Finding new ways to produce healthy, sustainable food sources for a growing population is a necessity. Austin Lawrence, a current Kettering University student, and Brian Falther, a 2010 Kettering University graduate, are motivated to offer a solution to food sustainability.
Falther, who is living in Grand Rapids (originally from Stow, Ohio), and Lawrence, a Mattawan High School graduate from Kalamazoo, are currently in the running for a $5,000 seed investment from Start Garden, a $15,000,000 Grand Rapids-based venture capital fund for innovative ideas that could potentially turn into businesses. The two individuals met through the Kettering Entrepreneur Society, and have been collaborating ever since. Falther and Lawrence hope to secure the investment to help them as they launch Urban Tech Farm: Project Grand Rapids, which they describe as, “A project to organically grow crops through automation, sustainability and efficiency.”
“Our motivating factor is that in 40 years, there are going to be over 9 billion people on the planet,” said Lawrence, a senior Mechanical Engineering major. “There isn’t enough land on Earth to accommodate and feed that projected population with current technology. We want to upgrade farming technology and bring it into the city.”
Currently, Falther and Lawrence are conducting research on growing techniques like aquaponics – using fish and recycled water to grow food in an interdependent loop system without the use of fertilizers or pesticides. Eventually, they would like to design a prototype vertical aquaponics farm in a repurposed shipping container and after proving sustainability, expand to warehouses and other vacant industrial buildings in cities.
“As engineers, we want to offer solutions to problems that face the world,” Lawrence said. “Access to food is something we all have a need for.”
The $5,000 seed funding they are vying for is the first of several tiers of investments Lawrence and Falther hope will help fund their project. Anyone who has a Facebook account can “endorse” their project. Voting is open until noon on Thursday, June 28.
The seed money would be used to help develop their prototype, conduct research and build recognition for their company and mission. Then, they plan to apply for the next level Start Garden investment, which would be $20,000. That money would allow them to build their small-scale vertical farm in the shipping container. The higher levels of Start Garden investments, which can range from $50k to half a million dollars, would allow them to take their prototype and make their vision a reality by repurposing an abandoned industrial building in Grand Rapids into a full-scale vertical aquaponics farm.
“We’re based in Grand Rapids right now, but our ultimate goal is to expand this to other cities,” Lawrence said. “We want to get involved in the community as much as possible. For example, Grand Rapids has a lot of restaurants, and restaurants produce a lot of organic waste. We could convert that waste into fertilizer, use it to grow our crops and sell vegetables back to those restaurants.”
Facebook users can endorse the ‘Urban Tech Farm: Project Grand Rapids’ project.
Visit the project’s Facebook page.
Kettering University is also involved in urban farming initiatives in the Flint area through collaboration with the Harvesting Earth Urban Farm.