Rethinking Urban Agriculture: Empowering Consumers Through the Pursuit of ‘Food Freedom’

Scheduled for: November 10th, 2021, 12:00 pm PT / Category: Interviews

Can urban agriculture be used to relocalize food production by upskilling consumers growing knowledge?

Clifton Hartsuff is co-founder and CEO of Plant3r, a self-described company of plant nerds. The company’s mission is to lower the barriers for new gardeners starting out to the lowest possible level and trigger a food freedom renaissance in urban areas around the world. If you’ve always wanted to get started growing your own food and weren’t sure how to begin then Plant3r is for you!

He has 6 years of business development experience focused on B2B enterprise SAAS sales. Prior to his sales career, he worked in patents for 5 years as a patent paralegal, an experience that has proven invaluable since he started growing at Plant3r.

Podcast

Transcript

Tullio Siragusa:
Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of dojo live today is Wednesday, November 10th, 2021. I’m Tullio surrogacy broadcasting from Southern California. And joining me today are Kim Lantus and him we’ll see a Mexico and Carlos bumps in Cordova, Mexico. Hey guys. Welcome back to the show. Our guest today is Clifton hearts suf. Who’s the co-founder and CEO at planter would a three. Welcome to the show Clifton. I know you’re a broadcasting from Washington DC. It’s good to have you with us.

Clifton Hartsuff:
Thank you so much.

Tullio Siragusa:
So we’re going to be talking about agriculture today, but I could cultural tech. That’s what we’re going to talk about today. But before we unpack the conversation and introduce the topic for today’s show, let’s get to know our guests a little bit and Clifton, if you could just tell us a little bit about yourself, but your background and then we’ll, we’ll find out what planters is all about. Thank you for joining us.

Clifton Hartsuff:
Sure. Yeah, I’m very excited to be here on dojo alive. So the arc of my professional career really spans a couple of different areas. I started off by going to school with international relations degree. After that I worked in intellectual property law for about five years. Honestly, I got extremely bored by that. I just fled at some point and went somewhere else, looking for more interesting work, spent a few years, doing whatever I could try and just trying new areas. Uh, until eventually I stumbled into business development, which I’ve been doing for the past six years or so around two years ago, I began working on planter. So planter is really a culmination of all of these different experiences and my personal passion for growing, um, put into the world and, um, hopefully with a really positive outcome.

Tullio Siragusa:
Great, excellent, good to have you with us. So tell us about planter. What what’s the company all about? What do you guys do?

Clifton Hartsuff:
Sure. So we’re, we’re in the consumer ag tech space. Our goal is to promote food freedom in urban areas, urban suburban areas. We could can say generally speaking. And the reason we were founded is we noticed that there, there is a knowledge, skills and technical gap for people that are in an urban space, but want to grow their own food. You’ve got options and different from different areas, usually requiring hours of research, but we want it to be that go-to source for, for someone who’s just starting out and wants to grow their own food and give them the confidence to scale up. And then eventually, hopefully down the line to even become, say an urban farmer.

Tullio Siragusa:
Very interesting. I love it. Okay. So let’s see what we can learn today. Would love to understand why people would want to do this. Uh, it seems like we have a convenient, uh, supply chain in place right now, but before we do, let’s introduce the topic and see what we can learn. Kim, do you mind please? Thank you.

Kimberly Lantis:
Sure. Thank you too. And thank you for being here today. Clifton, the topic for today’s talk as chosen by you is rethinking urban agriculture and empowering consumers through the pursuit of food freedom. And the question we want to answer is can urban agriculture be used to relocate wise through production by upskilling upskilling, not upscaling upskilling consumers growing. So as we kick off Clifton, why did you choose this topic? Why is this relevant for today?

Clifton Hartsuff:
Sure. Thanks Kim. So the reason that’s relevant today is after the disruptions of the pandemic, people began to intuitively realize that their food supply is not as stable as what they thought it was. Uh, previously it was, it was not uncommon to have within many major cities to have five or six days of supply of food. And we saw as the pandemic rolled out that that we reached the limit of those supply chains and there were breaks. So that’s one, one reason. The other reason is that people have having spent so much time in their, in their home. They’re beginning to realize that their home is a pretty amazing place to be. And they’d like to make it even more amazing through investments and growing your own food is a significant investment in family, in health, in this space you’re living in. It’s great for, for myriad reasons. Really.

