Some turning to hydroponics during outbreak to grow produce, reduce trips to grocery

Posted at 3:02 PM, Apr 17, 2020

CHICAGO, Ill. – The shutdown is putting the squeeze on many businesses. But some consumers looking to reduce trips to the grocery store are causing a boom in the hydroponic kit business.

It’s a simple concept. Limit exposure by growing vegetables at home.

For New York professors Meg Urban and Jason Dilworth, reducing their carbon footprint has long been a goal.

“We have a limited space. We can't do the victory garden or sort of other things, but we can grow those sorts of basic necessities,” said Dilworth.

But the coronavirus shutdown accelerated their plans to buy a home hydroponic gardening kit.

“We wanted to set ourselves up, so we were more self-sufficient and didn't have to go to the grocery store, didn't have to go out into the community,” said Urban.

“There are no clinically confirmed cases of COVID-19 linked to the consumption of fresh produce or food sold through traditional retail outlets,” according to the United Fresh Produce Association.

They do encourage everyone to follow FDA guidelines when washing and preparing produce, though.

Still, eating uncooked vegetables that have passed through multiple hands is causing uneasiness for some consumers like Julie Carrigan.

“Just the anxiety and worry about what's on my produce that I don't cook,” said Carrigan.

It’s part of why she recently invested in a hydroponic garden.

“Just knowing like it's one touch. I planted the seeds. It grew in my house,” said Carrigan. “I don't need to worry about washing it again.”

Some of that peace of mind is driving a boom in home hydroponic system sales.

Hank Adams is the founder and CEO of Rise Gardens, an Illinois-based company that makes and sells indoor smart garden kits that can fit comfortably inside a home or apartment.

“We give you an app you download it and then every time you plant something, you tell us what you planted and what slot you planted it in and then we'll track that,” said Adams.

The company sells a multi-tiered system for about $550. Sales have skyrocketed, up 300 percent in March and 650 percent so far in April.

“We are struggling to keep up with demand,” said Adams.

But Adams says they’re lucky that supply chains have not been disrupted.

For many, Like Urban and Dilworth, it’s also another way to protect vulnerable populations.

“Those fewer trips meant we would eliminate a potential vector for the virus to travel.”