Urban gardening is undoubtedly a popular practice in North America right now, but when community garden plots are all full and a would-be gardener is an apartment dweller, the problem of how to get growing in a small space becomes and issue.
In Vancouver, a group of urban gardening enthusiasts, scientists, and entrepreneurs have started Ribox, and hope to get people using their “right ingredients box” for growing veggies and herbs of their own on their very own balconies.
The Ribox Balcony is a stylish raised gardening bed with glass sides and a slender profile that functions as urban outdoor furniture. Designed with sustainability-minded city dwellers in mind, Ribox stands to elevate the tools at hand for urban gardening. With an Indiegogo funding campaign underway, Ribox is looking forward to doing a lot of growing in the coming months.
We got in touch with Ribox team member and co-creator Max Keogh to talk about the value of growing our own food, and what makes the Ribox Balcony stand out from the crowd.
Vancity Buzz: Why do you think urban gardening is so important right now, particularly in Vancouver?
Urban gardening is blowing up right now around the world, because we’re becoming increasingly educated that the more food we produce in our cities, the less reliant we will be on situations out of our control which affect our food supply, like what’s happening in California or Brazil right now with droughts.
The more food we grow in cities, the less pressure we are putting on the big farms that use tonnes of chemicals and fertilizers, and lots of water. You’re also reducing the amount of trucks on the road, traffic, pollution etc. Local food production is much better for the environment and planet; it’s also healthier for you.
In Vancouver, we’re blessed with one of the best climates in the world; it lets us grow food almost 12 months of the year and you can see there’s a lot happening here in Vancouver with companies like Sole Foods, and community gardens popping up everywhere. Not everyone can buy a plot of land and go off grid, but everyone can make an impact.
How did your team come together, and what inspired the creation of the Ribox?
The Ribox team came together completely organically. We all met at various stages of the project and decided to work together because we believe in the product and we believe in the vision. The team is really skilled, and we have a very positive culture.
Ribox was inspired by my time as a Professional Geoscience consultant, a few years ago I started digging deep into climate issues, and realized how important it is that more people learn how to grow food. But we also needed to make it easier and sexier somehow.
How did you come up with the design for the Ribox?
I started by doing a ton of research about what is out there for current products on the market, and I wasn’t impressed with the options out there for urban gardening. Pots and traditional planters work for a few plants, but nothing is really efficient for producing food.
Some great stuff is being developed for urban food production, mostly in the USA, but a lot of it is very tech focused and fairly complicated. Asking someone who has never grown a plant before to use hydroponics and aquaponics is too much, we need baby steps.
So we needed something simple and stylish that would optimize space. That’s why we went with a raised design. Since the Ribox is a raised planter, and we included a shelf, it’s like you’re getting 3 times the space out of your area. That’s actually a huge advantage, and it makes the Ribox a piece of urban furniture in addition to being a planter box.
The design is also inspired by sustainability. We built the very first prototypes using recycled materials from construction sites. We are building the Ribox with aluminum, glass, and recycled plastics, so it’s 100% recyclable. We’re doing everything locally and working with some great local companies for our materials.
How do you think growing our own food can change our relationship with food and with the environment?
Growing plants helps you connect with the living earth and it’s different ecosystems. That is one element we really love about the Ribox, the connection you get to nature by being able to actually see the soil through the glass. It also helps you to know exactly what is put into the process, and gives you control over what the food is fertilized with and more importantly, not sprayed with.
Walking out onto your balcony and harvesting fresh food eliminates that carbon footprint of driving to the grocery store and buying packaged food. Growing plants is also therapeutic. It give’s you a sense of empowerment you can’t get anywhere else, it’s something people can be very proud of.
What do you tell anyone who is interested in gardening but thinks they don’t have a “green thumb”?
I would say, try it. Or try it again. It’s not as complicated or difficult as we’ve been lead to think.
With the Ribox, you are getting a modern urban gardening experience, but it’s also easy for people to understand. That’s why we developed our name Ribox: Right Ingredients Box. The Right Ingredients is a big part of our branding and messaging: soil, seeds, water, sun. It’s simple and people get it.
Most of the people reading this live in Vancouver, and we live in one of the best climates in the world to grow food in the city. The Ribox makes it really easy for you to get started.
I know there are a number of kinds of veggies and herbs that can be planted in a Ribox, but what would you suggest as the best in terms of growing success in our climate and yield? How should an urban gardener using a Ribox select what to grow?
We’ve found that salad greens are by far the most productive in the Ribox, and here are some more suggestions from our Master Gardener Faerlyn: Perennial herbs like Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Oregano, Chives and Mint. All of these plants are very low maintenance and produce good yields. Some fruit bearing vegetables like Cherry Tomatoes, Patio Cucumbers, Snap Peas. Greens like Spinach Kale, Corn Salad and Arugula. Edible flowers like Calendula and Nasturtiums.
The Ribox Balcony comes with a growing guide, and we’re hoping to offer a customer support service this summer through our Master Gardening staff. For the time being, any of the staff at your local gardening store will be able to help you find something that works for you.
Owning a Ribox is like an investment in home food production. Since it will last for so long, over time, if you use it properly, you’ll be able to offset the initial cost and literally grow your money back.
What incentives are there for Vancouverites to get a Ribox?
We added a locals package to our campaign for locals to save on the shipping costs of a Ribox and we’ll personally deliver it to you.
For Vancouver locals, we’ve reduced the price on our campaign to reflect no shipping costs for the Ribox Balcony, and we want to offer the first generation of Ribox users in Vancouver to participate in an intimate customer feedback experience with us this summer. This means updates with our master gardener, troubleshooting, support service and evaluating and recording food production. If we can get 100 people in Vancouver to participate in the Vancity local package, we’ll reach our goal.
We want to become a global-leader in urban gardening products and we’re very proud to be calling Vancouver home. There is a ton of great things happening here with green technologies, the sustainability movement and urban gardening.
To learn more about Ribox and to support their crowdfunding campaign, check them out on Indiegogo.