The recent food scare at XL Foods couldn’t be a better argument for the locavore movement. Turned off by mass production plus the negative environmental impact of so-called “food miles”, more and more people want to know exactly where their food comes from.
Surrey’s Tarren Wolfe is bringing the go-local movement even closer to home—right inside it, in fact.
The head of Urban Cultivator has developed an appliance that allows for easy indoor growing of all kinds of herbs, greens, veggies, and flowers. Think basil, cilantro, sage, spinach, watercress, wheatgrass, nasturtiums… The list goes on.
“Taking the time to actually be involved in growing your own food connects you to it,” Wolfe says. “The goal is to help people be sustainable and self-sufficient. This is the way food production is going.”
The Kelowna native admits that the prototype goes back over a decade, when he and some friends devised a hydroponic unit to grow “medicinal” marijuana.
From there, they tried growing other herbs, like mint and parsley. The Urban Cultivator units automatically control light, humidity, temperature, and watering cycles. Once seeds have been planted, fresh greens are ready to use within days.
“Our motto is ‘grow your own,’ 365 days a year,” Wolfe says. (The San Francisco Academy of Art University grad bought out his friends a few years ago.)
The technologically sophisticated, user-friendly, stylish units were enough to impress one of the business panellists on Dragon’s Den. After appearing on the reality show earlier this year, Wolfe scored a deal with Arlene Dickinson.
Starting at $2,200, the Urban Cultivator Home units, which are about the size of a bar fridge, come in two styles: a stand-alone on wheels with a butcher-block top or a built-in version that fits underneath counter tops, the way a dishwasher would.
Butcher blocks come in such finishes as maple, ash, oak, and walnut. Options for the door include clear glass, crystal glass, and a dark tint.
A developer in Mongolia recently ordered more than 100 Urban Cultivators, which will be part of the designer-kitchen package in a new condominium building. Wolfe is hopeful the units will get picked up in a similar way here by progressive builders.
Larger commercial units are already being used at Vancouver’s new Living Produce Aisle (66 East Cordova Street). Nestled next to Nicli Antica Pizzeria and Vicino Pastaria and Deli, it’s a mini market specializing in all things green and leafy.
As the name implies, the herbs are born and raised there and snipped right in front of customers’ eyes.
YEW Restaurant at the Four Seasons Vancouver executive chef Ned Bell uses two cultivators at his dining establishment: a commercial one in the back and a home version that’s on display in the dining room itself.
He concedes he was initially drawn to the cultivators as a means to save money. Consider that a “pesto pack” of basil goes for $5 at Whole Foods and it’s easy to see why Bell estimates he saves up to 90 percent on the cost of the greens. But he’s been won over by being able to grow his own.
“I’ve always wanted to know where my food comes from,” Bell says. “It’s like having your own little farm in your own kitchen.”