On the windowsill of Bradley Ferrada’s sunlit Astoria apartment, next to his handmade angular gray felt sofa and industrial steel curved lamp, a veritable farm is growing. There’s bok choi and tatsoi; arugula and winter lettuce; cilantro and basil, all cupped in elegant teardrop-shaped white ceramic pots. Water gurgles gently through tubes, carrying nutrients to the plants’ roots and creating the peaceful ambient sound of a stream or garden fountain. The only thing that’s missing is the soil.
Ferrada, a product designer with a masters degree in Industrial Design from Pratt and a background in lighting design, calls his hydroponic home growing systems Cloud Farms. With this futuristic, dirt-less set-up, he’s aiming to make growing food in places like tiny New York City apartments not just possible, but beautiful.
“I started to think about the worst-case scenario for growing stuff, and this city certainly comes close,” Ferrada tells me at his dining room table, flanked by bright yellow plastic chairs. “But everybody has a window.”
The Cloud Farms system is designed to be easy to set up and unobtrusive once it is: comprised of a tower smaller than a stand-up fan, ceramic pots that are about 6 inches in diameter, and an option for a single piece of bumped-out plexiglass that can be custom-fit to a variety of window shapes. The seeds get planted in a substance called rock wool: spun basalt rock that results in a near-perfect spongy horticultural base for seeds to grow in. Currently, the focus is on leafy greens, but Ferrada hopes people will experiment with growing all sorts of plants.
The prototypes blend neatly into the crisp, modern style of his living room; two bikes belonging to his fiancée Christina and him are mounted on the walls draw far more attention than the plants growing next to them. She works full-time as a graphic designer at Coach (yes, as in the bags); he works there part time on store design. The rest of his week is spent in his studio amongst stacks of different horticultural materials, measurements, samples and even a rudimentary 3D printer made out of wood, on which he printed the first model for the teardrop-shaped pods he calls Droplets. The tower, which runs vital nutrients and water up to the plants, is called the Nimbus.
Ferrada has already had the prototypes built at various factories in China and he is launching a Kickstarter for the first run of devices starting on May 20th, through which he’ll sell the Nimbus and two Droplets for $250; the Biome plexiglass bump-out is $350.
“I wanted to make objects that people would actually buy and use, but that would also build better social solutions to our food issues,” Ferrada says. Growing up in Montpelier, Vermont, he was surrounded by small farmers, and has seen first hand how unwieldy the challenges of our industrial agriculture system have become.
“There’s no way to tell what the kind of product you can grow with Cloud Farms would cost at the store, because there’s no comparison,” he says. “If you’re comparing it with organics, you’re definitely saving money.”
Yes, it takes only 3.5 watts to power a Nimbus, but Ferrada says that’s not the point.
“It’s about empowering people to grow their own food no matter where they are,” he says, looking out the window. “I want to get people asking questions about how things grow.”