Hydroponic Tech Company HarvestSquared Looks to Make Farming Easy

Park City—As concerns about water usage grow, one new tech company is trying to sell the food industry on a solution: the modfarm. Steve Hough and Mike Motyka, co-founders of new hydroponic technology company HarvestSquared, are doing their best to make hydroponic farming a real option for food vendors, restaurants—even individuals—across the state.

The duo has recently finished building and cultivating a container farm to showcase their technology. The container farm, which they’ll be showing at an open house April 28, is a commercial-scale farm in a shipping container, using vertical hydroponics, LED horticultural lighting and climate controls. They started the project last year, but for Hough, who has a tech background, indoor farming has long been a passion.

“I’ve always been fascinated with hydroponics and indoor farming. Four years ago, I decided to build one in my house to see if I could do it,” Hough said. “I built a small system in a closet. My wife wasn’t too happy about it but she went along. I spent three years trying to figure out what type of things worked best—the right nutrient system to use, the right lighting, water, angles… there’s a lot of different calculation that goes into hydroponics that makes it a productive system.”

After figuring out his first farm, Hough decided to graduate to a shipping container, to see if his system would flourish as well there. He says it’s been a learning process, but that the system has been incredibly productive. The shipping container can, he says, harvest 2,000 to 3,000 plants a month—around 3,600 for quick producers like lettuce, or between 2,000 to 2,500 for basil—while using only 10 percent of the water of traditional farming. The best growers so far have been various types of lettuce, watercress, chard as well as herbs.

While hydroponic farming (or farming without using soil) isn’t a new technology, Hough says that HarvestSquared offers a full solution for would-be farmers, using less water because of its vertical, circular format.

“It’s basically a reservoir and a pump inside that reservoir and all your water is stored there,” he said. “The pump pumps the water up inside these channels where the plants are, and the water runs inside these channels and then back into the reservoirs. It’s a closed circuit system. The water flows as a thin film at the bottom of a channel. There are holes in the channels and the plant’s roots are in that hole and they make contact with the water. The roots grow inside the channel—and the plant grows as well.”

The reservoirs in the HarvestSquared system have sensors in them for air, temperature and humidity, said Hough. All of the variables are connected to an app he wrote, currently on Android but the iOS version is under construction.

“We have a couple of cameras and you can monitor your farm and check out the environment and make sure everything’s in order. You can set limits, min-maxes to all your variables,” said Hough. “If it breeches any of those, it sends you a notification. It’ll let you know if it’s too cold or hot or the water level is too low.”

That way, farmers can go on vacation or get a good night’s sleep with the knowledge that everything is going smoothly back at the ranch, so to speak. Hough is also working on a container system that will dose the reservoirs with nutrients or fix the pH of the water based on a user’s target values. “We’re trying to configure it in a way to maximize the amount of produce you can grow in the container,” he said.

The container farm HarvestSquared currently has is a standard 40-foot size, but Hough said the design of the farm and the tech is scalable according to the needs of the customer. He said HarvestSquared is hoping to sell their technology to food vendors, hotels, universities, even the military or communities who might want a neighborhood farm.

“There’s such a short growing season that farms only last four months out of the year, but with these, you can farm year round. We don’t want to focus on a one product that we offer. We feel like we know enough about farming that we could do farm walls—those are very popular inside or outside. We just want to showcase the technology,” said Hough. “We want to let everyone know that we’re open to any type of scale with this type of technology. People think farming is too hard and shy away from it. But most people would be surprised to find out how easy it is, as long as you know you’re using the right tools and the right

. We want people to know that farming is easy. We’ve done the research. Anyone can do this, as long as they stick to the task. They can farm as well as we can.”