If you’ve ever wanted to grow your own produce but haven’t for lack of knowledge, confidence or whatever else, you might want to consider Cam MacKugler’s Seedsheet. It’s an actual sheet made of weed-blocking fabric that contains dissolvable packages holding seeds and soil. You unroll it over soil, water it, and, well, that’s pretty much it. The seeds should take off on their own and for some, this technology’s turned out to be a gardening godsend, sprouting bountiful blooms in some of the most modest containers.
MacKugler and Seedsheets joined us back in June for Food Loves Tech. We caught up with him to learn more about his inspiration, the product’s design and his belief that Seedsheets can enable anyone to grow their own.
Edible Manhattan: Is it true the inspiration for Seedsheet came from a cereal box?
Cam MacKugler: Yeah! One summer, I was housesitting for a coworker, who lived on a fully functioning dairy farm with a large garden in the yard. I spent a lot of time weeding, watering and harvesting. While enjoying the fruits of my labor, I realized that I had no time, space or skills to even start my own garden. The only thing I had grown on my own at that point was a cereal box with basil seeds embedded in it. So, I thought, how could the gardening process be similarly condensed? I ran inside, grabbed a pack of my coworker’s kid’s crayons and sketched out my idea. I wanted to trap seeds into the perfect medium that someone could easily roll out and that takes into account all the factors of seed spacing and companion plants.
EM: I’m sure you didn’t think your degree in architecture would be best utilized through Crayola. Any other unexpected turns?
CM: The first versions of Seedsheets were actually seeds embedded in toilet paper, paper towels and newspapers. I definitely didn’t expect toilet paper to hold my future. We sent out samples of the first version to friends and family and they grew! The feedback we received was tremendously helpful.
EM: Any notable feedback?
CM: I was most taken aback with how people didn’t know how easy it could be to grown your own food. Someone in Boston had a small sheet growing greens on her fire escape and her roommate was shocked, saying she didn’t know you could grown food in Boston. At that point we realized there was a huge opportunity to convert people who were already shopping for the same produce. We just needed to share the knowledge that you really don’t need anything more than water, sun, soil and a Seedsheet to grow something delicious.
EM: It can’t really be that simple, can it?
CM: There’s definitely other important factors to consider and rather than having home gardeners do the research, our team is putting that knowledge into each sheet we design. We’ve built an algorithm that factors in spacing characteristics of each plant as well as companion relationships that allow plants to attract pollinators, combat pests and put nutrients back into the soil. That algorithm creates the most ideal garden design possible, which we then transpose into our manufacturing process to build the physical Seedsheet.
EM: With that in mind, can a customer design a custom seed sheet?
CM: We actually launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2014 on that premise. While we surpassed our $30K goal, we also realized that building a custom, automated sheet is prohibitive given our current scale and machinery. So, for now we’ve built multiple sheet options and hope that, as we grow, we can offer a custom option.
Now, there are 17 different sheets available that range in size, from small 1’x3’ herb and salad kits and 4’x8’ tomato and smoothie kits to a 10’x16’ ft sheet that has 312 plants and 12 different varieties. We call the latter our fridge filling kit—and we’ve done the leg work. Last summer, it fed our entire 20 person team and we never had to weed it once.
EM: Do you see Seedsheets being made large enough for commercial farming?
CM: We’re raising funds to make this possible, in addition to customizable sheets. We’re testing the commercial viability of Seedsheets on larger scales. The goal is to increase productivity by reducing time and labor needed on commercial farms to produce commercial quantities. Last week, a farmer planted 50 feet of cucumbers in 27 seconds.
EM: That’s impressive and enough to get even the busiest person growing their own food.
CM: Exactly. Our strategy is that with the four simple elements of sun, soil, water and Seedsheet, the barriers to starting your own garden are drastically reduced. If you have a rooftop, windowsill or fire escape, you can simply unroll a Seedsheet and enjoy the benefits of a garden without the burdens of gardening. In spring 2017, we plan to launch an app that correlates with your sheet. Since we’ll have your sheet’s information from your purchase, we can send weather based information and instruction all based on the day you planted your sheet, as well as tutorials on harvesting and recipes for what you’ve grown. It’ll be a one stop shop.
I think it’s really cool that technology is innovating the way we work with agriculture and giving more people opportunities to seamlessly grow their own food. A lot of tech products can tend to automate bad practices or overcomplicate things. Our aim is simple: unroll, water and enjoy the fruits of your labor, without any labor at all.