Kimberly Lantis:
Very cool. So let’s just have a bit further into this word of food. Freedom. I think I get what that means, but what, what’s your definition of food? Freedom.

Clifton Hartsuff:
Yeah. So as, as we define it, food freedom is having the ability to produce your own food. At some level, it could be as simple as growing cilantro in a pot on, on, uh, on your window sill or maybe using a hydroponic system to replace almost all of your veggie needs. Uh, but, but essentially getting some of that food freedom, knowing exactly where your food is going to come from a, we believe is an important thing right now and will increasingly be in the future for consumers.

Tullio Siragusa:
So Clifton, can we just maybe rewind a little bit and paint the picture for us as to why would this number one view of interest to people, to what’s driving this movement as something that’s going to be more relevant in the future and how does it impact people in urban settings who don’t necessarily have a lot of space, but perhaps maybe paint the picture of the history of how it, how did we get here and why is it important to kind of, you know, we used to grow crops, you know, thousands of years ago, then the industry

Kimberly Lantis:
[inaudible]

Tullio Siragusa:
The agricultural age lasted like, uh, several thousand years. And then we moved into the industrial agents on. So what’s the thinking and what’s causing this, this Renaissance, if you will, to grow your own crops, what what’s it called?

Clifton Hartsuff:
Uh, yeah, so there there’s a convergence of a few different areas. The first one is, is the technology. We have more technology in more areas and more ways of growing our own food than we ever did before. Hydroponics is a great example of that. Um, the other, another trend we could call like an overarching trend is that people are really interested in where their food comes from and the quality of their food. It’s no longer enough to just walk into a grocery store and buy a head of lettuce. People have became now are, are, or scrutinizing where these, the origin of these vegetables. And they’re realizing that a 10,000 mile supply line just doesn’t suit their health. Uh, and the third thing is, uh, it’s, it’s obvious based on, on many international studies that the future of food is probably human grown, uh, human grown at the human level. We’ve reached the end of the, what we can do with industrialization. Uh, there’s some automation that can fill in the gaps, but most people in the world, certainly in the developing world, they’re still growing their own food. So there’s a lot of efficiencies that we can, we can build into a system going forward by understanding more about how to do it in, in our urban space, in a dwell in the developed world.

Carlos Ponce:
Clifton, this inevitably brings me back to, uh, something that I’ve seen in the tech world, which is bar code traceability. So where do you see this technology that in to, into what planter is doing, if applicable, of course, I’m just, you know, taking wild guests here, but, but I see this, you know, I just take an apple, you see the barcode in there. So do you see like some convergence with barcode traceability technology?

Clifton Hartsuff:
It’s certainly, yeah. Being able to trace food across the supply chain is really important. Um, farmer’s markets are a great example of that. There’s a large number of people that just want to know where their produce is coming from. So they’re paying enormous premiums on the prices for it. Uh, the, the advent of blockchain technology could potentially be a really good source for being able to trace these things. Uh, but I think that, that the main driver is just going to be, um, getting closer to the, the source of the food. That’s going to be a big driver for a lot of these things. Um, eventually we’ll have scanning technology that will, those will be deployed in order to allow you to scan your food, even with just regular cameras and get a sense of what’s the nutrient density of it is, is it coated with any kinds of chemicals that you may not want to ingest into your body?

Um, but that that’s, uh, that’s a hard science and material science problem that will I’m, I’m betting will probably solve it by the end of the decade. Um, to answer your question regarding planter, uh, we’re, we’re kind of early stage in that we’re getting people to think about these things and how to do more for themselves. Um, so probably somewhere towards the end of the decade, we’ll, we’ll be in a place where we can actually, we can actually provide more guidance for people in identifying. Um, so for example, like identifying good things in there, um, good things or bad things in their food,

Kimberly Lantis:
Right? So let’s see the majority of us are sold. Okay. Um, my influence comes from watching TV shows like the walking dead and realizing that if we enter an apocalypse, I’m screwed like most. TuOkay. Um, I really did not have a green thumb. My thumb is relatively black, unfortunately. So what does planter do? How can you help me? I live in a city. I did not have much land at my disposal. How does your tech work? What do you do to help your users?

