Babylon Micro-Farms is bringing vertical farming to K-12 classes

In an e-mail exchange, Babylon Micro-Farms CEO Alexander Oleson tells me “we’ll have these in every school and apartment one day.” It’s a nice vision, and really the level of belief/commitment required to run a startup — particularly in a field as oft-fraught at vertical farming. With a price point of $6,500, however, the STEM Garden isn’t likely arriving in too many homes in the near term.

As nice as it would be to set up my very own vertical farm in my Queens apartment, that dream will probably have to wait a decade or to (or at least until I leverage my tech reporter job into the inevitable fame and fortune). It is, however, a step in the right direction. Babylon’s latest product is a fraction of the price of its $15,000 predecessor.

As the name suggests, the new model is firmly targeted at education. It’s the same market targeted by a lot of cutting-edge consumer tech firms that aren’t quite ready for the home market, from Makerbot to Sphero. Virginia-based Babylon Micro-Farms has long distinguished itself from much of the vertical farming world with its focus on smaller spaces, and the new system further shrinks that footprint.

Image Credits: Babylon Micro-Farms

Whereas companies likely Bowery routinely retrofit warehouses into indoor green spaces, Babylon’s customer base includes hotels/hospitality, healthcare and corporate spaces, including brands like Ikea. Anyone who’s ever worked in a soulless office can certainly appreciate the value of adding a little greenery to the scenery. As a bonus, you can harvest it and have a salad for lunch — though given the nature of the machines, we’re not talking about yields that are going to keep the staff fed year ’round. If big vertical farms are decentralizing and localizing farming, the micro-farm concept does so on an even more intimate scale.

Education has been a core market for the firm, as well. It hasn’t disclosed specific numbers on that front, only saying that it has shipped units to “hundreds” of locations. When it asked educators what they were looking for in the next-gen device, they naturally pointed to a lower price point. Where previous models were focused on higher ed, the STEM Garden is specifically tackling K-12, which tends not to have as deep pockets.

The price was dropped, in part, by shrinking the product’s footprint from a bookshelf to cabinet — frankly space is often at a premium in these younger grades. Tiers (shelves) have been reduced from five to three and the plant “sites” from 290 to 90. The plants need to be hand watered, and aspects like cameras for remote monitoring and live support have been left off.

The system does, however, include curriculum integration for learning (certainly the “stem” pun hasn’t escaped us). And frankly, it’s probably less of a hassle to not have cameras on a device that’s potentially going to be around younger children.

The STEM garden is up for preorder starting today and will start shipping to classes in Q2. Guess I’ll have to keep waiting for my own micro-farm.

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