If The Jetsons kitchen hasn't been fully realized yet, we're not far off—not with sleek, tiny countertop ovens, preprogrammed juicers that need only a frozen package inserted, personal sous vide machines, and even Amazon's Alexa, practically a conversation partner, now able to stand by, making measurement conversions when prompted to and even turning on the oven.
SproutsIO wouldn't be a stranger in the Jetsons' home. It looks like a space thing, all white and chrome and swan-necked. It also is capable of growing the large part of a family's vegetable intake each month in a planter just slightly larger than a watermelon.
SproutsIO, which launched yesterday on Kickstarter has a lot going for it—it's hydroponic (no dirt!); it's nice to look at; the plants grow without the assistance of pesticides; it's an easy way to grow herbs or vegetables, even for the horticulture-averse; the yield is high for something so small (just a foot wide and, when its bendy neck is extended to accommodate a taller plant, like tomatoes or very enthusiastic basil, 3 feet tall).
But the most exciting thing to me, as a great lover of plants, a cook, and a gardener, is this: the control you get over the plants themselves. Using the unit's technology (it syncs with an app on your phone), you can determine exactly how you want the plant to taste—pepperier? more mild? more tender? be brighter or darker green?—by adjusting the levels of water, nutrients, and light the plants get as they grow.
Which opens the door to all kinds of experiments. A spicier shishito—or a milder one! Tiny, bracingly peppery sprouts!
Boston-based chef and restaurateur Barbara Lynch has been an early adopter of SproutsIO. She's been testing the units in her restaurant Menton, and, as she says in the video below, is excited by the machine for their ability to grow particular types of produce right in the kitchen year round, the predictability and reliability of what will be harvestable when ("We know what's going to be ready in three weeks, we know what's going to be ready in four weeks."), and consistency of flavor ("It gives you a lot of control in terms of what you're actually building in a dish.").
The plants themselves grow in special pre-seeded disks set inside the unit's base, and the company plans to launch with 16 different varieties of pre-seeded disks ranging from basil and wheatgrass and kale and tomatoes and peppers. (The founders also anticipate a user being able to set the system up with seeds they've provided themselves, too.)
The only thing that limits what can be grown in the unit is its size. While things with more complex root structures—like radishes and carrots and beets—will be possible (just as you can adjust the height of the lamp, you can raise the ring in which the seeded disk sits, allowing for larger roots to grow and be harvested), very large plants like corn will not.
SproutsIO may empower chefs and home cooks to grow their own food—which does save money. But for now, the unit itself comes with a relatively high price tag ($799 for one unit, with 6 of the pre-seeded growing disks), though the founders, Jennifer Broutin Farah and Kamal Farah, are already planning ways to make the system accessible to those for whom the price is out of reach.
What are the things you'd love to be able to grow year round at home? Tell us about them—or about the Jetsons-esque invention you're patiently awaiting—in the comments.