I always keep my eyes peeled for intelligent gardening design on places like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, which is how I came across Bradley Ferrada's work in home hydroponics. His company, Cloud Farms, had launched its first successful product—the Amphora Vase—on Indiegogo in December 2015. I asked Bradley if he could take some time out of his day to tell us about his design process and his thoughts on plants in the urban environment.
Summer Rayne Oakes: Before creating Cloud Farms Amphora Vase, you were experimenting with other plant designs in urban settings. What relationship do you feel people have to plants, particularly in the urban environment?
Bradley Ferrada: It is very different living in a big urban setting versus living out in the country, or even somewhere rural where you have an abundance of green space. By not having as many plants outside, I personally feel more compelled to surround myself with plants in my living space. I think that people in urban areas are really much more reliant upon those plants that they can keep in their homes to provide the nourishment that you might otherwise take from the outdoors. You can find plenty of studies about the health benefits of having plants and I think it is really noticeable.
SRO: I concur. I think I'm a living testament to that. But there are so many ways to incorporate plants into one’s environment; what was it about hydroponic systems that you particularly like—both for the incorporation into your design as well as for the home?
BF: I really wanted to grow some edible plants in my apartment. If I had a yard I would be growing outside, but I don’t and so I was looking for ways to grow some food. I really stumbled into hydroponics as a really interesting way of growing plants that didn’t require the use of soil. It seemed like an ideal way of growing plants, especially dealing with issues of watering and managing soil indoors. It is very clean and while it can have its own challenges, it can be very simple.
SRO: What type of hydroponic system does Amphora employ?
BF: The Amphora utilizes a style of hydroponics that is referred to as a Kratky hydroponic system. In any hydroponic system, plant roots are grown into a nutrient rich water, but those roots also need access to oxygen in one way or another. Oftentimes air is injected right into a water reservoir, which requires a pump and electricity. In a Kratky system, rather than injecting air, you simply start with enough water to grow the entire plant, and as the plant begins to grow, it will consume the water and open up a pocket of air at the same time. That allows you to have a system that doesn’t require electricity and that you can just set up once without any watering or maintenance.
SRO: I personally love the way that you designed The Amphora; it's a slick design: clean, modern and minimal. It’s like the equivalent of the Apple computer for home hydroponics. I want to get inside your head to understand a little bit about your design process. Did you first dream up form and aesthetic of the vase and then begin to think through how it would physically work? Or was it something totally different?
BF: The Kratky method was the first thing I looked at. I just started by working through the various ways that I could use this style of system in a home environment. Going to the windowsill and using natural light was another big decision. That dictates the footprint to some degree, at least in terms of how wide it could get. The next couple of things that I thought about were material and build process, and roughly how big I wanted this to be. I had to balance that against what I wanted to grow. I essentially decided that this would be an intro product, and that I would keep it small and therefore limit it to growing mostly herbs and small greens because you can get a lot of utility out of a single herb plant rather than a single lettuce plant for instance. So a lot of things were put in place before I got to the point where I was ready to sculpt the final shape. The rest of it is a process of working your way towards something that felt right. I wanted something minimal, that felt clean and would integrate into a home environment, and that also stood on its own as an object—that it didn’t feel exactly like a classic vase form. I sketched a lot of shapes on the way to making a decision. That final design decision making is really interesting because when you see the final product, it will set your mind off immediately onto what it reminds you of, and even when you can’t verbalize it, it still makes you feel a certain way.
SRO: I particularly love how straightforward and carefree your system is. As an owner of two of your vases, I know I can initially follow a few simple steps and within weeks have a full-grown herb—without even having to water the plant again. It’s the type of gift that I know I can give to someone who thinks they’re bad with plants. Is that who you had in mind when you were developing this?
BF: Definitely—I wanted to get to that person who feels like they can’t grow anything and give them something really easy to use. I wanted this product to be an introduction both to hydroponics for those who haven’t done it before, but also to the brand of Cloud Farms, to set a precedent that the products are really focused on the user experience.
SRO: We so often hear the term "user experience" for tech, but not much for products in our home and surrounding environment, and I don't think we can forget how important that is. Speaking of which, how would you like to see plants incorporated more in the urban environment?
BF: Of course in the home—I think there is still a lot of opportunity to create products that bring more green into the home in new and creative ways, whether it is with edible plants or houseplants. In cities I’d love to see more green spaces, more green roofs, more rooftop gardens and community gardens, and more food being grown inside of cities. Its funny, I’m really just interested in bringing in as much as possible. I generally think it would be a great thing if we did more to integrate nature into the designs of our urban environments.
SRO: Thank you Bradley. Keep up the incredible work. 🌿