“What if everybody had the opportunity to grow their own food wherever they are?”
This idea is the driving force behind GreenTowers, a young startup company lead by a team of entrepreneurial students at Penn State University. What started out as an aquaponic greenhouse concept, developed for a student competition, has blossomed into an innovative enterprise developing unique, urban food production products.
The original project concept was entered into a Penn State agribusiness model competition by Biology major, Dustin Betz, now the company President. The idea came after a project pitch at the New Leaf Initiative—a downtown State College venture and project incubator space, which has more recently grown to include a new co-working office in the local Borough building. The team of students came together and formed GreenTowers to further develop the concept of growing food in nontraditional spaces by constructing aquaponic greenhouses from recycled shipping containers. The team’s full scale 20-foot shipping container prototype has provided a vertically integrated gardening unit design that saves space by stacking plants on top of each other, maximizing square footage efficiency. The containerized aquaponic greenhouse can grow fresh, healthy food in resource-constrained areas and comes prebuilt for universal transport as a pop-up community garden in urban food deserts or as a seasonal pique-freshness micro-farm for onsite restaurants.
The young, ambitious team has already achieved great success since their beginnings in the fall of 2012 and is now working to release their upcoming consumer product that functionally integrates aquaponic farming into the design of any home or office space.
After competing in the 2012 Ag Springboard and Mechanical Nuclear Engineering Innovation Challenge and during their time spent prototyping, GreenTowers also participated in a number of other business competitions and mentorships. The team placed second in the Dow Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award in December 2013 at Penn State, and gained fellowship in the “Thought For Food” competition sponsored by Syngenta. GreenTowers also joined in the TOMS Shoes “Start Something That Matters” fellowship, and finished as a semifinalist in the Dell Social Innovation Challenge. If that wasn’t enough, GreenTowers was also recently awarded an exciting research grant from the Penn State Sustainability Institute’s Reinvention Fund, which will allow the company to pursue the construction of another new living wall product prototype at the co.space, a home for student and young professional innovators and changemakers.
GreenTowers’ upcoming product is called the Living Furniture table, and will be released for its first run through a Kickstarter campaign in May. With this new consumer aquaponics product, GreenTowers will be able to reach a broader customer base and have a greater platform from which to grow and develop their urban agricultural design business. By targeting the household consumer market, the GreenTowers team hopes to further educate the public on the importance of food security and self-sufficiency through the use of aquaponics. The upcoming Living Furniture product will provide GreenTowers with the opportunity to begin actualizing their vision of offering urban food production technologies that can work for anyone, anywhere.
The energetic GreenTowers team understands that their prototypes and product concepts, both large and small, can help to combat many of the food security and social problems we face today. It is clear that through deliberate innovations driven by purpose, GreenTowers has formulated a solutions-based approach to holding a public conversation about the importance of local agriculture which is shifting the way our society looks at urban food production.