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The home garden that's changing the way we grow food

Squamish start-up's VeggieWall is a fully automated, indoor garden that doubles as art



A Squamish-based start-up is putting a whole new spin on the meaning of "home gardening."

The brainchild of Squamolean and Whistler Blackcomb patroller Jen McGuinness, the VeggieWall from Green Thumb Technology is a fully automated, indoor vegetable garden that you mount right on your wall.

"It's an aero-hydroponic garden, so it doesn't use any soil," said McGuinness, founder of Green Thumb Technology. "The plants grow in the recycled glass and are fed a nutrient water, which has all the minerals a plant would normally take from the soil. That allows for faster growth and higher yields."

The good news for the amateur gardener-on-the-go is that the VeggieWall does most of the work for you: A built-in computer controls watering, meaning you only have to refill the reservoir once a week, and an LED light system allows your veggies to grow year-round no matter the weather outside.

And while there are similar home garden technologies on the market, the VeggieWall is the first that doubles as a living, breathing work of art. It's even caught the eye of the National Research Council of Canada and Vancouver's Emily Carr University of Art + Design, where designers will work with McGuinness this fall on a sleek new look for the wall's light system.

But more than the aesthetic appeal, McGuinness, who spent two years researching and designing the prototype, was inspired to create a product that wasn't just about the bottom line.

"I've always wanted to run my own business ... and I wanted it to be something that I felt contributed to the environment and to society," she said. Green Thumb has donated several prototypes to schools across the Sea to Sky and McGuinness hopes to work with food banks and other charities in the future.

The innovative technology could also go a long way towards improving food security in a world that continues to urbanize at breakneck speeds, with city dwellers having less and less space to grow their own produce. Factor in the high costs of buying local, organic food, and the VeggieWall's DIY philosophy simply makes sense.

"I have an outdoor garden, which is great, but come fall or winter I'm getting my food from Mexico and New Zealand and the United States and I can't buy local, organic food anymore," said McGuinness. "Being able to have local food and know that it's organic and know everything that's in it is super important to me." So what can you grow with your VeggieWall? Well, pretty much anything you would in your own garden — except root vegetables. McGuinness enjoys delicious heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and a variety of herbs and greens plucked right from her wall.

The six-plant VeggieWall starter kit retails for $350 and includes everything you need to get growing, although it's on sale for $250 until Friday, Aug. 28.

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