograms) each, far beyond anticipated need. The empty MTF weighs under 150 pounds but a water-filled storage bladder, a soil-filled grow tray, and multiple batteries add up to the capacity of one lockable caster.
Do We Really Know What We’re Doing?
We have been testing mostly at over 7900 feet in altitude, with some at sea level, for about 2 years now. We have sprouted non-GMO organic seeds in our MTF at temperatures as low as -25F degree weather using a 1500W ceramic heater. Here is a photo of some three-week old baby organic Daikon Radishes started from seed inside a My Terrace Farmer unit left outside during -5 to 39F temperatures with wind gusts 50-70+ mph during January 2013.
One test of a winter greenhouse is whether a container of water freezes. My Terrace Farmer's passive solar incorporates this food-grade 53-gallon (intentionally limited for conservative floor weighting building specs for higher floors/balconies/decks) insulated collapsible water storage bladder. Despite extremely cold minus -25F winter temperatures it did not freeze with minimal ceramic heater usage. We also wondered if algae would build up if we did not recirculate water. We learned that the clear bladder filled with drinking quality tap water instead of rainwater did fine if there was no direct sunlight reaching the top clear portion.
We worked with a local urban farm Feed Denver (www.feeddenver.com) to develop our standalone compost tea generator My Worm Farmer. Incorporating into a My Terrace Farmer, we pump water through it periodically to capture diluted worm tea.
We tested 5-12 VDC (low voltage for safety and efficiency) water pumps for watering plants, recirculating the storage bladder, or refilling the diluted worm tea chamber. We anticipate each pump may run just a few minutes or less on average each day.
Lacking an automated environmental chamber this one pump was power cycled over a thousand times and then run continuously for over two years. The water comes from a heavily mineralized well source.
Although we have had some success growing plants indoors our main focus is using LED grow lights to supplement natural sunlight.
Some members of our team:
David Bahr is one of the world's leading climate scientists and invented the technique used to measure the contribution of melting glaciers to sea-level rise. He is a co-author of the 2013 United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report, which summarizes the world's climate situation for policy makers.
George Blakey is our Chief Designer. He has been a general contractor for 25 years, specializing in residential projects and holds degree in Architecture and Industrial Technology and multiple continuing education credit in Photovoltaic Solar Systems.
Greg Ching, is the founder and CEO of The Solar Greens Company, which makes My Terrace Farmer. After doing time with a Fortune 500 company, Greg transitioned into organic farming, a passion that has changed everything by leading him to the creation of MTF. His background includes being a software engineer, a sustainability advocate, a community activist, a solar energy advisor, and a consultant for projects designed to combine community values, financial sustainability, and the environment.
Richard Deem advises us on corporate paperwork including taxes. He worked several decades as a certified public accountant and now dedicates time to public service groups such as Rotary International and projects involving renewable energy.
Lisa Napell Dicksteen is our go-to for explanations, clarity, communication, and the like. A former secondary English teacher, she divides her time among freelance writing and editing, consulting, tutoring, volunteering (she's on the boards of several non-profits), and learning the financial services business so she can help non-profits bring in more planned funding.
Becky English is a member of the board of directors of the Colorado Renewable Energy Society (CRES), chair of The Sierra Club's energy committee for Colorado, and a member of Colorado’s executive and legislative committees.
Joe Gierlach has been a Project Manager since the 1980's. He is an Analytical Magician, Problem Solver Extraordinaire, and Conflict Resolution Guru, as well as a high altitude gardener, Master Composter, and renewable energy advocate. His net-zero home was featured on the cover of the issue of Conservation Magazine that highlighted Boulder County's Solar & Green Homes Tour. Joe is also the mayor of Nederland, Colorado where My Terrace Farmer and Solar Greens Company were conceived.
Robyn Lydick is an award-winning journalist who tired of the grind after a decade, dedicated lots of electrons in the service of sustainability. Work with the media? Blog? She's your woman if you need to know about Solar Greens and our products.
Alvin Mites has a scientific approach, designing ways to measure and improve as a form of kaizen learning when to listen and when to disrupt the status quo to improve the desired outcome. He recognizes that what separates good from great is elimination as much as creation.
Doug Southard, the owner of Southard Solar & Construction, is certified by the North American Board of Energy Practitioners and the Solar Energy Industry, and has worked on the development of Community Solar Programs and solar-permitting expedition practices. He is the creator of the portable, green, battery-based Solarator® for remote and independent off-grid electrical power applications, which we use as the solar power collection center for the My Apocalyse Farmer® - a super bundle of two or more My Terrace Farmers and Solarator.
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Risks and challenges
We spent over two years in development before launching this Kickstarter project in order to overcome obstacles such as painful delays in perfecting potential component projects we funded, constant experimentation and rejection of "good, just not good enough" components, and identifying and negotiating with suppliers all we hope stay in business and deliver as promised.
We reserve the right to substitute equal (or preferably improved) components as part of our continuous design improvement. MTF appearance such as color may change with each model.
MTF was deliberately designed to ship in flat pieces by freight.
While we have assembled a MTF in as little as 2 hours (when a show delivery did not take place as planned) it is safer to assume an afternoon with two people is required. We are still evolving our construction techniques so an installation video may not be ready when you receive your MTF kit.
As this is a field test it's possible your plants may freeze in very cold weather especially if there is no AC backup (or if the power goes out).
We have not tested in extremely hot weather. We have innovative greenhouse designs for cooling MTF beyond vents but they have not yet been implemented.
Software development is not as predictable as we'd like it to be. Underfunded bootstrap engineering seems to require delays. With those things in mind, we have padded our schedules but the Garden Genie rollout could be delayed due to factors beyond our control. We have designed MTF to work with timer-based systems so we can grow without the need for fancy electronics. The software interface will be changed with user comments so the above screenshots may not precisely depict the software released.
Although we have warned customers never to use high-temperature lights (e.g. incandescent or metal halide) within My Terrace Farmer because SolaWrap is a combustible plastic, this remains a concern. Similarly, we advise using only ceramic heaters (which do not burn paper) rather than hotter open coil heaters which present a flammability concern. Our goal is to use passive solar and insulation as much as possible to minimize active lighting and heating needs.
Our system is designed to meet conservative building code weight loads, although our testing to date has primarily been at ground level. The slotted frame nature of the MTF allows for attachment to railings and walls to protect against high winds. We advise caution and additional bracing for roofs and windy high-rise situations. Before we ship we will ask you to sign a waiver releasing us of potential property damage. If in doubt, install only at ground level until we gain more experience.
We need qualified individuals to help build a crowd sourced database of successes. If we cannot offer equity or deferred compensation for the back office technical support, database, and engineering these prototypes may be the only units built until we obtain more capital. Without this infrastructure our ability to support our customers and provide replacement parts may be very limited. Early access has its benefits and its drawbacks. Our ideal customer wants to collaborate with us to innovate and simplify our product and processes.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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