Clifton Hartsuff:
Sure. So our overarching goal is to take people from zero and give them the confidence to grow more each year, progressively over the end of the, over the course of their life, essentially. So what we do first is our virtual assistant that allows you to design a garden up, uh, pick the size of your space, get your category, choose, choose the plants you want to grow. And then crucially, we provide the weekly maintenance that you’ll need for that activity over the course of the growing season. So our method is to just give you the instructions you need when you need it. Your, you don’t need to read a bunch of books or spend hours on a Facebook group. We’re just going to show it to you right then. So when you go out to your garden, say like a Saturday morning or a Sunday, then we’ll have a list of your activities that you’ll need to do.

Clifton Hartsuff:
You check all of those off, and then you go, you know, go watch Netflix, whatever, whatever the other thing you might need. So it’s about providing the right information at the right time, which is really the promise of information technology. Um, we also have a hydroponic system that is, um, it’s, it’s pretty neat. It’s, it’s a vertical hanging one. So you can hang it indoors with, with led lights on both sides of it grow year round, you can hang it outside, uh, off of a balcony. It’s extremely flexible. And it’s, I have not seen a system that is so easy to use and yet can grow such large amounts of, of produce for a family or for, for an individual up until now.

Tullio Siragusa:
So, yeah, it’s, it’s very interesting. I know I’ve heard of a hydroponic system where in a trailer you can grow crops right. In a big urban city center and deliver to a grocer. That’s literally miles away set up hundreds of miles away. And it’s a pretty interesting technology that I think came out of the cannabis market, right. So that was kind of like the discovery, but then they discovered you can grow other things other than cannabis using hydroponic technology. So what’s the thought around this idea that, you know, let’s say someone has a little more space and gets a little more of a green thumb than others and has an excess amount of, of food will the platform enable to do, uh, community sharing or community trading? What’s the thinking longer term in terms of enabling us to barter or, or buy and sell from each other in the neighborhood?

Clifton Hartsuff:
Yeah, that’s certainly a part of the greater vision. Um, once, once we get over the hurdle, the massive hurdle of getting people from zero to planting, uh, then we’ll have the ability to, to say, okay, well, you’ve achieved a hundred percent of your food freedom, and you’ve got 20% left over. Now we can use those resources and begin to share with other people or tr or trade or barter, as you mentioned before, it’s certainly within the roadmap, but, but we have a lot of, uh, we have a long development process to get people from the zero to two, their, their level of, of information that they need to grow. So it it’s, it’s going to be awhile. I don’t know exactly. It’s, it’s hard for me to predict because we’re still building the machine that will be able to help people do that. Um, once we have it together, then we’ll, we’ll actually have a really good sense of it. Hmm.

Carlos Ponce:
But can, can you, uh, I love, I was looking at your website. Can you elaborate a little bit on what smart hand tool is? Okay.

Clifton Hartsuff:
Yeah, sure. So that’s, that’s a little bit more and under our R and D um, but it, it was originally designed to be an assistive technology for the gardening space. It’s essentially, it looks like a gun, and then I know what you’re thinking. Oh, great. You re you revolutionize the world by creating a new gun, but this particular gun is capable of planting life in the soil. And it does it in a way that allows you to stand up, right, drill down. Uh, you pull the trigger and you plant seeds. And also because it, it has an auger based, uh, planting system that will also permit you to do weeding vertically as well. So it’s still under MVP where we’re taking as much, as many as much feedback as we can. Um, but the primary thing it does is it allows people that have some mobility issues or who just simply have trouble touching the ground. It gets them out planting and weeding, which is a, it’s a huge, a huge, um, that’s a, that’s a huge positive for a lot of people as they grow older and they still want to do these kinds of activities. Yeah,

Carlos Ponce:
Of course.

