Anchorage entrepreneur tests personalized hydroponic cabinets

Published: Sep. 5, 2017 at 7:17 PM AKDT
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As the short farming season wraps up across Alaska, an Anchorage entrepreneur is working to develop a portable hydroponic system to more widely grow fresh vegetables and herbs in homes, businesses, and schools year-round.

Vertical Harvest Hydroponics is testing a prototype of a self-containing hydroponic cabinet. It can grow about 60 plants at a time within the dimensions of a large bookcase, powered completely by a single electrical outlet.

“Lettuces, herbs, kale, all the culinary herbs do very well,” said Vertical Harvest founder Dan Perpich.

Vertical Harvest is an Anchorage-based business known for selling and shipping self-contained hydroponic conexes into rural Alaska villages, providing fresh veggies to regions of the state dependent on shipments of produce from hundreds of miles away.

Perpich said since he launched the conex hydroponic gardens, interest from consumers caused him to begin development of a smaller system geared towards personalized use.

“‘Do you have something I can put in my garage or something I can put in my kitchen or living room or in the classroom?’” said Perpich, explaining what he describes as frequent inquiries into smaller hydroponic designs. “I thought well, if people keep asking for them, maybe we should give it to them.”

There are only four prototypes of the cabinet hydroponic systems in existence. One of them is on display as an exhibit at the Anchorage Museum.

“The museum’s been kind enough to partner with us during the beta testing, so we've given them this system for a period of time, and they're giving us their feedback on it,” said Perpich.

Museum curator of science and innovation Erin Marbarger said the cabinet hydroponic system is the beginning of what she hopes to be increased cooperation between local entrepreneurs and museum researchers.

“I think it's a great fit for the museum to really highlight the science that's happening in our state,” said Marbarger. “[It’s] an opportunity for us to do science at the museum, to prototype, to collect data, to learn about how people are living innovatively in the north.”

If the beta testing is successful, Perpich said the cabinets could further give Alaskans the tools to perpetually grow greens long past the first frost of the fall season.

“If you can offer a means to grow your own food at a cheaper cost, why wouldn't you do that?” said Perpich.

The hydroponic systems are not for sale yet. Vertical Harvest is currently gauging product viability and consumer interest in Alaska.