In 2012 Team Green Towers won Penn State’s annual Ag Springboard competition with an urban agricultural concept that has since led to innovative ideas and products to promote urban farming.
Green Towers’ winning idea — repurpose shipping containers into hydroponic greenhouses that could be used in small spaces — earned the team a $5,000 award, which it used to develop a prototype.
Production problems, however, prevented the product from being completed, according to Dustin Betz, president of Green Towers.
“Through a trial-and-error process, we found out it would be difficult to mass produce the product,” Betz said. “But we wanted to stick to our guiding mission, which is to use the power of design to change the relationship between people and their food.”
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With that mission and evolving ideas, Betz, along with founding partners Jon Gumble and Mike Zaengle, officially formed Green Towers LLC in 2014. Almost two years later, the small business is focused on three products, which are sold on the company’s website, greentowersusa.com.
The first is the Living Table. The design incorporates an aquaponics system in a piece of functional furniture. The top of the table has a built-in tray of soil that is used to grow micro-greens and herbs, which can be purchased from the company. The aquaponics system waters the plants, allowing the owner to plug in the unit and watch the food grow.
The table is built from solid Pennsylvania cherry wood and is custom-made by Rountree Furniture in Warriors Mark.
Green Towers also developed an indoor honeybee hive called the Beecosystem. The wooden unit, which can be mounted on a wall, has a glass front that displays the bees and their work. Clear plastic tubing running from the hive to an adapter mounted on a window allows the bees to come and go.
But since the hive is delivered with thousands of bees inside, Betz offered a word of caution.
“To be a beekeeper you must be a steward of the colonies you have and you need to do it responsibly,” he said. “Our ideal customer is already a beekeeper and wants to display the unit in a high-traffic area to inspire younger generations.”
Green Towers’ newest product, the Garden Box, is its best-seller. For a monthly fee of $35, customers receive two trays of planted micro-greens and herbs that can grow almost anywhere indoors. The trays are recyclable and the product is produced and packaged in the United States.
A little water and sun yield greens in 10 to14 days. Available varieties include dill, radish, mustard, kohlrabi, Chinese cabbage and micro-beets.
Mary Watson, of Pennsylvania Furnace, is a long-running subscriber. She said she finds the boxes easy to use and enjoys growing her favorite green, Chinese cabbage, any time of the year.
“I especially enjoy doing it in the winter,” Watson said. “The boxes are convenient and require very little maintenance, and I harvest about every other day when I have a new crop.”
For a bigger harvest, the company developed the Green Tower Vertical Farm. The system allows for multiple Garden Box trays to be stacked vertically in a small space. The trays are rotated for equal light exposure and a steady supply of greens and herbs. The tower is custom-built to fit individual spaces. A Green Tower Vertical Farm is used at Spats Cafe and Speakeasy in State College.
“We want to make it as easy as humanly possible for people to grow their own greens,” Betz said. “But ultimately we want to use design to cultivate a community of people who think about and understand where their food comes from.”
Leon Valsechi is a Penn State journalism student.