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Agriculture urban cultivator in a residential kitchen

Published on November 12th, 2014 | by Roy L Hales

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North America’s #1 Urban Cultivator

November 12th, 2014 by  


The problem with buying greens in a supermarket is that they usually lost half of their nutrients within a day of being cut. As anyone with a garden knows, freshness translates into taste. A Vancouver company brings this freshness into kitchens. North America’s #1 Urban Cultivator gives restaurants and homeowners an opportunity to grow micro-greens and herbs year round.

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“You open the door and small the freshness,” said Eric Sloan, President of Urban Cultivator.

Argula, basil, beet tops, broccoli, buckwheat, cabbage. chervil, chives, cilantro, dill, fenugreek, flax, kale, komatsuna, lemon balm, lentils, lettuces, marjoram, mizuna, mint, mustard, nasturtium, oregano, parsley, pea tendrils, peppergrass, peppermint, purple radish, radish, sage, savory, shiso, spearmint, sorrel, sunflower, swiss chard, tatsol, thyme and wheatgrass are some of the green commonly grown.

Most of America’s produce travels thousands of miles before reaching the local supermarket. That leaves a significant carbon footprint, which can be reduced by growing food right in your kitchen.

The Urban Cultivator’s commercial unit costs $8,800, and the residential unit is $2,499. These prices include shipping to anywhere in North America.

Though the initial outlay is significant, the greens are said to cost 80 to 95% less than ordering from a supplier.

“The average cost of growing a 10×20 flat of greens in the commercial unit is $3.50. Often it costs $20 – $45 to purchase that same flat from a supplier,” said Sloan.

According to company data, a restaurant can recoup their investment in as little as a year and a half.

V7kR0t6my9ohifrZOJRnzMYAJKUR5Vm24-EtIjqvai0“For residential purposes, it’s difficult to say what the repayment time is (mostly because consumers don’t eat very many live greens currently), but I would wager a guess that it is more like 2-3 years depending on what you’re growing,” said Sloan.

Tarren Wolfe founded the company in 2010. His wife’s allergies provided the inspiration. She cannot eat most commercial produce because of the pesticides they contain. The solution was to grow food in your kitchen.

He had been involved in industrial scale hydroponics for several years at that point.

“When we founded Urban Cultivator, we wanted to take the experience we had from hydroponics into a company that provides food for regular people,” Sloan said.

They marketed their commercial unit first.

“Chefs purchase live flats on a regular basis,” Sloan explained. “The Lower Mainland provider of that would be Barnston Island. They are already purchasing these 10 by 20 flats of micro-greens and herbs. So what we were able to is produce a means that allows the chef to grow those flats themselves.”

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“I go to the Farmer’s Market twice a week; I know the fishermen that catch my fish; I know the ranchers that raise my cattle… We can now grow herbs ourselves: shoots, sprouts, seedings, I could not imagine not having it anymore because it is just so extraordinary,” said Chef Ned Bell, Executive Chef of Four Seasons Vancouver.

A number of pita stores and sandwich shops have also bought in.

“If your growing beet tops and radish sprouts and things like this it is a very unique flavor that other sandwich shops who aren’t using something like this won’t be able to reproduce,” explained Sloan.

Three months after launching, Urban Cultivator was on Dragons Den.

“It was a great reflective process for us,” Sloan said about the audition and other preliminaries leading up to their appearance on the show.

Three of the Dragons bid for their business. Urban Cultivator decided to go with Arlene Dickenson, who offered $400,000 of marketing services for 20% of the booming business.

Dickensen is actively involved with the company. She recently did a Chef’s event in Toronto, and Sloan mentioned talking to her team a couple of weeks prior to this interview.

Martha Stewart fell in love with the Urban Cultivator at a trade show in Toronto. Now she has a commercial unit in her office and a residential unit at home.

About 40 teachers attended a presentation at the University of British Columbia and a number of high schools have adopted the urban cultivator.

“They use it for their culinary program but they also use it to teach kids where food comes from, where its grown and the entire process” said Sloan.

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There are now roughly twice as many residential as commercial sales.

Sloan uses one at home “almost every night.”

“I grow a variety of different things and they all come up at different times. If you are growing basil, for example, it is going to take about four weeks to actually grow that flat, but once its grown it coms back in a matter of just days. That goes for bail, for kale and other greens like that,” he said. “It produces a lot of food and adds a lot of freshness to every meal.”

Around 70% of the Urban Cultivator’s sales are in North America, split between the US and Canada.

They have branched into Norway, Sweden, Italy, Spain, the Middle East, Australia and may soon reach China.

Their manufacturing center, in Surrey, BC, employs 28 people.

They are opening a “Living Produce Aisle” 1168 Hamilton street, Yaletown, in Vancouver. They intend to franchise that, so that Living Produce Aisles can open across North America.

“In that location we’re not only showcasing the machines and what they can do, we’re going to be selling the actual greens as well. If someone wants to start out by just purchasing micro-greens, they can experience the flavor and nutritional benefits of the micro-greens.”

