A company called Smallhold is changing how restaurants procure produce. They've developed a hydroponic system that can be installed to suit most kitchen spaces, or even as an aesthetic addition to the dining room. Inside these glowing blue shelves are mushrooms, whose health and growth is monitored by technology at Smallhold's headquarters. Vogue interviewed the company's founders, Andrew Carter and Adam DeMartino.
Carter and DeMartino are based in Brooklyn, in a deliberately urban environment. They're interested in changing the supply chain for cities and believe they can start a movement towards sustainable food production that eliminates some of the issues associated with transport. After meeting as roommates in college, they went their separate ways. Carter started experimenting with growing mushrooms in basements and other spaces he could find in the city. He started building out a shipping container as a larger mushroom farm; after showing his work to DeMartino, they decided to go into business together.
The "hardware" of the mushroom grow boxes, or "fruit chambers," are just one part of the equation. Temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide levels, airflow, and light exposure are all monitored with sensors and tiny cameras inside. Smallhold can check in to see how their shrooms are doing from their laptop anywhere, which makes it easier on the restaurants where they're installed. No one has to become a champion mushroom farmer overnight.
Even the material the mushrooms grow in is sustainable. It's a substrate made from recycled materials, like sawdust, coffee grounds, or wheat berries. The mushrooms mature in a Smallhold facility before being brought to their new home in a restaurant's fruit chamber. A few days later, the guys come by and help with the harvest. Mushrooms have a relatively short shelf life after they're harvested, so making their transport part of their growth cycle means having the freshest product possible at hand.
Danny Bowien is the chef and owner of Mission Chinese Food, which proudly features a fruit chamber. Having so many fresh mushrooms to hand has even changed his menu. He now has a mushroom jerky option to top fried rice—before it was beef. That probably makes local vegans happy, and the fruit chamber itself has become part of the restaurant's look.
“A lot of people think it is art,” said Bowien. “It doesn’t look like anything you’d see in any other Chinese restaurant.”
Smallhold is a great example of how hydroponic growing can be incorporated into every meal; according to their website, they've also started to offer fresh greens and herbs as part of their mini-farms. Soon, indoor farms could be adding flavor to every dish.