“If you could grow your own food, it was easy, sustainable, and saved you money, why wouldn’t you do it?” asks Jean-Paul Kyrillos. He’s the cofounder of Farmshelf, a bright new startup that is attempting to bring the farm to your table in the most direct manner possible—with an automated hydroponic growing system that might eventually become as ubiquitous as a refrigerator. It’s an immense network of tech—an internet-connected system of water sensors, air sensors and cameras (“facial recognition for plants”) controls the water, the airflow and the dose of nutrients—that can be monitored from an app. “It’s a piece of furniture, it’s an appliance, it’s technology and it’s alive,” says Kyrillos. “It’s a lot of moving parts.”
Farmshelf has a classic co-founder story: Andrew Shearer was working in ad tech at Twitter and Pinterest. He looked into growing his own food and realized that, although there were other players in the market, none were making it easy. He assembled a team: Nick Donald, Suma Reddy and Kyrillos, whose background includes stints as publisher of Food & Wine and Travel + Leisure, and plenty of experience working with restaurateurs. As the prototype began to coalesce, Kyrillos sought out chefs willing to test the system and found an immediate, eager audience among some of the industry’s top names, including Washington, D.C.’s José Andrés and New York’s Marcus Samuelsson. “These celeb chefs, they’re a hard group to please—they’re not going to throw just anything in their dining rooms,” he says. “It’s been gratifying to see that we’re checking all the boxes for them, from taste profiles to aesthetics.”
So when will the Farmshelf hit the home scene? Though renderings exist, Kyrillos says it will be another 18 months of R&D before Farmshelf is ready to roll out units for consumers. With their second round of prototypes deployed—you can see them in action at Great Northern Food Hall in Grand Central Station or at Chef’s Club, both in New York—Farmshelf’s focus now is on ease of use: perfecting trays to drain when you lift out a shelf, for example, and fine-tuning the machine so that it only needs 20 minutes of maintenance each week.
“We want to be the biggest farm in the world that doesn’t own a single piece of farmland,” says Kyrillos.