They intend to franchise the Living Produce Aisles and are already talking to companies interested in opening one in other North American locations.

The Urban Cultivator is not the only way to obtain fresh mirco-greens, nor is it the cheapest. Many North Americans are now growing pesticide free food in their homes.

unnamed-1The Urban Cultivator is probably the only North American company that offers a complete package for growing micro-greens and herbs in your kitchen.

“We have a great story, it goes back to providing fresh and clean food to anyone who wants to grow it,” Sloan says. “People want to have fresh food, they want to know what went into it. They don’t want to purchase food that has come from some other country or come 2,000 miles just to reach their plate. That’s why the Farmer’s Market industry is growing at such an incredible pace. This is just an extension of that. We want to create fresh and healthy food and make it accessible to anyone.”

Listen to my interview with Eric Sloan in the podcast below

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/176571455″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”450″ iframe=”true” /]

Images above, in descending order:

  1. (l to r) Eric Sloan, President of Urban Cultivator; Chef Ned Bell, Executive Chef of Four Seasons Vancouver;  Tarren Wolfe, Founder of the Urban Cultivator
  2. A residential model in a kitchen
  3. A commercial model
  4. Martha Stewart with her Urban cultivator
  5. Eric Sloan, President of Urban Cultivator






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About the Author

is the President of Cortes Community Radio , CKTZ 89.5 FM, where he has hosted a half hour program since 2014, and editor of the the ECOreport, a website dedicated to exploring how our lifestyle choices and technologies affect the West Coast of North America. He writes for both writes for both Clean Technica and PlanetSave on Important Media. He is a research junkie who has written over 1,600 since he was first published in 1982. Roy lives on Cortes Island, BC, Canada.



  • Charlie Flynn

    Urban Cultivator is in default of its GSA or debt instrument. How can this company be heralded as a good company?

  • YYC Herbalist

    I bought one of these units, over 2500$.

    honestly I’m not happy with it. I’m sure that Arlene Dickson or whatever her name is really helping them with promoting the product with a positive company image. But in reality I know someone else with the product and they feel after a few years that it was a total waste of money as it doesn’t produce food as quickly as they say.

    It takes a lot of work to keep clean, every crop I’ve tried to grow has molded. Out of all of the seeds it came with I have had only two successful trays.

    They also market this product as “grow in ideal conditions” or “grow any plant”. But you still have to make sure the temp of your room is not too cool or no hotter than 20 degrees. And it doesn’t actually have enough light to grow seedlings for example, I tried to start my herb seedlings and they all stretched and grew weak compared to my shelf with fluorescent lights.

    Calculating the cost of this little box (1.5×3.5 feet of growing space approx with poor light intensity) you can build a stacked vertical hydroponic farm with the latest LED technology wth a much higher light intensity that will grow strong healthy plants (4×8 feet of growing space) and will yield much better results for a little less than the sticker price of this.

    Or if you want to achieve the same results as this, you could buy the parts for an automated shelf for less than 400$ and still be able to grow twice as much, be easier to clean and a lot more portable (this thing weighs a ton!)

    Kinda feel like I got a bit burned, I followed this product since its inception and was really excited about it, but pretty disappointed at the results and how the CEO Tarren Wolfe treated me when I shared my thoughts and feelings about it. Customer service model is pretty good, just don’t goto the CEO for help.

    • YYC Herbalist

      Repost, revised:

      I can share my experience with the company: my concerns were addressed by Davin and the customer service rep quickly and with great interest to help. They were fast to send me out a sample pack of seeds to make me feel better after I called letting them know of the mold issues.

      I started having major buyers remorse when I found out the unit would power itself off and back on. I emailed customer support and quickly got an email from very concerned Tarren Wolfe saying his Chief Technology Officer Davin will help. Davin was great and went the extra mile.

      Around this time my buyers remorse was hitting me hard, so I called the customer support inquiring to see if there was a money back garuntee, and left a message. Tarren Wolfe himself called me back urgently concerned about my questions. He assured me the product was rigorously tested, the design was good and that I shouldn’t be worried, that I should try growing sunflower sprouts because they’re fast and offered to send me sample seed sheets in the mail. He even confidently said “we don’t have a money back garuntee, but if you’re really unhappy we can work something out”.

      Fast forward 2 months, an air conditioner and more mouldy trays and almost all of my seeds gone I tried to contact Tarren back, to voice my dissatisfaction with the product. He didn’t reply to any of my emails. Here is what I sent him:

      “Hi Tarren,

      You’ll remember we spoke about the cultivator my parents purchased for me, I think I’ve had it around a month and a half now. I have to be honest, it has really fallen way short of my expectations, and I’ve dedicated so much time to try and make it work for me and it’s just not working.

      I’ve had one successful tray of wheatgrass, and all other 7 or so trays have either rotted, wilted or moulded.

      I haven’t replaced the faulty main board yet, or installed any of the extra lights that Davin sent to me. The unit is still as it was when I originally received it. I’ve cleaned it out very well and it’s been kept virtually untouched in a low traffic room in my house.

      I’m hoping that I can return it. My parents are pretty disappointed, is your offer still good for us to work something out?”

