Facetime With Your Plants? Welcome To The Future Of Microfarming

SproutsIO, a simple system from students at the MIT Media Lab, lets you grow food indoors using your smartphone. You can water your plants (or Facetime with them) from 3,000 miles away.

What if you could grow your own strawberries indoors, year-round, even in the tiniest of urban apartments?


With the development of the indoor microfarming system SproutsIO, students at MIT Media Lab hope that homegrown fruits and vegetables could be the new norm. “Our hope is that it becomes a new kind of standard,” designer Jenny Broutin Farah, a grad student at MIT, tells Co.Design. “We’re not saying people are going to stop going to grocery stores or getting food delivered to their homes, but we’re interested in providing people with an alternative.”

You can’t really get more local than your own kitchen.

Currently on view as part of the 2014 Student Showcase at the the MIT Museum, SproutsIO uses a soil-free, or aeroponic, growing method that nurtures plants with nutrient-rich mist. It’s all controlled by a smartphone app, which means you can care for your sensor-equipped plants while you’re away from home. The process is as simple as tapping a touch screen. A camera even lets you effectively Facetime with your leafy greens if you want to check up on them.

“Right now, you go to a DIY hobby shop or hydroponic store, and then read 20 blogs to figure out how to jerry-rig a home-growing system that looks like its piecemeal parts came from Home Depot. It’s like this weird science project in your home,” Broutin says. “We wanted to make something where you don’t have to do all that legwork.” And they wanted to make it beautiful.

Broutin was motivated to develop SproutsIO in part because of the wastefulness inherent in the food industry. “There’s so little transparency in our food,” she says. “We don’t realize how much energy and resources are wasted in the process of growing, packaging, and transporting foods from farm to table.” SproutsIO short-circuits that process by making our homes the beginning and the end of the supply chain. It also conserves resources by using 98% less water and 60% less fertilizer than conventional methods. And in a year’s time, you can produce six times the harvest grown in soil.

In the year since SproutsIO was announced, Broutin has developed the product from a proof-of-concept prototype to a fully functioning system, currently undergoing beta testing. (Sign up to be a tester here; SproutsIO will be a commercial product in about a year.)


“A lot of the change that’s happened in the design over the past year has been focused on making it easier to use in your home,” Broutin says. “At first, we had a tiered system with multiple units in one area. Now, each SproutsIO can be located separately. You can have a unit growing basil in your kitchen, one in your bedroom, and a few on the windowsill. They can be distributed throughout your house,” Broutin explains. Conveniently, one app lets you control all of them.

Broutin also beautified the design–the pods in which food grows are no longer green but are a sleek white and silver. And now, the parts are dishwasher-safe and easier to take apart for cleaning.

Importantly, Broutin finds that being connected to your food by growing it yourself gives you a new a respect for what you eat. After all, she emphasizes, “You don’t want to waste something that you’ve nurtured from a tiny seedling to something you’re eating in your meal.”

About the author

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering art and design. Follow her on Twitter.