Grow Mobile puts aeroponics on wheels

You may have seen Ed Kepler’s aeroponics trailer on display at the Linden Hills Farmers Market — or in his East Harriet driveway. It’s a greenhouse on wheels, with the roots suspended in air, sustained by a nutrient misting system.

“I like to say there are two of these that exist. One is at MIT, and one is in my driveway,” he said.

Kepler explained that aeroponics was invented by NASA to grow food in space. He started designing his own “growmobile” in 2014. Eight towers inside the trailer feature 500 growth sites, and the barrels are wrapped in reflective material and outfitted with grow lights.

When Kepler started designing the growmobile, the venture seemed like a crazy idea. But today it’s getting some high-level attention. Kepler has briefed Target executives on his progress, and he once took a call from the White House while he was at Winston’s Barbershop in Uptown. (White House staff wanted to talk about new farming technology, he said.)

Grow Mobile 2Kepler hasn’t sold any produce out of the trailer, and he’s currently growing as a hobby.

“Just to prove it can be done,” he said.

But he envisions a time when online orders for tomatoes or basil lead to a fresh delivery from the trailer.

For Kepler, aeroponics is part of the movement toward growing healthy, local food.

“We want very cheap produce, yet we ship it in from Brazil,” he said.

Kepler is also beta testing the “Growphone,” which automates the work of misting nutrients onto the roots. He’s installed sensors in the trailer that can send information to his phone, detailing data like the pH level, temperature and humidity, with the capability for remote adjustments.

“I want to be able to do that from anywhere,” he said. “The goal is not necessarily to be a farmer, but to automate it.”