Tullio Siragusa:
It sounds fun. Sounds fun too. You can get, you can get trigger, happy and plant a bunch of seed, you know, a plant the whole garden,

Kimberly Lantis:
And even kids would really respond well to that as well. Like, you know, the older people might need it, but the kids want it, I suppose. Uh, so let’s go back to this like ground zero thing. Um, how, what is required of someone? Like how easy is it for me to acquire what I need to get my mini garden started? And I guess, yeah, let’s, let’s kind of stop start there. Like material-wise, cost-wise how accessible is gardening really

Clifton Hartsuff:
[inaudible] so the good news is nature really doesn’t waste anything. Waste is a, is a human enterprise. We’ve become really good at it, but in nature, we have something called composting, which allows you to take the resources that are out there, break them down and then put them into a new form, which can be consumed by plants and grown again. So the most efficient way of growing your own garden is to do some form of composting and to use seeds that you get in the grocery store or any of the produce that you’re already buying. And just grow those again. So your tomatoes or cucumbers do really well with that. Uh, you can route from other vegetables. So for example, like cilantros in a, water-based like a hydroponic system. You could route those again and then grow. They would grow again. Um, so those techniques are really, really efficient and actually really cheap, but the main, the main, uh, cost almost for the entire enterprise of growing your own food is the fertilizer and the compost. If you can crack how to, how to reuse your resources and generate your own compost, uh, which is easy to do by the way. But if you can do that consistently, then you can grow a lot on your own at very, very low cost.

Kimberly Lantis:
Very cool. No, does your, I’m sorry. Forget, like, you’re the tool that you utilize for me has a name when I totally spaced it. What is your, you’re calling it your, what is it called? The,

Clifton Hartsuff:
The planting tool or the software, um, which, which one,

Kimberly Lantis:
The tool that I would use the software find it. What types of factors do you take into consideration? Um, so obviously what my space and what I want to grow, but are we also getting into the complexity of the environment around me? Like the time of the year, for example, I live in the Sonoran desert in a very hot dry, uh, and in addition to growing my own food, I would want to be water conscious, right. Of like what’s best, what’s sustainable where I am not just, can I grow it? Have we reached that level?

Clifton Hartsuff:
Um, that’s the beauty hydroponic. Yes. Hydroponics is a great place. That’s a great solution for where you are very water efficient. And also, um, you, you kinda, you keep it out of the elements. So you’re able to control for, for evaporation diseases passed those sorts of things. Uh, so, so generally speaking, yes, we, we do have a sense of what you would, what you can grow at what times, but we have not deployed the entire imp, uh, information technology infrastructure to really get granular down to the point where we know that you’re in the Sonoran desert. And even with maybe you’re behind a, you’re behind a mountain or you’re in a valley, uh, eventually we’ll be able to, to control those variables down and get you very, very specific results and suggestions at the moment. It’s more, it’s more based on the same time cycles we would have done at generations ago. It’s springtime. It’s more likely to rain at this time of year across the entire super region that you’re in and that’s it. Um, but we, we, our goal is, is to really help people be successful. So as we have more and more information, technology will be able to help with more and more granular details and instructions

Carlos Ponce:
Could, I could see, I could see how Matt Damon in the Martian can have benefit from this technology from, from planter. Definitely. Would’ve saved a lot of, yeah. A lot of, a lot of headaches. So, yeah. Sorry, I’m sorry.

Tullio Siragusa:
Just curious to find out where are you seeing, uh, more traction here in the states or abroad? Like for example, even Europe has a bigger history for growing their own crops for a long time. I’m a son of a farmer growing up in Europe. It’s just common to do that. Right. Um, but so it is here too in smaller towns and more rural areas, but I’m curious as it relates to, for example, a lot of people not, don’t just want to know where it came from, but also they went on to the type of seed. Some people are very, not in favor of GMO, for example, which is outlawed in most countries except here in the states. Uh, so is that platform going to facilitate in terms of, you know, where to source for things like seeds as well, because that’s become more and more difficult in recent years as big farmer, big farm, I’m sorry, big agriculture. I sort of become like big pharma in a way. Uh, what are your thoughts on that?

