In the corner of our patio stands a stylish white structure studded with bursts of green vegetation spilling generously from it. Basil buds jostle for the sun's attention; cos and mizuna elbow each other out of the way, while tumbling vines and twisted stems trail along the ground languorously. Behold, the Airgarden. A vertical DIY gardening innovation that has revolutionised the way we - and many others - eat, grow, and even think about food. Which is exactly what sibling founders Prue and Tom Bauer were hoping for when they first started the business in 2017.

Like many disruptors, the Bauer siblings were fueled by their own experiences and challenges that morphed into a deep-rooted commitment to change the narrative of modern-day food consumption.

“Aside from being abject failures at trying to grow our own food in the soil, our Mum was probably the largest part of our inspiration,” says Prue, co-founder of Airgarden. ”Mum was diagnosed with Alzheimers and Dementia and I had also had my own health challenges. We started looking at functional medicine, and the more we looked into it the more obvious it became that a big part of the issue was our modern-day diet and lifestyle.”

The further they dug the more motivated Prue and Tom became and set about researching a product that would revolutionise home gardening. Trawling the web, they stumbled across aeroponics technology and learned how NASA grow fresh food for astronauts in space. At first, they were determined to bring this innovation to Australia. However, when importing existing systems proved costly and unsuitable for the Australian climate, they decided to make their own.

“If only we knew how fun overlaying manufacturing and horticulture was we may have never started! Especially given our backgrounds were in property and financial services,” Prue points out blithely. Their mission was clear: make aeroponic gardening accessible and tailored to the Australian way of life.

The Design Evolution

The early stages of Airgarden were not without hurdles. “Bringing the physical Airgarden product to life was hard and we didn’t get it right the first time.” The initial model faced challenges, but Prue and Tom trusted their instincts and learned valuable lessons about manufacturing and design. The result was the MVP Airgarden, paving the way for version 2.0. Prue emphasises the broader vision, stating, “We never wanted Airgarden to be just a product or a one-trick pony. Our purpose at Airgarden is to revolutionise the future of food.”

So, how does it work?

As I discovered when I put mine together, setting up the Airgarden is pretty easy and comes with everything you need along with step-by-step instructions and YouTube videos. Once it’s built, you pop your seedlings in, which you can grow from seeds (all the instructions are provided) or you can opt for ready-to-plant seedlings from Airgarden (I did the latter). Simply slot the seedlings that are planted in coco coir plugs to one of the 30 grow spots. Next you add water and fertiliser to the base and set the timer.

Every 15 or 30 minutes (you change the timer depending on if it’s summer or winter), the system pumps the nutrient-rich water to the top of the Airgarden, moving through the system to nourish the plants. This closed-loop system eliminates runoff and evaporation, promoting sustainability. The innovative design continuously recycles water, making the system 95% more water-efficient compared to traditional soil-based gardening.

The precisely-timed delivery of nutrients, oxygen, and water creates an optimal environment for plant growth, allowing them to thrive and mature three times faster than traditional soil methods. Within a couple of weeks I was picking fresh greens for my salad at lunch and snipping herbs every evening. The kids were delighted when we ate our first cucumber and zucchini – it was the first time we’d grown actual vegetables ourselves and it was ridiculously easy.

Bounty Beyond Food

Beyond the bowls full of fresh produce, the Airgarden has other wellness benefits. Prue tells me that their customers revel in the connection to nature and the satisfaction of actively taking charge of their food consumption.

“There is so much more flavour and nutrient density to the produce because it’s picked and harvested when you need it,”she says, adding that the absence of harmful chemicals reassures users about the trusted source of their home-grown delights.

From a meditative standpoint, there’s also the fact that anything that gets you outside and gardening is good for the soul. The Airgarden is hooked up to a timer that emits a soothing sound of running water which adds a mindful touch, as does feeling the leaves between your fingers, the scent of fresh herbs and being outside in the fresh air.

Growing It Forward

I was impressed to learn that Airgarden’s impact extends beyond personal use to educational initiatives, with a focus on schools. Prue envisions these programs not only educating children on the current food system but also fostering community engagement. Success stories, like the Education NSW pilot program, reflect the positive outcomes of integrating Airgardens into STEM learning.

The prospect of commercial urban farms excites Prue, who envisions a greener cityscape. Aeroponic growing’s adaptability to various spaces, both indoors and outdoors, offers a sustainable solution. She anticipates challenges but is undeterred, noting, “Often you need to build it so people can see it tangibly and understand it. Having capital to fund the pilots is also always fun.”

“The beauty of aeroponic growing and Airgarden is the ability to grow in unlikely spaces from rooftops to car parks, vacant land outdoors or indoors. With the majority of our population living in cities which will increase towards 2030, having the ability to farm in the cities where the majority of the production and consumption is occurring is a game changer,” explains Prue. “No transport or food miles, a huge reduction in food waste. High fresh nutrient-dense produce that isn’t being stored for months before it’s used. Our cities will become greener. Imagine the 4.8 km of grey Sydney city skyline becoming green! The possibilities are endless when you grow vertical & utilise aeroponics.”

As Airgarden eyes international markets, Prue outlines strategic plans, including discussions with suppliers in the UK and the EU. She looks forward to participating in international trade missions and exhibitions. The future holds promises of innovation, with Prue teasing, “it’s top secret at the moment but watch this space there’s always something on the go!!!”

In a bold move towards social sustainability, Prue has unveiled the Grow It Forward initiative. This not-for-profit endeavour aims to provide Airgardens to communities, schools, food banks, and aged care in need. Prue’s eyes light up as she envisions making a tangible impact, saying, “This is what Airgarden is about, being a vehicle to make an impact & drive change.”

In the vibrant tapestry of Airgarden’s journey, Prue and Tom Bauer are blending innovation with a commitment to wellness and sustainability. I can see that it will quite possibly be a sustainable form of “world domination,” as Prue confidently declares. I can’t wait to continue to watch the Airgarden story unfold, promising a future where fresh, nutritious food is within reach for everyone.

I know for me it’s changed everything on a daily level – being able to pick and eat produce that I’ve grown myself is empowering and satisfying. And I love being able to show the kids the importance of prioritising fresh nutrients in a sustainable way. 

Story by Sigourney Cantelo.

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