      I understand he’s busy so I didn’t press when I didn’t get a reply. I sent this next a week or so later:

      “Hi Tarren,

      I was wondering if you have had any ideas about my request to Urban Cultivator regarding a return on my purchase?

      The unit is in as new condition, although a replacement main board will need to be installed as I have not attempted the replacement of the faulty board yet.”

      After no reply about another week later I sent this message:

      “Hey Tarren,

      I know you’re a busy guy, but I was wondering if you could help me out.”

      I then emailed Davin to ask if he could get Tarren to call me and as usual Davin replied back quickly wanting to help. Tarren called a few days later me from an area with bad reception, dropped the call and texted me saying he’d call back. I did manage to ask him if he’d gotten any of my previous emails. He said “no I haven’t read any of them”. A few days later I hadn’t received a call back so I sent this email to Davin and cc’ed Tarren:

      “Hi Davin,

      Could you ask Tarren to phone me please? I still have not spoken with him. I’ve been trying to reach him for over three weeks now.

      It’s regarding my parents purchase of the urban cultivator, I’m very dissatisfied with the product. Tarren offered to work out a refund for me if I really did not want it. I’ve spent almost all of my seeds, had little success and really has fallen very far short of “easily grow any plant”. I’ve spoken with someone else who purchased a residential unit years ago, she is also dissatisfied with it and thinks it was a total waste of money.

      I am very disappointed with the amount of money my parents lost by purchasing this product.

      I’ve had it emptied for over a month now, it still has the original defective circuit board inside. I did not install any of the extra lights or replacement circuit board you sent. It’s still in as new condition.”

      Almost immediately I received a reply from Tarren:

      “Kevin, I have no problem with taking a call. Last time we spoke it was breaking up and I didn’t hear back from you.

      At no time did I ever say I would give you a refund? Based on what merit? We have thousands of happy customers. We also offer 7 day a week support to ensure you have success.

      If you want to sell it, then you can do whatever you want but we are not that avenue. From what I am told, we have a high resale value.

      We have sent you several packages to try and appease you but you still seek cash. If you want help growing let me know, other than that, peace and best of luck.”

      I don’t know what option I have now, I can either try to make this product work for me and maybe will have some luck working with the customer support from Urban Cultivator.

      I’d like to hear some feedback, what do other people think about this situation?

  • Dr. P

    The things grown in this artificially lit plant factory do not have half the nutritional value of what is grown in natural sunshine. These plants lack crispness and flavor compared to honest growing in natural conditions.

    • Offgridman

      That is quite a claim Dr, care to provide some verification?

    • nakedChimp

      Well, some time ago ‘Test’, a German product testing organization, tested organic vs conventional fruit & vegetables.. the thing I took from it was that the conventional stuff they tested wasn’t worse, it was actually better..
      So be careful when you put the organic stuff up on a pedestal 😉

      • Offgridman

        I’m well aware of the problems with the organic labelling system here in the US and was more responding to his claim that the vegetables grown this way cannot compare to “growing in natural conditions”.
        The fruits (strawberries, blue and black berries) that we get from a local farm that grows them year round in green houses hydroponicly with light assist during the winter, are far superior in flavor, texture, appearance than any of the imported fruit from organic farms found in the grocery stores. As well as no concerns over any pest control chemicals, whether natural or not, and they have always been picked the day we purchase them.
        Actually this farm doesn’t try to get an organic rating due to the hassles over the way they do there hydroponics, as all there nutrient solutions are derived from natural compost pile ‘teas’ that they make themselves. And the state regulations have no way of qualifying these.
        So my question still stands why would the locally produced vegetables from this system not be the equivalent or even better than any imported ‘naturally’ produced veggies?

    • djr417

      Unless you’ve actually tried produce from this system, your statement about their crispness and flavor holds no merit. ie- brownsourced.

  • djr417

    For restaurants I can see the appeal, not sure if the home version cost would be justified, especially for a limited variety of greens. Mind you, im far from a vegetarian.

  • Marion Meads

    I can assure you that this is the most inefficient way of growing your food. The only crop that will net you some money for small scale indoor growing is the cannabis.

    • David in Bushwick

      And just think of what all it takes just to get that first sprig of mint…

    • Joseph Dubeau

      What a bunch of E junk. It’s very lazy. How hard is it to fill a pot with organic soil? You can even grow blue berries in a pot.
      I see a number of problems with a closed system.

    • djr417

      who said this was a money making endevour? Theyre not selling the crops as is. Growing your own herbs/greens in your own establishment would have HUGE appeal for restaurants. Organic, and as fresh as possible are all big bonuses for someone selling a healthy lifestyle diet.

    • Offgridman

      For someone that supports organic locally grown food that is some heavy criticism. Perhaps you fall to realize that not everyone is blessed with the almost year round growing conditions that you have in California. Which is why I can see that this is having so much success in Canada.
      It may not spread to the southern US where the same thing can be done in a greenhouse or window box, but I can definitely see the appeal for those in the colder climes. Or even people in denser urban environments with no other options.

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