Clifton Hartsuff:
Sure. So the more, the nice thing about it is if you move away from the enormous, the non-organic, so moving away from genetically modified organisms, those are a product of the industrial farming age. If you’re, if you’re growing on a human scale, you don’t need the things that they’re providing. It’s not useful for us. So as we get more and more people into the growing process, then we can take advantage of say cloning with. And when I say cloning, I mean, growing your own seeds, essentially, because that’s what it is. Uh, and so we’ll have, we’ll be able to raise a new generation of people to grow this, grow seeds, grow plants, and then grow more seeds and up to, and including pro perhaps generating lots of new varieties that weren’t out there. Uh, anecdotally I can say that, um, as we’ve, as we’ve been looking at expanding our hydroponic system, we have been limited to container sized plants.

Uh, so these, these are plants with very small root systems and they may be about this big, it can be larger. So in our research, we’ve discovered that there’s, there’s actually a lot of great plant growers out there. And so, uh, we found sources for seeds of tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes that all grow in containers about this large wow. Dozens of them. And it’s very easy to, so those, those are possible to grow in, in any urban space and they wouldn’t be super prolific, but they would provide a wide variety of tastes that people aren’t aware of yet. So, so there’s a lot of good things that can happen.

Tullio Siragusa:
I could see in that I’d love to get a five bedroom house, but there’s only four of you. Well, we need one to BI hydroponic growing a room for food. Sure. Why not? Right. Why not?

Kimberly Lantis:
Cool. What about coming to my rescue? So you make it easy for us as a user. Like, have you wanted your cilantro today? Um, but what about my plant? Doesn’t look happy. Uh, the soil is this color. I see this other thing growing, it’s turning brown. Are you able to help with this kind of Q and a rescue mission?

Clifton Hartsuff:
Yes. Yeah, absolutely. So initially it’s just going to be the people at planter who have experienced and growing, uh, we’re going to be troubleshooting. So we’ll be there essentially to help you live when you have trouble, uh, going forward. There there’s a large amount of visual data, um, from the industrial machine, uh, agricultural machines that they are able to scan for nutrient deficiencies water problems, whether or not something the plane is under attack by, by one type of malady or another. So we’ll be able to start using that, that visual data and provide the information and, you know, in the moment, um, but given our present scale, it’s, it’s probably going to be a human helping, and that’s pretty normal for these kinds of activities. It’s at the moment anyways.

Tullio Siragusa:
So is there a plan to initially sort of gamify this a little bit? Let me give you a little context around that. I have a friend who, uh, started this, uh, company called Vino, I think, where they used your saliva and through your DNA can match up to like the perfect wine for you. And I’m this, guy’s the next CEO of like a life sciences company that got acquired by GM. Like, couldn’t you use that for like diet purposes, like something bigger than wine to choose. And it was like, well, that’s the initial plan is to get people excited about something fun about the wine, but then introduce other things like that. So I’m thinking, um, I mean, what’s the plan on how you can promote this? Like I could just imagine someone being able to grow the perfect grape and make their own wine, for example. I mean, that could be fun for some people as a way to get them started, how you get people started in this who don’t have a green thumb, or like, I have no clue how to get started. Is there a plan to get them with something maybe that excites them? What’s your thinking there?

Clifton Hartsuff:
Yeah. Um, the short answer that is, is essentially an Instagrammable gardening, uh, shareable gardening. So being able to capture what’s going on in your space, your, your growing space digitize that and share it with other people. That’s, that’s the short answer in the future that that could possibly include AR and, um, and a lot of gamification elements, but lots of stuff to build before we get there. So initially it’s just, Hey, look what I’m building. Here’s a picture. Here’s something digital you can share with other people. And that would be really beneficial.

