Greg Crafter Wants to Turn Your Walls Into Gardens
After a 30 minute drive through rainy Atlanta traffic I arrived at a nondescript industrial building by the airport. I masked up and trotted through the parking lot where Greg Crafter, founder of Produce'd waited for me. He led me through the office and into the back warehouse where my eyes, dull from the downpour, were snapped out of their funk by rows and rows of vibrant emerald green herbs on vertical hydroponic growing systems illuminated by LED lights.
Produce'd is a purveyor of hydroponic growing systems as well as a supplier of plants grown on the systems. Crafter's systems are vertical, giving him plenty of space to grow herbs like parsley, basil, and cilantro as well as vegetables like lettuce and bell peppers. When he officially launches Produce'd in the next month, home gardeners will be able to purchase a two tower unit which he plans on selling for around $700, and from there it goes up to four and eight tower units. In addition to the units, customers can purchase a monthly subscription. "It's a little bit different than some competitors and some systems that are already out there where you get a pot with a seed and you let it grow for 30 days before it's a seedling, and another six weeks before you can harvest," he explains. With Produce'd, Crafter plans on delivering small plants that are ready to harvest.
Crafter's timing couldn't be better. Interest in home gardening increased dramatically during the pandemic, to the point where there's threat of seed shortages. Even people without green spaces or backyards are flexing their green thumbs with the help of windowsill plants and, of course, hydroponic systems.
Crafter, 46, got into hydroponic gardening a few years ago, but he's been a gardener his whole life. "I was like, man, there's got to be a better way that I can plant my favorite herb or something and keep a garden year-round. And I just started doing research," he says. He started with a greenhouse but couldn't keep it warm enough in the winter and in the summer it was too hot. After learning about hydroponics he tried it out in his laundry room and was impressed with how much he liked the resulting produce. It became apparent to the city dweller that growing vertically in a smaller space was the most efficient way to grow a lot of food, so Crafter expanded to his backyard shed. "I was giving away samples to neighbors and friends and people were saying, 'Greg, you really got something. You can do this.' I thought about it and I was like, 'Wow, I really can.'"
Eventually Crafter realized he wanted to make his gardening hobby his full-time gig. He had worked in the battery manufacturing industry for 23 years. He traveled so much that his kids thought he worked at the airport. He decided to go for it on March 13, 2020 just as the pandemic took hold.
"But I never looked back," says Crafter. "I knew this was my calling. This was what I wanted to do and something that I knew I could do. I've never looked back and still excited about potentially what can come of this in the future." In the not-to-distant future, he hopes, he'll be putting fresh food in people's homes and restaurants. Forget farm-to-table, he wants it to be a matter of steps.
For the uninitiated, "hydroponic" means growing plants without soil. If you've ever placed a plant cutting in a jar of water hoping to propagate it, you've participated in hydroponic gardening. This type of gardening is believed to have ancient roots, with examples found in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to floating gardens developed by the Aztecs. It wasn't until the 1930s that the word "hydroponics" was actually used; it came about when W.F. Gericke, a scientist at Berkley, experimented with the method to grow crops.
People might think about marijuana when they hear about hydroponic gardening at home, but new systems have been developed in recent years and people are starting to gain interest in the method that allows them to defy seasons. These systems also a lot more stylish than they used to be with companies like Rise making systems that resemble furniture. Although not without their critics, like people who claim that hydroponically grown veggies don't taste as good and the fact that the systems rely on power,these systems have allowed people to get into gardening in a way that they may not have otherwise been able to. Crafter's system is reminiscent of a bookcase with a reservoir at the bottom filled with nutrients and water that gets fed to the plants through drip emitters; instead of sunshine, the plants get full-spectrum LED lights which are automated to turn on and off depending on what the system is growing.
Crafter has spent the past year testing out his system in people's homes and restaurants. The two tower system is sleek and blends almost seamlessly into a kitchen next to appliances — although people keep them in other places too, from hallways to offices, — and the response, Crafter says, has been overwhelmingly positive. The biggest critique came from people who forgot when to add water into the system, but he's mitigated that by automating text messages with reminders to replenish with nutrients and water and tips on how to harvest.
One of his testers happens to be a neighbor. She told him she loves the overall experience of having the system. She can cut a sprig of basil for lunchtime soup, but then the plant grows even more and smells fresh. She even finds the sound of the motor's hum to be peaceful. "It truly isn't any waste. And that's good feedback for me because it helps me understand that people appreciate it. And it's not just a new, shiny toy. I want it to truly become a way of life," he says.
Crafter will start by servicing the Atlanta area. He thinks urban residents will benefit most from these systems. Of course, he wants people to love having the systems in their homes, but is excited about the educational component, too. "Once you educate people on how you can be self-sustainable with very little, it doesn't require a lot of knowledge. Just imagine what that does for somebody that can say, "Look, I'm confident about this. I can really do this." And then making it affordable for people to do it," says Crafter. "Folks that don't have transportation that can get to the healthy food. We're bringing it to you so you don't have to necessarily have to have that."