Meet the Team: Botany
Íko is designing plant machines, a new kind of home appliance that will enable you to grow culinary herbs, effortlessly. In the systems, we control the climate to create optimal environments for the plants to develop and thrive. As you can probably guess, we all love plants on our team. While some of us have expertise in design or engineering, our botany subteam would have to consist of real “plant people.” Maybe the president of the Cornell hydroponics club, or someone whose house is filled with plants, grow lights, and aquaponics all throughout. Well we have both. The truth is, our official botany team is not very large. In fact, it’s just one person, and his name is Ben Sword.
Ben is an extremely cultured individual: he has studied agriculture, horticulture, tissue culture, and floraculture. He’s a senior plant science major at Cornell University, the school that spearheaded controlled environment agriculture (CEA).
CEA is an intensive form of agriculture based in precision. Because when it comes to agriculture, precision is synonymous with sustainability. CEA uses hydroponics (soilless agriculture) and a controlled climate to make the most of water, energy, and space. It is a technology-based approach, and has been used increasingly in commercial settings. Íko has a vision of bringing “micro urban CEA” to the home.
For Íko, Ben has been utilizing the concept of CEA to conduct controlled experiments in the greenhouses on campus, as well as in the plant growth chambers. He has completed 8 full rounds of tests so far, which have analyzed the most favorable environments for plants pertaining to light, nutrition, and water.
One of the most interesting things Ben has been doing is stressing our plants in order to enhance their flavor. Plants react in certain ways to environmental stressors, such as increased sunlight or heat. Last week, we actually compared the same type of basil, grown in several different ways, with a team taste-test. Although the rest of us aren’t botanists, we were able to each distinguish the flavor-enhanced versions from the others. And the leftover basil leaves did not go to waste: instead, we turned them into a delicious, aromatic herbal tea.
Another botanical aspect we’ve been focusing on is the pod, the self-contained unit that holds the seeds and nutrients for the plants to grow. Right now, we have created pods that are clean and organic, and have filled them with solid, hydroponic media and nutrients. These enclosed pods contain the roots, and allow the plants to take up enough water and air to remain healthy and beautiful inside the system. Designed for a seamless user experience, Ben has been putting time and energy into developing a way to make the growing process as easy as possible, from seed to stir fry.
With a botanical team that is truly invested in plants, Íko has been able to devise the most efficient, wonderful way of growing high-quality, culinary herbs. It’s not an easy job, and at times a bit messy. But as Ben likes to say, “When the plants are happy, I’m happy.”
Note: All photography taken by Ben. Except the photo of Ben.