Tullio Siragusa:
Sounds like it could be a good feature for the metaverse from our circuit board

Carlos Ponce:
Clifton we’re approaching the final segment of today’s conversation. And I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t, I would not want to end that without asking you specifically about planter and, and what drives you, uh, at the cultural level. So what is it can be like, it’ll say that, um, you were to really great talent to come work for you or with you, what would you say to these people that would definitely make them want to come work for you? What does a company like?

Clifton Hartsuff:
Sure. So we’re absolutely a company, a plant nerds. Uh, other people have told us that, and we, we wear that, that as a badge of honor. Um, but I would say that we’re inherently curious in providing the resources needed for people to grow more of whatever it might be. Uh, most for most of the world growing plants is still a human endeavor. It’s not a machine. It’s not going to be a, it’s not going to be drone driven. It’s still going to be a person that takes the care to put something into the soil, however that might be. And, um, so we’re looking to enable that going forward.

Carlos Ponce:
Great. Thank you so much, Clifton. Okay. Back to you guys,

Tullio Siragusa:
Just curious where we’re up on time. We wanted to wrap up what’s. I mean, what prompted you to go down this path for this particular, uh, initiative? Was there a vision you have for the future of shared a little bit of that, but I’m just curious of what your thinking is. What would the world look like? Fast-forward in 20 years according to planter?

Clifton Hartsuff:
So I was in, I was inspired when I, I wanted to start gardening. I didn’t know how to do it. And I kind of came at it from like a first principles, uh, process. Like you’ve probably heard Elon Musk talks a lot about it. If I break all the pieces down, how do I do it? How can I do it in the cheapest possible way? So I got to composting. And then from there, I thought this is actually quite simple. We have information technology to guide us for things. And also a large number of negative we’re reinforcing negative habits. Can we reinforce a positive habit using this? And so planting, being one of them, uh, what I chose to focus on, what, what I see the future, like in an ideal future, in a planter where planters very successful in that world would look like some form of guidance, always.

Clifton Hartsuff:
So no matter where you are on the planet, we would be able to guide you through a successful season based on the size of your space. So we can just tell you, you tell us the resources and we’ll guide you how to be successful no matter what. So is that some kind of exotic seeds that you’ve never heard of or growing in, in strange ways that maybe no one’s discovered yet it could include those. Um, but I can say that there’s, there’s a few billion people left on the planet that are going to be planting and harvesting by hand. And my, I hope that the, that, that our work in the developed world will pro will provide the benefits that will follow out to them and empower them as well. Um, but ultimately that’s been the course of human technology.

Tullio Siragusa:
Brilliant. Yeah. I could see the value of that in underdeveloped countries, for example, where, where the cost of, of everything it’s just impossible. So this sounds like something that could actually be a real value there as well. Well, it’s great to have had you as a guest, we’re up on time. Uh, we hope that that people take this to heart. You know, as a son of a farmer, I I’ve always had a bit of a green thumb and you kind of take it for granted. Sometimes the, uh, you just go to a store and you get your stuff, or you order from Instacart or fresh or whatever, you don’t even have to worry about it. But, you know, there’s nothing like doing something and growing it yourself and seeing it grow and eating it. And like, I grew these cucumbers or these zucchini or these tomatoes or whatever it is. It’s pretty cool. And there’s a lot of value in that. So we wish you a lot of success with it, and we will definitely stay in touch to see how it progresses along lots of potential there. And again, thank you for being with us today. Carlos, what do we got coming up, uh, next week? I think this is the last show for this week. Uh, tomorrow we have a whole ans and we’ll kind of do a restraint, but what do we got coming up next week?

Carlos Ponce:
Sure, totally. We got a full week ahead and on Tuesday. So on Tuesday, we’re going to be having, uh, this one second, please. Okay. We’re going to be having zebra yum on Tuesday and then Wednesday, we’re going to be having pay stand. And finally on Thursday, we’re going to be having spindly all of these great tech companies that we are looking forward to having conversations with right here on dojo, live at 12:00 PM Pacific as ever. So join us, everybody, and remember have fun and be safe. And please, and of course, thanks. Thanks Clifton. Yeah, exactly. Plant something there. You have it. So cliff, thanks for having being with us today. So stay with us as we go off the air. Thank you everyone. See you next time.

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